Homily for December 29, 2013: Feast of the Holy Family: Deacon Steve Whiteman

Feast of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph

Reading 1 Sir 3:2-6, 12-14

Responsorial Psalm Ps 128:1-2, 3, 4-5

R. (cf. 1) Blessed are those who fear the Lord and walk in his ways.
Reading 2 Col 3:12-21

Gospel Mt 2:13-15, 19-23

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Choose Each Day

I’m always humbled and amazed every time I read this gospel and think about what Joseph and Mary went through as new parents. In a very short time, they experienced a lifetime of challenges and a lifetime of blessings.

As we just heard in today’s gospel, Joseph is warned to flee to Egypt to prevent Baby Jesus from being killed by Herod’s soldiers. They packed up their few belongings and travelled with their newborn baby to a foreign country. Of course this happens without disposable diapers, a minivan full of supplies and fast food restaurants.

You have to ask yourself: How did they do it? How did they get through each day of the trip and each day in exile while they waited to return home?

 The answer is that each day they asked for and received God’s help.

A Bible scholar named William Barclay suggests the Holy Family was not alone. Apparently Jews often sought refuge in Egypt in this period of history. King Herod was appointed by the Romans as ruler over the Jews in 47 BC. He was successful in keeping the peace in Palestine, but did it with deadly brutality. He was insanely suspicious of anyone that could be a rival…including the Christ Child. During his rule he murdered countless people including his wife, mother-in-law and 3 sons. It’s estimated that dozens of babies were slaughtered by Herod’s soldiers in Bethlehem in his attempt to wipe out the threat from a newborn King of the Jews. It’s not surprising that many Egyptian cities had Jewish colonies as a result. They estimate the ancient city of Alexandria had more than 1,000,000 Jews living there.

It’s hard to imagine the hardships the Holy Family dealt with as they lived in exile with a baby and eventually traveled 400 miles back to Israel to settle in Nazareth. We may never be challenged like this, but there are certainly many hardships our families face today. These challenges can come from inside and outside the family. Our response to these challenges can affect our family and relationships for years to come.

We can be comforted knowing the Holy Family and our ancestors dealt with many hardships and have blazed a trail for us. We have many examples of families whose response to hardship was faith and determination to do the right thing. Their prayers and intercessions should be a comfort to us as we deal with our own day to day challenges.

Our 2nd reading today from Paul’s letter to the Colossians gives us a great step by step guide for responding to these challenges in our relationships. It’s a list of graces or virtues that Paul tells the Colossians to put on like clothing. Like with any grace in our life we know it comes from God, but we need to accept it. We have the free will to ask Him for these gifts each day or to try to handle everything on our own.

The comparison of choosing these gifts and putting on clothing each day was very helpful for me. To share this I made a few examples. Every morning, I put on a T-shirt. I have the choice of which type of T-shirt to wear. One T-shirt looks like this:

  • Compassion                                                                            

  • Kindness        

  • Humility                                                                                             

  • Gentleness                              

  • Patience                                                                                              

  • Forgiveness

The other T-shirt is like this:

  • Coldness

  • Cruelty

  • Arrogance

  • Harshness

  • Impatience

  • Blame

You would think it would be easy to avoid this T-shirt each day. However, these negative behaviors can be habit forming and can be applied in almost any situation.

With this T-shirt, you must make a conscious effort to put it on. Then you need to keep choosing these virtues throughout the day.

Paul takes the clothing analogy farther and tells the Colossians to put on love over all these. Love is the bond of perfection like a big quilt you can wrap up in on a cold winter night.

Paul also tells us to let the peace of Christ control our hearts and to be thankful. We should let the Word of Christ dwell in us and do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus.

Because there is still sin in the world, we will continue to have challenges in our families and in our daily lives. It is up to us each day to ask for help from God and the intercession of the Holy Family, to respond correctly to these challenges. It is also up to us to accept others into our families that may be less fortunate or don’t have this kind of support from their own families. We are all part of God’s family.

Several years ago my wife gave me a prayer card that I rediscovered when writing this homily. I keep it on my dresser and will use it to help me decide which T-shirt to wear each morning. I could not find the author of this prayer, but you may have heard it before. There are copies of the prayer card at each door for everyone to have. Please take one home with you.

Family Prayer

God made us a family.

We need one another. We love one another. We forgive one another.

We work together. We play together. We worship together.

Together we use God’s word.

Together we grow in Christ.

Together we love all people.

Together we serve our God.

Together we hope for Heaven.

These are our hopes and ideals.

Help us attain them, O God,

Through Jesus Christ our Lord.