Monday, December 27, 2010

Fr. Matthias Neuman's Homily for the Feast of the Holy Family

Readings: Sir 3:2-14; Col 3:12-21; Mt 7:2-23

About two weeks ago my niece, Melissa, had her third baby—a little girl named Ally Rose. In the days following the birth all kinds of pictures appeared on her Facebook account showing a smiling mother and father, the new baby, and her two older brothers, ages two and four, totally entranced with the newest member of the family. The little boys were exploring her fingers, toes and ears. They were pictures of family togetherness at its finest hour. But hearing confessions, as I have often done in this past Advent season, shows another picture of family life. That picture shows the struggles and temptations of people to remain faithful to their promises to each other; it shows the effort needed to regain an honest communication; it shows the difficulty of extending forgiveness as well as asking for forgiveness. This second picture gives ample evidence of all the stresses on family life. The feast of the Holy Family was meant to encourage families of all kinds, including those who are struggling.

The feast of the Holy Family is a relative late-comer to the Church’s Liturgical year. It seems to have originated in Canada in the 1880s or 1890s. Its express purpose was to support and encourage struggling families who were continuing to emigrate to Canada from all over the world. As always, immigrants then had to encounter many challenges to move their families and find the necessities of life to maintain them. Pope Leo XIII liked the feast and in 1893 had it inserted into the Church’s Liturgical Year.

I think it’s important that we should see and understand this feast in relation to struggling families as well as happy families. Too often the feast gets made into some unreachable ideal; that winds up causing more guilt than anything else. It’s instructive that the gospel passage for this feast relates the story of the Flight into Egypt and all the attendant reasons surrounding it. The life of their child is being threatened and so this young couple runs away to another land. They faced a dangerous journey with many hardships. We can only imagine the fears and worries they had in undertaking this trip. There must have been many hardships: coming to a strange place, where people spoke a different language, trying to find a suitable place to live and work that would support them for as long as needed. The Holy Family endured many stresses and dangers in becoming the Holy Family. That was one of the primary reasons why this feast was begun.

In fact, this day would be a good occasion for us to remember the approximately 220 million people who are immigrants in the world today. I took the occasion to look up some information on the International Organization for Migration’s website. That intergovernmental organization was begun in 1951. It seeks to provide just policies for the treatment of immigrants in all countries. The need is overwhelming, and they admit that their efforts meet all sorts of obstruction from various countries. Many reasons drive immigration: the need for work, fleeing from war or oppression, the need for food, the need for housing or education. There are a lot of immigrant people in this world who need all the encouragement and help they can get.

The example of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph having to flee for their lives into a foreign land tries to give strength and courage to millions of today’s immigrants. But we are the ones who should examine ourselves to consider the kind of welcome, support and help that we give to newcomers in our midst—they are reflections of the Holy Family in our midst today.

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