I went to see the movie ‘The Nativity’. In my opinion it was spared all the excesses of a Hollywood production. When we think back on our memories of movies such as the Ten Commandments, Ben Hur or the Robe with all the extravagance and poetic license they took with Scripture, the Nativity was a breathe of fresh air. It certainly had nothing in common with The Passion of Christ.
The Nativity showed the common yet harsh life of the poor people of the time. The simple homes, the cramped living conditions, the hard labor and yet the sense of community in small villages such as Nazareth. It was a hard life. The movie showed in its own way how Jesus became as we all are, one like us in all things. I think they portrayed Mary as an ordinary young woman of the time – helping with family chores, having friends, helping others. But I liked Joseph the best. A hard working, friendly young man looking for a bride, approaching Mary’s father for her hand – the deal being made with Mary having little if anything to say about it. Poor Joseph is shocked when Mary comes back to Nazareth after her three month visit with her cousin Elizabeth, obviously pregnant. Tongues wag and knowing looks are exchanged when Mary walks through the streets. But as the Gospel tells us Joseph took her as his wife and took away the shame. From then on in different scenes of their journey to Bethlehem Joseph always referred to ‘our child.’
I’ve mentioned on every feast of the Holy Family what a disservice Christian artists have done to Jesus, Mary and Joseph. Everything is so serene, so unruffled, they are like porcelain dolls. They’ve taken them out of the realm of reality – especially the harsh reality portrayed in The Nativity. Their’s was not an easy life.
I think today’s gospel story of the loss of the young Jesus in the bustling city of Jerusalem gives points to this truth. Can you imagine if a son or daughter of yours just disappears without a word – you have no idea where they are? Imagine the panic. You are distraught. You call the police, you call friends – does anybody know where he or she is. Then when they do show up you’re caught between relief and anger. You want to take them and shake them, you want to take them and hug them. Mary and Joseph were no different. Joseph lets Mary do the talking, ‘why have you done so to us’ how could you be so thoughtless, so irresponsible’ but Joseph must have had words with Jesus as well.
How many parents have asked a son or daughter – no matter what their age; ‘why have you done so to us?” How could you do such a stupid, thoughtless thing? How could you pick such friends? What were you thinking? The circumstances that cause such questions are endless. They leave you confused and questioning; where did we go wrong? Why didn’t we see this coming?
I say this every year and I mean it. Looking at you good people, good parents, I have to say, ‘ I took the easy way out’ The saints of the church are in the pews of the church, people like yourselves, whether you are in two parent or single parent homes. Good people like yourselves trying to do the best you can as you struggle with trying to keep your own relationship alive, as you worry about keeping a roof over your heads and raise a family. You are the saints.
As we continue to celebrate this Mass on this feast of the Holy Family – a family that knew its own struggles and its own joys, we pray for every family in the parish that they have the faith and strength to face their problems, the insight to appreciate how special is each member of the family and the love to bear one another’s weaknesses, knowing that all of us, as individuals and as family; we are all a work in progress.