Feast of the Holy Family – Year A

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Francis J. Caponi, O.S.A.
Villanova University
Villanova, Pennsylvania

Sir 3:2-6, 12-14
or Gn 15:1-6; 21:1-3
Ps 128:1-2, 3, 4-5
or Ps 105:1-2, 3-4, 5-6, 8-9
Col 3:12-21
or Col 3:12-17
or Heb 11:8, 11-12, 17-19
Mt 2:13-15, 19-23

St. Joseph is a remarkable figure. Countless children and churches are named for him. Grand cathedrals bear his name, and untold statues, paintings, and stained glass windows depict him. Yet, he hardly says a word. St. Joseph is the original strong, silent type.

In the stories of Jesus’ birth, Mary proclaims, Elizabeth cries out, angels sing, shepherds glorify and praise, wise men question, the emperor decrees, Herod orders, but Joseph listens. He listens to God’s command and then takes Mary into his home; he listens and then takes his wife to Bethlehem; he listens and then takes his family to Egypt, and then finally to Nazareth.

None of this produces any memorable quotes from St. Joseph. He is noteworthy for what he doesn’t say. Joseph never wonders, “Why me?” He doesn’t complain that God is asking a lot of a young newlywed. He never asks how much longer these troubles will go on. St. Joseph never tells Mary that he needs some “me time.” When he is tired, he keeps it to himself. If he is afraid, he doesn’t let it stop him. When his hopes and dreams about marriage and family must give way to the will of God, he doesn’t gripe about the sacrifice. He shows “compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience,” he protects and provides for his family, and he does so in silence. Joseph, we are told by Saint Matthew, says only one thing: “He named him Jesus.” The one time St. Joseph speaks, and it is another act of obedience, as he repeats the name chosen by God for His Son.

When God wants something accomplished, He calls on St. Joseph. And Joseph gets the job done. He knows that doing God’s will and taking care of his family are the same thing. That’s what a father does: He gets God’s job done, by taking care of his family.

Mary is an even more remarkable figure. She knows she’s married to a quiet man, and so she does most of the talking, responding to Gabriel, praising God with Elizabeth, dealing with Jesus when they find him in the Temple. Her words, “May it be done to me according to your will,” are so holy that Jesus himself repeats them in the garden of Gethsemane: “yet, not as I will, but as you will” (Matt 26:39).

And yet, like Joseph, she is also noteworthy for what she does not say. She gives no word of complaint that she must give birth in a barn, lay her son in a manger, remain a virgin the rest of her life, and go into exile with her husband and son as their new family flees the wrath of a mad king. All her words and deeds are done in the name of the Lord Jesus, but much remains unspoken. Mary takes everything in and reflects on it in her heart, not out loud. Mary is not the sort of person who lets everyone know how hard she has it. She doesn’t moan that this marriage and this motherhood aren’t what she “signed up for.”

When God wants something accomplished, He calls on the Blessed Mother. And Mary gets the job done. She knows that doing God’s will means taking care of her son and husband.That’s what a mother does: She gets God’s job done, by taking care of her family.

On this feast of the Holy Family, the Scriptures teach us that families are built on commitment and sacrifice. Mary and Joseph do not keep score of their good deeds, they don’t remind friends and neighbors of how much they have given up. They are the model of parents

who give lovingly, without sadness or compulsion. So, too, Jesus shows honor to his parents by respecting their authority: “He went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them” (Luke 2:52).

Do Jesus, Mary, and Joseph set us an impossible example? It certainly seems that way. Books, movies, sit-coms and talk shows are almost unanimous in presenting the family as a place where, at best, wacky dysfunction abounds; and where, at worst, good dreams die and bad habits are born. In a popular culture that worships adolescence, we are told that the reality of family life is disappointment, ingratitude, and competition. We are shown that children’s happiness can be put on hold while parents “find themselves.” So, too, parents who sacrifice popularity with their children and praise from their peers for the sake of discipline, good manners, and thoughtfulness, are ridiculed as old-fashioned. Compared to all this, the Holy Family seems as corny as the Brady Bunch, as out-of-date as the Waltons, as imaginary as the Ingalls’ little house.

But as Gabriel tells Mary, with God all things are possible. Not easy, but possible. If much of our culture has given up on marriage and family, Jesus Christ has not. Today is not the feast of the well-dressed family or the carefree family, but the Holy Family. What is holiness but to be close to God, and what is it to be a holy family except being close to God through one another, committed in the midst of joy and suffering, making sacrifices even when tempted to selfishness? Mary and Joseph certainly must have seen parents who didn’t bother so much about observing the sabbath and living by the commandments; parents who went through the motions of religious observance once a year at Passover, but otherwise took it easy and had a lot more free time for themselves. And Jesus certainly must have heard children have fun complaining about their parents and disobeying their rules. They knew families where grudges and resentments boiled over into curses and violence. They knew families where alcohol was abused, and where infidelity turned something holy into something shameful. Jesus, Mary, and Joseph were not the blind family, the out-of-touch family, the family beyond temptation and suffering.They were the Holy Family. They looked straight on at marriage and family, and chose the narrow path of mutual sacrifice, service, compassion, and trust.

They didn’t talk much about what they were doing. The Scriptures tell us next to nothing about their lives after they settled down in Nazareth. But they didn’t need many words to say “yes” to God’s will. They didn’t speeches or soliloquies to get God’s job done.

For us, all things are possible in Christ. If God can become man, if eternal life can come through a cross, if bread and wine can become the body and blood of Christ, if the blind can see and the deaf hear and the dead rise and sins be washed away, then families can be holy. Holiness starts whenever a family kneels together in worship of the one God and Father of us all. Holiness grows whenever a spouse forgives a spouse, whenever a parent nurtures a child, whenever a child shows gratitude and respect. Holiness reaches perfection in that family where the Giver of all that is good is loved more than the gifts He bestows, where mutual sacrifice and not self-service is the normal way of life, and where forgiveness is freely asked and freely given. That is a holy family. That is a family which gets God’s work done: Offering thanks, caring for the poor, comforting the sick, encouraging the lost, and assisting one another to avoid sin, to see God’s will more clearly, to follow Christ more closely, and to reach eternal life together.