|When you think seriously about having the
Holy Family, Jesus, Mary and Joseph, serve as our model for family life,
it might seem quite intimidating and seemingly a model that is way beyond
us. After all, according to our Catholic teaching, Mary never committed
a sin. Jesus, of course, was God. And Joseph, we all know,
had to be a tremendous saint too.
So how can we imitate them when we know that
we are sinners and that we have lots of failings?
We know from the experience of our families
that it just isnít like we think the Holy Family had to have been.
Yet, the feast is not one thatís impossible for us to reflect on and draw
some very important lessons for ourselves.
First of all, I think itís very important to
emphasize that by recalling that Jesus was a member of a family, like anyone
of us, is that his humanness was real. This is something that is
difficult for many of us get a hold of -- that Jesus was truly human in
every way like us.
We can imagine Jesus as a tiny child.
We have lots of children sometimes running around the church, different
ages and so on. Well Jesus looked like any one of them as he grew
and developed and became a mature person. He went through all those
stages of childhood like any of our children go through. He was fully
And so I think we need not to so exalt the
Holy Family that itís beyond our reach.
There must have been times, to say the least,
where they got a little impatient with one another. There were times
when they rubbed each other the wrong way, just as it happens in our families.
So itís not really beyond our reach.
Then, also, when you consider, as we heard
in todayís gospel, Jesus had to flee and Mary and Joseph had to take him
because he was going to be killed. He lived in a real world, a world
filled with violence just as ours. He lived as a refugee, homeless,
and suffered as tens of millions of people suffer in our world right now.
So he really did have solidarity with us and
with our experience. And we can draw from that and come to know Jesus
better as we reflect upon that experience of his as a real child, in a
real family, in a real world, in a world filled with violence and sin --
just as in our world.
Of course, Jesus had to grow and fit into that
somehow and try to change it.
But, probably, the most important thing for
us to reflect upon today, as we celebrate this Feast of the Holy Family,
is to make ourselves aware of what Matthew is really doing in this Gospel.
Matthew is setting the stage for helping us
to really know who Jesus is. Thatís why he describes this flight
into Egypt and how Jesus came back from Egypt in fulfillment of those words
from Hosea where God says, ďI have called my son out of Egypt.Ē What
Matthew is doing is showing that Jesus is, in fact, the new Moses.
Just as Moses had been threatened with his
life by a terrible ruler and had to flee out of Egypt, so does Jesus.
Just as Moses traveled back through the desert to the holy land, the Promised
Land, Jesus is going to be the new Moses who will lead us out of slavery
into freedom. Not just the physical slavery, but of the slavery of
sin into freedom as sons and daughters of God.
There are so many parallels that Matthew goes
on throughout his gospel to show how Jesus is the new Moses.
Moses fed the people in the desert with manna.
Jesus goes off into the desert and there he feeds the people by multiplying
the loaves and the fish. Later on, he makes clear that thatís a symbol
of how he continues to feed us through the Holy Eucharist. Moses
was the great lawgiver. He brought the Commandments down from Mount
Sinai. Jesus goes up a mountainside and begins to give a new law.
Heís the new Moses with the new law. ďYou have heard that it was
said of old thou shalt not kill. I say to you, and so on . . . ď
All those powerful ways show how his way and
his teaching go beyond anything taught before. He is this new Moses.
Just as Moses had established a covenant between God and the chosen people,
Matthew wants us to understand that thatís what Jesus does too.
As we say in the Eucharistic prayer:
He stretched out his arms between heaven and earth in the everlasting sign
of the covenant of love. The new covenant between God and the people
was a covenant of love and forgiveness -- the covenant that brings new
life to us.
Jesus is the one who is the new Moses who establishes
for us this new covenant with God. We are bound to God as Godís sons
and daughters and God is bound to us. Thatís what a covenant means.
Covenant of love -- unbreakable, unconditional,
unlimited love is the new covenant that is given to us through Jesus.
And so, on this Feast of the Holy Family, we
donít just think about Jesus as this tiny child growing up in a family
in Nazareth, we think about what Matthew is telling us who Jesus really
is, the new Moses with the new covenant, the new law.
As we reflect on this feast day, we ask ourselves,
ďHow do we respond to Jesus who is our new lawgiver, who is the one who
set this new covenant for us and enables us to enter into it?Ē
First of all, it seems very clear we need to
make sure that we commit ourselves to Godís covenant of love. Itís
a day when we can give special praise and thanks to God because we have
been born into Godís family. All of us, through our baptism, are
members of the family of God. Through this covenant of love, we are
brothers and sisters of Jesus. And, because we share the same spirit
life of Jesus, we are in a deep and special way brothers and sisters to
one another in our human family.
But here, especially, we think of ourselves
as a parish family. Weíre joined together, bonded together in Jesus
and we should give thanks and praise to God for that. But, also,
we must be challenged by the new law that Jesus gives to us. Thatís
how we will enhance, develop, and make strong the bonds of family love.
If we really listen to the new law Jesus has brought. ďYou have heard
that it was said of old, and so on . . . ď
Probably, for today, itís summed up best in
those words that Saint Paul proclaimed to the Church of Colossae, ďClothe
yourselves then as is fitting for Godís chosen people, holy and beloved.
Put on compassion.Ē
Nothing marked the life of Jesus more than
compassion, kindness, humility, meekness and patience, all those qualities
we need in our human family, in our own personal family, and in our parish
Bear with one another. Forgive one another
whenever there is any occasion to do so.
Forgiveness is always at the forefront.
ďJust as God has forgiven you, forgive one another.Ē
A very important measurement of how much we
need to forgive is as God has forgiven us. And each of knows how
much God has forgiven us and has done so unconditionally. Thatís
how much we must forgive one another. Let all this be done with love
and through it everything is united.
Paul then goes on to say how the result of
this will be the peace of Jesus in our hearts, in our homes, in our family
life, in our parish, in our community, and in our world. Thatís
an important point for us to think about.
All those qualities that will make peace come
into my heart and into my family are the same qualities that will bring
peace into our world.
I have here Pope John Paul IIís message for
the World Day of Peace for this year, January 1, 2002. Itís very
appropriate for the time in which we live and itís obvious that Pope John
Paul has thought very carefully about whatís happening in our world and
how the human family is being torn apart because we have neglected the
message of Jesus.
By sharing parts of this message, it will help
us to see what each of us must do if we are to truly celebrate this Feast
of the Holy Family.
He starts by saying, ďThe World Day of Peace
this year is being celebrated in the shadow of the dramatic events of 11
September last. On that day, a terrible crime was committed.
In a few brief hours, thousands of innocent people of many ethnic backgrounds
were slaughtered. Since then, people throughout the world have felt
a profound personal vulnerability and a new fear for the future.Ē
Then, a little further on, he says, ďThe hope which sustains the church
at the beginning of 2002 is this: That, by the grace of God, a world
in which the power of evil seems once again to have taken the upper hand
will, in fact, be transformed into a world in which the noblest aspirations
of the human heart will triumph, a world in which true peace will prevail.Ē
Thatís our hope.
It might seem impossible to many of us.
But then John Paul goes onto say how this could happen. He says,
ďRecent events, including the terrible killings just mentioned, move me
to return to a theme which often stirs in the depth of my heart when I
remember the events of history which have marked my life.Ē Heís talking
very personally here. He says, ďÖespecially, my youth. The enormous
sufferings of peoples and individuals, even among my own friends and acquaintances,
caused by Nazi and communist totalitarianism, has never been far from my
thoughts and prayers. I have often paused to reflect on the persistent
question, ĎHow do we restore the moral and social order subjected to such
horrific violence?í My reasoned conviction, confirmed in turn by
Godís holy word, is that the shattered order cannot be fully restored except
by a response that combines justice with forgiveness. The pillars
of true peace are justice and that form of love which is forgiveness.Ē
Heís making it clear that that form of love
which is forgiveness is the only thing that can bring healing in our personal
family, in our parish family, and in the human family.
Iíll share just one more part. Further
on, he explains more clearly what he means by forgiveness. ďForgiveness
is not a proposal that can be immediately understood or easily accepted.
In many ways, it is a paradoxical message. Forgiveness, in fact,
always involves an apparent short term loss for a real long term gain.
Violence is the exact opposite. Opting, as it does, for an apparent
short term gain, it involves a real and permanent loss. Forgiveness
may seem like weakness, but it demands great spiritual strength and moral
courage both in granting it and in accepting it. It may seem, in
some way, to diminish us, but, in fact, it leads us to a fuller and richer
humanity, more radiant with the splendor of the creator. So my ministry
of the service of the gospel obliges me and, at the same time, gives me
the strength to insist upon the necessity of forgiveness. I do so
again today in the hope of stirring serious and mature thinking on this
theme with a view to a far reaching resurgence of the human spirit in individual
hearts and in relations between peoples of the world.Ē
I think thatís a very powerful message for
us to reflect upon ? forgiveness as the form of love that can transform
our world. Think about what it could really mean within our family,
personal family, parish family, and the family of nations?
If we, as those who follow this new Moses,
Jesus, really live up to his teaching and influence the direction of our
nation, then that hope that John Paul has for genuine peace in the world
would happen. But I think itís going to require a very deep conversion
on the part of everyone of us to truly accept this way of Jesus, to follow
Matthew presents him as the new Moses, the
one leading us to the Promised Land, the land of peace, justice, and love.
Itís up to us to make the choice to follow Jesus and to make his way of
transforming the world a reality. Itís an extraordinary challenge,
but itís one that with Godís help each of us can accept and can live out.
In the name of the Father, and of the Son,
and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.