Feast of the Holy Family
Sir. 3:2-6, 12-14; Col. 3:12-21; Lk 2:22-40
Today we celebrate the Feast of the Holy Family – Jesus, Mary, and Joseph. Quite the all-star cast! In all of history there has never been any to match them. And yet, they were totally normal, totally blended in, even considered insignificant by those around them. When Jesus began his ministry and was going around as an itinerant preacher, his townsfolk were indignant, “Who is this guy to make himself out to be a teacher? Is this not Jesus, the son of a carpenter?”
In 2 Kings 6, the prophet Elisha and his servant woke up to find themselves surrounded by an enemy army. But God sent legions of horses and chariots of fire to protect them. Not so the Holy Family. When they learned that King Herod was planning to kill Jesus, they had to flee like any other poor people without rights. And when they were in Egypt, they were even lower on the totem pole: foreigners, immigrants, strangers.
Do you think there’s any chance this simplicity and lowliness might have been intentional? That it might have been planned precisely this way for all eternity? That it wasn’t merely an oversight? Maybe there’s a message in it. Perhaps it was meant to be an example. Could it be that they were trying to tell us that riches and possessions and power and respect aren’t all they’re cracked up to be? That maybe there are more important things in life to strive for – things that will endure forever?
I’ve always been impressed by the Amish people living in the US. They haven’t bought into a lot of the values that others consider so important. They live simple, frugal lives and emphasize family values and community and religion. They generally have a lot of kids, and do a lot of things together as a family.
A few years back an Amish family would come here and cut hickory saplings on our property. The dad, Sam, would call me on a borrowed phone and set things up. Then they would hire a non-Amish neighbor to drive them here. They would all pile out of the vehicle – I think he had 12 or 14 kids. They all looked alike and were only a year or two apart – mostly boys. If they would have been lined up in order it would have been a perfect stair-step. They would all fan out with their little hand saws and bring back bundles of saplings to put in the trailer pulled behind. Hickory saplings bend easily and Sam and his family would make rocking chairs with them to support themselves. Over the months, he brought us three in payment. One time I wanted to show Sam an area where I thought they would find a lot of hickories. I was on our 4-wheeler and he was sitting behind me in his Amish clothes and suspenders. As I sped down a dirt road, he was holding onto his hat and the end of his long beard was blowing around to the side. He had a smile on his face. His boys were amused to see him on a 4-wheeler.
A couple months ago we lost our novice Br. Joachim. He was headed back to India and needed to buy clothes and stuff. I went with him. We ended up going to Goodwill in Geneseo. Joachim bought a nice, big suitcase and then shirts and pants and shoes – everything that he would need. The prices were incredible and the quality surprisingly good. While he was picking through the shirts I was standing nearby, looking around at what else was happening in the store. I was struck by an Amish family over in the baby clothes section. The mother was small and thin. She had the usual dress and bonnet. It seems like there were five or six kids, mostly girls, all very young. The oldest was holding the youngest to free up the mother to look through all the little clothes that were hanging there. About three kids were sitting in the shopping cart, all very content and calm and docile. Their dresses and bonnets were clean and neat. The mother was very composed and peaceful and unhurried. The whole scene was so soothing and wholesome to look at.
And one doesn’t have to be Amish to raise a big family. On retreat with us this past week have been David and Carmen Suazo and their 12 kids from New Jersey. They usually come every year and are part of the Neocatechumenal Way. David is a mechanic and Carmen stays home with the kids. They have had to sacrifice some of the frills, but God has always supplied for their needs.
I come from a family of ten and we’re all still really close. We prayed the rosary every night together. The family that prays together stays together. All of our meals were together, and we made it a point to do other activities together. There was more a sense of “we” instead of “I” and my rights. My mother was around all the time and it created a feeling of stability, dependability, predictability, and permanence. My dad was a farmer, and like the Amish we lived close to the land, with fruit trees, farm animals, and a vegetable garden.
I realize that convincing modern-day Catholics to have ten kids is a hard sell. But I would at least like to encourage three things. Firstly, that a high priority be given to eating meals in common, all together, at the same time, without cell phones or tablets or the TV on. It might mean cutting back on some of the activities that the kids are involved in like soccer or gymnastics, but are they really that important? If those occur once or twice a week, you can plan around them. Secondly, that families do activities together – fun things, board games, card games, volley ball, even work projects. These foster a sense of togetherness and bonding. And thirdly, but not least important, some type of praying together as a family. If the kids are younger, maybe reading inspirational books about the lives of the saints. If the kids are a little older, maybe a passage from Scripture and then free discussion on how it might apply today. Going to weekday Mass sometimes as a family is also not a bad idea, if possible. It’s important for the parents to show by example that spiritual things are more important than material things.
And, for those of us in the monastic family, on this side of the railing, it is likewise important for us to do things together and resist the pull to individualism. Fr. Gerard, in his chapter talks on Dom Erik’s presentation, stressed the value of communal work, communal reading, and communal meditation.
We all have something to aim at in the example of the Holy Family that we celebrate today. Let us all try to emulate the things they found important.