Saint Mary of the Angels homilies and reflections

Homily. December 28, 2008. Feast of the Holy Family. Ken Hughes, SJ

Homily.  December 28, 2008.  Feast of the Holy Family.  Ken Hughes, SJ


We stand on the threshold of a new year, 2009.  Before we move into it, it might be helpful to pause for a moment and look back at the journey of the past year.  What have we learned from this year to take with us on the journey ahead?  Surely, we have much to be grateful for and celebrate.  It is important to remember various gifts of life and grace, and express our thanks to God.  We might also have some regrets which move us to repentance and some resolutions.  And I suspect that all of us have experienced losses, which we still grieve.  At this year’s end, I find myself mostly dwelling on these losses.


Today’s Feast of the Holy Family reminds us that our reflection takes place in the context of family, of home.  Our family is the bridge between ourselves as individuals and ourselves as members of a wider society.  Within a healthy home we find the necessary supports and tensions (and we need both!) so as to keep growing in strength and wisdom and grace, as Jesus did in his home, in his family.  Our Gospel today shows us that we also need wisdom people in our life, people who have experienced the chaos of life in all its beauty and terror, people who have reflected on the meaning of their own journey, and have prayed so as to see how their journey fits into the great vision of God.  Though our world is filled with many intelligent people, few are wise.  We need wisdom.


Two wisdom people, Simeon and Anna, enter the life of Mary and Joseph at this special moment of Jesus’ name day.  Simeon had awaited “the consolation of Israel.”  The Holy Spirit had promised him “that he should not see death before he had seen the Christ of the Lord.”  Today, he does see and hold and bless the Christ, and now acknowledges that it is time for him to pass on.  He prays, “Now, Master, you may let your servant go in peace according to your word.”  Anna, a woman of faithful prayer, also came “forward at that very time.  She gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were awaiting the redemption of Jerusalem.”  She, too, will soon leave this life.


The name, Simeon, means, “One who listens.”  I see him as a man listening to God in prayer, listening to people who shared their problems with him, listening to the movements of his own heart.  The name, Anna, means “Grace.”  I see her as a woman who moved through life gracefully in the midst of her own sufferings and struggles, which she surely must have had with the early death of her husband and her long life of widowhood and loneliness.  They were Mary and Joseph’s wisdom people to set them on the right path and then leave them.


Who have been the wisdom people in your life?  From whom or through whom did you come to know God as a God of love?  Where did you learn the beliefs and values by which you live?  Who taught you to keep looking forward in hope, -- to trust God and have confidence in yourself?  Hopefully, your parents were/are wisdom people.  But, when parents have failed, how often has it been a grandparent, or an aunt or uncle, a teacher or friend who guided us gently, wisely, firmly? 


This year, particularly this year, through my own losses, through the losses which many people have shared with me, through losses which people have mentioned in their Christmas cards, I find myself reflecting on words which the poet, Denise Levertov expressed many years ago concerning the loss of wisdom people in her life.


She wrote,


“This is the year the old ones,

the old great ones

leave us alone on the road.


The road leads to the sea.

We have the words in our pockets,

obscure directions.  The old ones


Have taken away the light of their presence, we see it moving over a hill…”


Yes, the old great ones may have left us, but we still carry their words in our pockets, just as Mary and Joseph carried the words of Simeon and Anna, words to remind them how their child belonged to God and how his life was to be the light to all nations.


May we never forget the old great ones in our life, especially the ones we may have lost this year.  And, as we grow older, may we, through our own prayer and reflection, become, in time, the old great ones to guide the next generation.


At the end of her poem, Denise offers words of comfort and encouragement.  She says:


“…for us the road

unfurls itself, we count the

words in our pockets, we wonder


how it will be without them, we don’t

stop walking, we know

there is far to go, sometimes


we think the night wind carries

a smell of the sea…”


We don’t stop walking.  There is far to go.

With the memory and words of the old great ones, may we stride forth into 2009 with confidence and courage as we continue the journey of our own life.

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