Holy Family [A] 2007

Fr. Charles Irvin

The Feast of the Holy Family [A] 2007

Sirach 3, 2-6; 12-14; Colossians 3, 12-21; Matthew 2, 13-15. 19-23

We live in unsettled times, times in which so many of our basic ideas are being challenged. Consider the following basic institutions in our culture in which attempts are being made to redefine our understandings of, schools, America’s role in the world, medical care, religion, church, parish, the role of women, the role of men, global warming, genetic engineering, the energy crisis, when human life begins, and when human life ends. More importantly, what are our understandings of what it means to be family?

Christians believe that God our Father chose to have His Son come among us in a family, and that is the reality we consider today. The longest period of time Christ was among us here on earth was during the thirty hidden years He spent with His family, all of them unrecorded in the bible, all of them in the obscure ordinariness of living in the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph.

Let’s now imagine that the Gospel account you just heard is a piece that’s taken from the “First Act” of a work written and directed by St. Matthew. It sets the stage, so to speak, of a spiritual drama. The main thing we should not overlook is that we are all playing out our parts in this drama. Each one of us here is not simply observing past and remote events. Each one of us here is acting out a part in actual life, a life that God has given us, one in which we must be engaged, one in which we must act. We cannot avoid it; we cannot choose to simply sit this one out and merely watch our lives go by.

While it may appear that this gospel account is only for Jews, it isn’t. St. Matthew immediately involves non-Jews in the action. The Magi are powerful rulers in the Gentile world. They are “seers” who come to pay homage to the Christ Child. While the Child is destined to be the Jewish Messiah, His mission and purpose in living is for all the peoples of the world whether Jew or Gentile. His destiny is to be the savior of us all, the one who would bridge the chasm between us and the God who made us to live together with Him in love, the God we’ve so often put aside and ignore.

With the quest of the Magi, the Child Jesus immediately enters the non-Jewish world. In the flight into Egypt Jesus enters into a culture steeped in ancient spiritualities that existed for several thousand years before Christ was born. There’s a famous work of art hanging in the Boston Museum of Fine Arts depicting an exhausted Mary and a very tired Joseph resting, with the Child Jesus cradled between the legs of the Great Sphinx located just outside of Cairo, Egypt. It’s a remarkable scene that parallels the Christ Child sleeping peacefully in a manger located in Bethlehem of Judea. This picture shows that same Christ Child sleeping peacefully near the Great Pyramids of Egypt, between the front paws of the Great Sphinx. The image is powerful. The Child Jesus takes us back into very ancient spiritualities.

Other powerful events surrounded the drama of Christ’s birth. A very evil king, Herod by name, tries to kill this little Child. Herod orders his soldiers to slaughter all of the baby boys two years of age or less living in and around Bethlehem. Like the twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York, the lives of Mary and Joseph come crashing down around them. They have been struck by near mortal blows from the forces of Evil.

Many of us have likewise experienced similar blows. Like the twin towers of the former World Trade Center we’ve been standing strong and tall, gleaming in the sun, when suddenly and without warning we have been struck by evil, and our lives have collapsed in upon us. Perhaps we have been two beautiful, standing-tall parents, a happy mother and a strong father, when an evil force has struck our families.

Is God a cruel and testing God? Do we, as many people have done and still do, shake our fists at God and demand of Him an explanation? Or in the alternative do we simply wallow in despair and with a sort of stoic courage that leads us nowhere?

St. Matthew gives us a different vision. He’s telling us that even though the human race has attempted to write its own script, God remains active and present to us throughout our long and sad human history. His drama is being played out — and we are actors in it.

We all experience moments when life makes no sense for us whatsoever — when accident, betrayal, rejection, human failure, and human evil, seek to destroy our souls. It’s in such moments that human science and technology provide us no answers, no meaning, no clues as to what life is all about.

The message of St. Matthew’s gospel account is that, in spite of human betrayal and outright evil, God remains close to us. Events, however terrible, may divert us from heeding the promptings of God’s Holy Spirit. Awful catastrophes turn us toward striking out rather than turning within and finding the God who dwells within us. For deep down, underneath all of the ash and debris caused by human destruction there resides God’s Holy Spirit. God is with us just as much as He was with Jesus as He hung in agony while dying on His cross.

St. Joseph and St. Mary are role models for us. We should be their understudies, watching them play out their parts, learning from them how to play our roles when our turn comes. For Joseph was a man who turned inward, listening to God’s voice, discerning God’s presence, and following God’s direction. Mary pondered all of these things in her heart. Both became twin towers of strength because they allowed their lives to be directed by God. Both turned over their trials and troubles over to God. For it is the prerogative of God to bring good out of evil, meaning out of absurdity, order out of chaos and life out of death. If we learn our script and study our characters then we, like Joseph and Mary, can play out our parts, and play them out brilliantly on life’s stage.

Today you are invited to bring out from deep within you God’s Holy Spirit, that same powerful Spirit God placed within you when you were baptized and confirmed, that Holy Presence who leads you throughout life to trust in God’s providence and play a role in bringing God’s presence into our lives and into the world around us.

For just like Mary and Joseph, you, too, can bring God’s transforming power into your lives, and into realms greater than ancient Egypt — with its silent Sphinx that sees far beyond what is merely present in the fleeting moments of the present.

The third and final act with its conclusions awaits you and me before the curtain comes down and our lives have been played out. May the heavenly host of angels fill our hearts with applause when our lives are over and we finally see and understand the parts we have played in God’s great drama of life in our human family.

About Charles Irvin

Fr. Charlie was ordained a priest June 3, 1967 and has served as pastor of St. Mary Student Chapel in Ann Arbor, founded Holy Spirit parish in Hamburg, MI, served as pastor of St. Francis of Assisi parish in Ann Arbor and was pastor of St. Mary parish in Manchester, MI when he entered Senior Priest status in 2001. In 1999 he was appointed Founding Editor of FAITH Magazine which has grown into Faith Catholic Publishing located in Lansing, MI. He is now very active in his “retirement.”