Saint Mary of the Angels homilies and reflections

Homily, December 26, 2010 Feast of the Holy Family, Ken Hughes, SJ

Feast of the Holy Family


(Sirach 3:2-7, 12-14; Col. 3:12-17; Matthew 2:13-15, 19-23)

Have you ever taken time to ponder what was happening around the time of your birth: -what significant world or national events were taking place?

-more importantly, what was happening in your own family?

Do you know what kind of environment shaped the very earliest years of your life?

Certainly, the Great Depression provided a harsh background for my birth in 1934 as the youngest of four children. My father had been out of work for several years and was just then working for the WPA, the Roosevelt Administration’s project to give work to the poor. From my sister’s working on our family history, I have since learned that my mother buried her mother just two months before I was born. And when I was just three months old, my family had to move from our second floor apartment in West Roxbury because of conflicts with our landlord. Then, within the next three years, my father buried his father and two of his brothers. Those must have been great hardships and sufferings which my parents had to endure. And, for the most part, they shielded us from the grief and sadness in this story.

And you? What was happening in the world when you were born? The Korean Conflict? Vietnam? The Civil Rights Movement? Those Cold War years? Vatican II? The Gulf War? 9/11 and the subsequent invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan? Who was president? Who was pope?

But, more importantly, what was happening in your family? Were there any disappointments or tragedies? Were there deaths to mourn? Any sudden upheavals? A loss of home or country? Do you know the struggles of your parents to provide and care for you?

These questions emerge out of today’s Feast Day of the Holy Family and the Gospel we have just listened to. Although Jesus was born in the great Pax Romana, the peaceful reign of Caesar Augustus, he was also born in the territory of the despot, King Herod. Thus, Jesus was born homeless in a stable. He was born with a price on his head. Along with Mary and Joseph, Jesus quickly became a refugee escaping persecution. They then dwelt as immigrants in Egypt. Those early years after Jesus’ birth must have been extremely difficult and painful for all three: Joseph, trying to protect and provide; Mary, caring for her new-born baby; and Jesus, helpless, absorbing like a sponge this hostile environment and his parents’ fears.

Their experience is not unlike the experience of many today. This Christmas, over 640,000 people are homeless in the United States alone. 44 million Americans (more than the entire population of Canada) live below the poverty line. 15.5 million of these are children. In Asia and Africa, 62 million live in refugee camps. Within our borders 11 million illegal immigrants seek a hidden livelihood. They call themselves, "The Invisible Ones."

The harsh reality of our births, the harsh reality of Jesus’ birth, the harsh reality of so many babies born today sobers our Christmas celebration. We acknowledge these harsh realities, but we don’t just stay there. We look further.

What stood out for me as a child, and what I can name now, is my parents’ faith, hope and love: a faith that, through prayer and sacrament, steadfastly turned to God for strength and guidance; a hope that focused so much on education so we children might enjoy more in life; a love that made sacrifices and made sure that we had the essentials in food and clothing.

What were the gifts that your parents gave to you? What was their gift of faith like? What was their hope for you? How did they show their love? What sacrifices did they make for you?

Mary and Joseph also lived and gave to Jesus, faith, hope and love. In faith, they trusted completely the voice of God, whether spoken in prayer or dreams. They placed their hope in God’s promise that, through these events, salvation would come to God’s people. And only love could have endured that dark journey of the homeless, the refugee, the immigrant.

The hardships and sacrifices of our parents and their gifts of faith, hope and love move us to profound gratitude, the gratitude St. Paul urges in his Letter today to the Colossians. He tells us: "Be thankful." "Sing[ing] psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God." "And 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."

And that is what we do today in this Mass: give thanks. We thank God for the life and freedom we enjoy. We thank God for our parents and thank them for the gifts of faith, hope, and love which they have passed on to us. And we thank God for our family, which, like the Holy Family, is on a journey, with its joys and sorrows, moving toward our eternal home, which is God.

Kenneth J. Hughes, SJ

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