One of the things I do to prepare for the homilies is to continually read – books, magazines, on-lines articles and commentaries, and a host of other sources. I spent part of Saturday morning looking through the internet to see what people were saying or had said about the Holy Family. There is no shortage of sources. There were very good articles with inspiring insights, but there were too many articles that, it seems to me, were simply not too helpful.
There were sources that bemoaned the rate of divorce and the state of families in the United States, but said little else. Articles that scolded. Articles that had true and factual things to say. But so many articles failed to hold up one of the readings from Scripture that might speak to families having a rough go of it – to hold out encouragement, hope, and a touch of compassion.
There is a reason that Pope Francis is Time Magazine’s “Man of the Year” and that 80% of all Americans are positive towards the Pope – even when he has not changed doctrine or teaching about many tough issues of modern life – including divorce. He simply meets you were you are – and people sense what Colossians speaks of: “heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, bearing with one another and forgiving one another.” (Col 3:12-13) It is a special moment. And the strange part is that Pope Francis is just doing what Jesus did – while Jesus spoke against divorce – he also held out grace, mercy, hope, compassion and forgiveness.
Here’s a question: heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience – are we as family members holding that out to one another? We need to because Family is like a rollercoaster – wonderful one moment, chaos and screaming the next, and a lot of hard work in between. Think about all ups and downs, energy, and hard work that went into making the Holy Family holy. You know Joseph, Mary and Jesus did not exactly start out with a house, a two car garage, and other icons of modern family life. Let’s review their family story so far:
- They are betrothed one moment and the next Joseph finds out Mary is with child and not his. But with God’s grace they work through it.
- Next, circumstances made them vagabonds on the road, sleeping in an animal shelter
- Jesus is born, wrapped in whatever cloth was around, and laid in a feed trough.
- The local power, King Herod, is trying to kill them
- They are on the run, heading to Egypt as refugees, probably using the gold, frankincense, and myrrh for bribes, border crossings, payoffs, and to settle in a foreign land
- When they return they seem to settle in a new town and have to start all over in a part of Israel, Galilee to be specific, that was the butt of many a disparaging remark. They end up in Nazareth which was no more than a wide spot on the road.
- Joseph seems to disappear from the narrative relatively early during Jesus’ childhood – it is almost has though Mary, at some point, was a single mom raising Jesus.
I do not think too many people are going to volunteer to travel the same path to holiness in their family. No matter what path, family can be a cauldron where hearts and souls are tested.
But hey… maybe family isn’t for you.
But here’s the thing: everyone is part of one. You choose your friends, not your family. Still family isn’t for you. It is all for others in the family. Listen again to the words of our reading from the Letter to the Colossians – it is a blueprint for making family holy no matter whatever form or shape you find yours – and it is neither simple nor easy – but it is graced.
|as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved,||Begin by remembering you are loved|
|Put on, ….heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, bearing with one another and forgiving one another,||Put on… in other words, it will take an effort. All of these virtues are focused on the others|
|if one has a grievance against another; as the Lord has forgiven you, so must you also do.||No one earns true forgiveness, it is always gift. Give it away. There’s more!!|
|And over all these put on love, that is, the bond of perfection.||Love is self-gift. Become the gift for your family, find a way to give yourself away|
|And let the peace of Christ control your hearts||Even when you don’t feel peaceful|
|And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly…. with gratitude in your hearts…||This is your family. It is one of kind, warts and all. It is uniquely loved by God|
Go do all these things, “put them on,” even when you have no inner peace, anger is bubbling up, and you are about to say that next thing you know you will regret, and know you shouldn’t. Because it is in that moment, when your inner self is in chaos, that your words, your hands, your expression can put on compassion, kindness, patience, and more … because family isn’t for you.
Yet those virtues enacted in the world have their own way of working their from your hands, thru the arms, back into your heart. Bringing the peace, love, kindness, compassion, patience and humility of Christ. And that is for you!