Three Points on Family Life
December 26, 2004
Matthew 2:13-15, 19-23
Three brief points about family life on this feast of the Holy Family. The first is: there is no carefree family life. As much as we would like it to be so, there are always pressures, always dangers, always issues that complicate and make family life difficult. This is certainly seen in today’s Gospel as we follow the Holy Family in its efforts to avoid the machinations of Herod. But each of us in our own family must deal with our own challenges and pressures—economic troubles, problems at work, misunderstanding and tensions with our in-laws, complications that come from the natural growth process as our children make their way through adolescence. There are always difficulties that press in upon us and complicate our families. These cares are a part of life.
The second point: those cares get to us; they wear us down. As much as we would like to be up and always handle those difficulties with ease, they undermine our ability to be loving, patient and kind. So we lose our patience; we say things that we regret; we act in ways that are not the best; we talk back to our parents; we overreact with our children; we are insensitive to our spouses and to those with whom we share life. The cares of life get to us.
We now come to the third and final point. Do not forget to add love. We will not always be able to avoid the insensitivities and the mistakes of family life. But what we can do when we have an opportunity is remind the people in our family that we love them. We can seize the moment when we are not embroiled in some argument, when we are not confused or impatient, and reaffirm what is true in our hearts—that we care for one another, that we are thankful for one another, that we are God’s gift to one another.
Three simple points of family life. There is no carefree family life. The cares will get to us. Do not forget to add love. In fact, add some love today.
Displacement at Christmas
December 29, 2013
Matthew 2: 13-15, 19-23
There are two accounts of Jesus’ birth in the New Testament. One is in the Gospel of Luke, and the other is in the Gospel of Matthew. These two accounts disagree in several respects. But the most obvious divergence is the difference between the itineraries of the Holy Family. Luke’s gospel begins in Nazareth where Mary and Joseph are living. They are forced to travel from Nazareth to Bethlehem because of the census that was ordered by the Emperor Augustus, and Jesus is born there. After the birth, they return again to their home in Nazareth. Since Luke’s account is the one with which we are most familiar, it is very possible that we do not notice how different Matthew’s story is. Matthew begins in Bethlehem where Joseph and Mary live and where Mary gives birth to Jesus. After the birth, as we hear in today’s gospel, an angel warns Joseph to flee Bethlehem and go to Egypt, because of the dangerous plot of Herod. They stay in Egypt until Herod dies. Then, as we also hear in today’s gospel, an angel tells Joseph to return to Israel. But Joseph is afraid to go back to Bethlehem, because he hears that Herod’s son, Archelaus, is now on the throne. So he travels to Galilee and makes his home in the town of Nazareth.
So, in both Matthew and Luke, Jesus is born in Bethlehem and grows up in Nazareth. But the evangelists use different itineraries to get them there. There is also a significant difference in meaning. In Luke’s account, going to Nazareth is a positive event. It is a homecoming, getting things back to normal after the upheaval of the census. But Matthew’s account there is no homecoming. Joseph is afraid to go home. So he chooses instead to go to a new and foreign place called Nazareth in which he will have to find a new place to live, new work, and new relationships. Although Luke’s story is one of homecoming, Matthew’s account is one of upheaval and displacement. But, that is what makes Matthew’s Gospel so useable to us. Matthew’s account of Jesus’ birth helps us deal with the displacements in our own life.
How often do we find ourselves having to deal with things we did not expect and did not desire? We find ourselves facing divorce, sickness, or the loss of someone we love. We do our best to get through that upheaval, but all the time we are longing for things to get back to normal. We want to go home to the way things were. Yet we often find that after surviving the divorce, after enduring the medical treatments, after adjusting to the loss, we, like Joseph, cannot go home. We cannot find a way to move things back to the way they were. Time has passed. People are missing. We have changed. In time we might establish a regular routine. But it will not be the routine that we had before.
The good news of today’s gospel is that even when there is no homecoming, we do not need to despair. Even when we have to adjust to new and different circumstances, there is still reason for hope. Matthew is very careful to point out that the prophets foretold that Mary and Joseph would live in Nazareth. Even though the town was new to Mary and Joseph, it was always a part of God’s plan. The same is true for us. When we have to deal with new and foreign circumstances, our faith tells us that those places can still be good and life-giving. We can seldom recover the way things were. But God is faithful. And when God is with us, we can always find a home.
A Refugee Family
December 29, 2019
The Holy Family was a refugee family. There is little doubt about this. We hear in today’s gospel that King Herod was determined to kill the Christ child. So, an angel appears in a dream to Joseph to tell him to flee to Egypt with Mary and Jesus. Joseph does so and remains in Egypt until the death of Herod. This means that in the first year of Jesus’s life, he was forced to flee his own country because of political oppression. What would have happened if the Holy Family had been turned away from the border in Egypt and sent back to Herod? Would Herod have been successful in his desire to kill Jesus before he could begin his ministry and win our salvation? Of course, we don’t know the answer to that question. But we should always be grateful to the Egyptians for protecting our Savior.
I wish I could tell you that today in our world there is no longer any need for people to flee their own country. But this is not the case. In fact, we are in the midst of a refugee crisis. In our world today, there are 70.8 million people who have been displaced from their homes because of war or crisis. This is the largest number of displaced persons since the Second World War. Over half of that number are people who are fleeing from armed combat in Syria, southern Sudan and Afghanistan. They, like the Holy Family, are fleeing political violence in an effort to save themselves and their families.
At this point you will probably say, “Father George, it’s Christmas. Why are you bringing us these horrible statistics to our attention now? The lights are still on the Christmas trees! The poinsettias have not yet begun to wilt, and you are talking to us about refugees!” I am. I am doing so because I want to keep Christ in Christmas. Christmas is more than exchanging gifts and gathering together with our family and friends. If Jesus is the reason for the season, then we should know Jesus’s teaching and follow it. What we discover is that the issue of refugees is very high on Jesus’s agenda. In the great Last Judgment scene, Jesus presents us with six issues which will concern him on the Last Day. The first three are these: “I was hungry, and you gave me food. I was thirsty, and you gave me drink. I was a stranger, and you welcomed me.” Jesus puts our treatment of those who are displaced right up there with food and drink. This makes welcoming refugees central to our responsibilities. It is especially true this year. We all know that 2020 is going to be a very political year. There will be a lot of candidates vying for our vote. As we consider who deserves our vote, we should have the teaching of Jesus and its interpretation by the Church in our minds and hearts.
We all know that the Church is opposed to the evil of abortion. We know that the Church supports the free exercise of religion without government interference. We should also know what the Church teaches on immigration. Catholic social teaching says that it is a human right to migrate in order to survive and protect one’s family. Catholic social teaching also says that governments have a right to regulate their borders, but when they do so it should be with justice and mercy. So in the upcoming months as you hear candidates talk about their immigration policies, ask yourself “are those policies characterized by justice and mercy?” If not, they are opposed to the teaching of Jesus.
The flight of the Holy Family continues in our world today. The Holy Family is no longer fleeing Herod. It is fleeing political violence in Guatemala, Syria, and Afghanistan. The Holy Family is Christian, Jewish, Moslem and every other religious sect. The Holy Family is white, black, brown and yellow. The Holy Family speaks every language and dialect on earth. The Holy Family is looking for safety and humane treatment.
Let’s commit ourselves today to welcome refugees with justice and mercy. Let us welcome them as we would welcome Jesus.