Sunday, December 30, 2012

A Mensch, a Virgin, and a God...

Happy Feast of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph! ...and as we continue to celebrate the Octave of Christmas I shall say it again, MERRY CHRISTMAS!!!  My homily for the Feast is below.  I hope it moves you to think of the Holy Family in a new and deeper way.

I also hope that your time has been holy and joy-filled (and if you've been in Central or Southern Indiana, that you've had lots of hot coffee or hot chocolate to warm you up after your hours of shoveling snow over the past 5 days!).  I had a lovely visit with my folks in Illinois and returned to a pretty low-key Sunday at the parish.  No religious ed, no RCIA, no extra sacraments... I almost didn't know what to do with myself!

In a little over a week I leave for Guatemala (Jan. 9th), so preparations are well underway for that trip.

Blessings to you all!
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Homily: Feast of the Holy Family – Cycle C
            One of my weaknesses as a person is that I tend to be pretty nostalgic.  Perhaps some of you are thinking, “I didn’t know that could be a weakness, I thought nostalgia was a good thing…” and, true enough, it can be.  But what I often find that happens when I get nostalgic is that I tend to use it as a bit of escapism from dealing with whatever uncomfortable situation I may be facing.  And if you’ve ever heard yourself saying the words: “Ugh, why does everything have to be so complicated now?  It was so much simpler back then!” then perhaps you’ve unknowingly had an experience of the negative side of nostalgia.
            This is because nostalgia, in its best form, is a sort of ‘wistful’ longing for the past: for a time when things appeared to be more simple, a time perhaps best captured in Norman Rockwell paintings and reruns of Leave it to Beaver and My Three Sons (…and yes, I have seen these shows… even if only in reruns).  At worst, nostalgia creates an inability to live in the present as one clings to some ideal arrangement of life that happened in the past, which, by the way, is almost always seen through rose-colored glasses so as to gloss-over the fact that those events of the past had just as much drama and complication as the present we are trying to avoid.  I would guess that most of us, however, myself included, probably tend to teeter back and forth on that edge in-between the two and know how to pull ourselves back when we’ve gone a little too far over to the negative side.
            One of the things that we all tend to be a little too nostalgic about, I think, is the Holy Family.  And why not?  To us, they seem to be the ideal trio: you’ve got Jesus, the perfect Son of God who has taken on human nature, Mary, the Immaculate Virgin conceived without original sin, and Joseph, the one Scriptures hail as righteous (which, by the way, they don’t do for just anybody).  “With such holy people making up this clan,” perhaps we think, “what could possibly go wrong?”
            Well, I think that this is an example of where our nostalgia could get us into trouble.  I think that if we let ourselves get stuck on the image of the Holy Family given to us in the hymn Silent Night, then we miss the fact that the life of the Holy Family—that is, everything that happened after they left the cave in Bethlehem—was actually rather complicated.  Let’s just take a look for a second at what we know happened to the Holy Family since Christmas day up to and including the events we read about today:
            First, of course, is that distressing birth in a cave.  Yes, we should think everything holy and pious about the birth in the cave, but we should also be appalled by the fact that any human family should ever have to be reduced, because of poverty, to giving birth in a cave on a cold winter night.
            Next, there was that flight into Egypt.  It didn’t take long for Herod to figure out that had been duped by the Magi and so, in a jealous rage, he ordered all children under two years old in Bethlehem to be killed and if it wasn’t for the intervention of the angel, Jesus would have been caught up in it.  Instead, the Holy Family had to suffer greatly as they hastily went off into Egypt, where they stayed for seven years, living as poor immigrants in a foreign land.  If you don’t think that was distressing, then just talk to one of our Hispanic families and ask them what it was like for them, or their parents, when they first moved to Logansport.
            Finally, there is today’s incident.  We call it “the finding of the child Jesus in the Temple,” but really it is “the losing and finding of the child Jesus,” emphasis on the “losing.”  While in the other two situations, the distress happened to the Holy Family, in this incident, the distress was caused by the Holy Family.
            Just like on every other trip to Jerusalem, Jesus was expected to stick close to the family and relatives as they moved to and from.  Now that he was 12 years-old, however, perhaps Mary and Joseph had decided to allow Jesus a little leeway to exercise some responsibility.  He didn’t have to stay right next to mom and dad, in other words, as long as he stuck close to his cousins.  You could imagine the intense fear and anxiety when, after traveling a whole day’s distance, Mary and Joseph realized that Jesus had not done as they had expected and that he was not in the caravan.  Just as quickly (quicker, in fact) as Mary made haste to visit her cousin Elizabeth and Joseph moved to take his family into Egypt, Mary and Joseph now sprinted back to Jerusalem to find him.  For three days, the Scripture says… for three days they looked for him, with anxiety inducing tears and teetering on the threshold of despair, until they found him.  We can all imagine the relief—and, perhaps, the anger—when they found him not having been kidnapped or lost, but rather having willfully stayed behind to debate with the teachers of the Law.  Without doubt, Mary was justified in making her gruff rebuke of the child Jesus: “Why did you do this to us!?!?”  And, like any good 12 year-old is perfectly capable of, Jesus’ response is enigmatic: “What’s your problem, mom?  You totally should have known that I would be here.”  My brothers and sisters, if you have any nostalgia remaining about the Holy Family, that is, that they lived this pious life together without any conflicts or struggles, let these stories be the ones that bring you back to reality.
            Yet, we honor this family today as the “ideal” family.  And why?  Because they always lived in perfect harmony with one another?  No!  Rather, we honor them because they show us the ideal way to live in a world that never quite lives up to ideals.  They show us that mistakes happen to everyone, even the righteous and the sinless, but that the way to respond is always with patience, love, and prayer.  Mary and Joseph didn’t understand Jesus’ response, but instead of responding in anger at him, they returned home to ponder what all this could mean for them as a family; and Jesus, for his part, never challenged them in that way again: the Scriptures telling us that he returned to Nazareth with them and was “obedient to them.”
            My brothers and sisters, as the Holy Family has shown us, life as a family is bound to be messy (which, I’m sure is news to no one here).  What they also show us is that the ideal that we strive for as families is not that we never have conflicts, problems, or mistakes, but rather that we always strive to resolve them with patience, love, and prayer.
            Songwriter Rufus Wainwright does a good job dispelling our nostalgia about the Holy Family in his song “Spotlight on Christmas,” which always gets onto my “repeat” list during the Christmas season.  In it he sings:
          People love and people hate.
          People go and people wait.
          But don't forget Jesus, Mary and Joseph
          Once were a family poor but rich in hope, yeah.
          Don't forget Jesus, Mary and Joseph
          Running from the law, King Herod had imposeth.
          And they were each one quite odd:
          A mensch, a virgin and a God.
          But don't forget that what kept them afloat-
          Floating through the desert doesn't take a boat, no-
          Don't forget that what kept them above
          Is unconditional love.
            My brothers and sisters, may the unconditional love that we receive here from this altar lead us to live our lives as the Holy Family did: in patient endurance of the conflicts and struggles that we encounter and in unconditional love for those closest to us.
Given at All Saints Parish: Logansport, IN – December 30, 2012
Feast of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph

1 comment:

  1. Holy cow!!!! This is a slam dunk homily - good work!

    ReplyDelete