December 26, 2010 — The Holy Family of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph
The author of Ecclesiastes, in a familiar passage (3:1-8), presented a series of opposite events and stated that there is an appropriate time for each. (“A time to be born, and a time to die,” etc.) It almost seems, in this Gospel passage from Matthew 2, as though the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph were adding one more to the series listed in the Old Testament: “a time to flee, and a time to return from exile.”
Of course, the selection we hear today leaves out the actual account of the horrible event that precipitated the Flight into Egypt, the slaughter of the children of Bethlehem by Herod, for that is the Gospel for the feast of the Holy Innocents on December 28. But the incident is in keeping with all we know of Herod, who was determined to secure his throne at all costs, even having his wife and several of his sons executed because he considered them threats.
The important lesson for the Christian steward is to be found in Joseph’s willingness to follow God’s leading to protect his family. An angel told him to flee with his wife and the infant Jesus to Egypt and then to return with them to Israel after Herod’s death. He could have dismissed the messages the angels delivered as just dreams. However, he had enough spiritual awareness to perceive that they were different from ordinary dreams – and having had that insight, he acted upon it.
We also should seek to discern how and when to follow God’s leading. He may not speak to us in a form we would call an angel in a dream, although he may. But he also may give us a message through a passage of Holy Scripture, or an inspiration that comes to us in prayer, or by counsel offered during a confession, or from a challenge offered during a homily. The trouble is, we often react by thinking, “That’s an interesting idea. I’ll give it further consideration when it’s convenient,” when what’s called for is obedience. Suppose Joseph had decided to wait to until his business affairs were all wrapped up and the economy was better. Instead, Joseph “took the child and his mother by night and departed for Egypt.”
And on this feast of the Holy Family, we can learn another lesson in addition to the need to obey God and to do so on his timetable. And that lesson is that we are called to care for our family, even when it causes personal inconvenience or worse. Joseph was not in any danger from Herod’s soldiers. God’s Son, whom Joseph was charged to care for, was the one being threatened. So out of concern for the baby, Joseph and his wife Mary fled to Egypt and then returned after several years, once the danger passed.
That sort of love and concern is what St. Paul urges when he wrote to the Colossians that members of families – husbands, wives, parents, and children – should treat each other with love and respect. Do family responsibilities sometimes seem like burdens? They can, which is why we need to bear with and to forgive one another, as Paul stated.
And the amazing thing is that Paul tells us not to bear with our family members and forgive them as grudging duties. We’re not even to take a disruption to our lives like a flight by night to a foreign land with resentment. As he wrote in Colossians 3, we’re to “be thankful,” as amazing as it sounds.
The attitude of thanksgiving is the foundation of stewardship, as we respond to God’s love. And so it is with family life and the demands family life makes on our own plans and desires. We’re called to live with the attitude that “whatever you do, in word or in deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” When we live that way, we experience the joy that comes from living in accordance with God’s will for us, even in the midst of the duties of daily life.