homily – December 30

Matthew 2:13-15, 19-23

Today we celebrate the beautiful feast of the Holy Family. I mention this every year that religious, pious art has really distorted the harsh reality of the life of Jesus, Mary and Joseph. In today’s gospel we see them as a refugee family, fleeing for their very lives into a strange country. We know that when they eventually returned to Nazareth Joseph struggled to make a living as a carpenter, teaching Jesus the trade. We all know the story of Jesus disappearing for three days in Jerusalem, driving his parents to distraction – talking to them about having to be about his father’s business. Mary must have been distraught many times as she heard reports of Jesus and what he was preaching and how he was alienating the powers that be. Good Friday had to be the low point in the life of Mary as she saw her son betrayed, denied, rejected and finally put to death as a common criminal. We know there has been only one Holy Family and we know too they had their problems.

Family life is not what it used to be. Stability and permanency are hard to find. Just recently it was reported almost half the families in the country are single parent families and there was an article in the Star recently about the poverty of single mothers as they struggle to raise a family. We have the reality today of same sex couples raising families.

We can romanticize the family, thinking back of the good old days when divorce was a rarity. But as someone mentioned one time, in those days there were all kinds of marriage breakdowns, financial circumstance would not allow marriage break ups. Wives and mothers were at the mercy of their husbands.

No matter what form a marriage or family life may take, the advice of Paul to Colossians is so important for sustaining any relationships – if a relationship between husband and wife, parent and child, brothers and sisters is to be sound and healthy then there must be compassion, kindness, humility, meekness and patience. We have to be willing to bear with one another’s foibles and weakness – none of us is perfect – we have to be willing to forgive another as we have been forgiven. Every day we try to keep the great commandment, “love one another as I have loved you”. It is not easy but with God’s grace and our willingness, families can be holy and healthy.

We belong to different families – we all belong to the family of the Church, the family of God’s people. But there is one family and our membership that I’d like to think about today. It is our membership in the family of all the living species on earth. We are part of the family of life that inhabits planet earth. For too long we have been out of sync with this family. We’ve presumed upon this family, ignored it, imperiled it by our treatment of its other members. We’ve divorced ourselves from our family – we imagine we don’t need the other members of this family of life; in fact we’ve become unaware of our belonging to this family.

Our ventures into space gave us a whole new image of planet earth and scientists have helped us to recover an ancient truth of which we lost sight. We are not over and above other life forms; we are one with them in the circle of life, inter-dependent on them for our own survival. As I’ve mentioned before – we did not weave the web of life, we are a strand in the web and what we do to the web we do to ourselves.

Someone has described our human species as being autistic in our relationship with the earth family, we are abnormally self absorbed, and we lost our ability to be responsive to the life forms that surround us. We fail to see and respond to our relationship with the rest of life. We are unmoved by the extinction of other species of life. I think we catch a glimpse of this with the failure of the nations of the world to really do anything substantial about global warming at the recent congress in Bali – we are unwilling to give up our sense of ownership or superiority of the earth and it limited resources. We are deaf to the cry of the wounded earth.

All this heavy stuff, frightening stuff but it is our reality, a reality we deny at our peril and the peril of future generations.

As we continue to celebrate this Mass on this feast of the Holy Family we pray that God’s blessings be on all families, the strong ones and the wounded ones, the happy ones and the unhappy ones. We pray too for a more expanded awareness of our belonging to the family life that is sustained by Earth. May we all be graced to do what we can, by the choice of our life styles and the curbing of our consumerism, to heal the woundedness we’ve inflicted on our family and come to find the compassion, the kindness, the humility and meekness we need so that we can live in harmony with all the other species of life that share this home with us, as family.