The Refugee Holy Family

We’ve just had too much happening in too short a time – our liturgical feasts come too close together to give us a chance to absorb the wonders we celebrate. Yesterday we celebrated the wonder of the Son of God emptying himself of divinity and clothing himself our humanity – flesh of our flesh, bone of our bone. Through his passion and death he would make real the wonder St. Paul speaks of in his letter to the Ephesians, “before the world began God chose us in Christ to be his adopted sons and daughters.” Christ emptied himself of divinity that we might come to share in his riches. Christ entered our families that we might be members of His.

Today we see Jesus and his parents enmeshed in the messiness of human life. By Matthew’s account a frightened King Herod was determined to wipe out any threat to his kingship. He would make swift work of this newborn king of the Jews and so we have the slaughter of the innocents. Young Joseph had to rush Mary and Jesus out of Bethlehem to make a dangerous journey into a foreign land seeking sanctuary and safety. Like most refugee foreigners they were not welcome in Egypt where Joseph had to find lodging for his family and a job and learn a new language. Those who are new to a country can appreciate the loneliness and isolation Mary and Joseph endured.

In light of this reality of Mary, Joseph and Jesus maybe we could spend a few minutes reflecting of the blight of the countless millions of men, women and children who make up the refugee population of our world today. The numbers are staggering.

Most of these people are the victims of racial and territorial conflicts in countries such as Darfur and the Sudan, Sri Lanka or many countries in Africa. One of the realities of our time is the number of people who are environmental refugees, people driven from their traditional homelands because of the exploration and exploitation of their native lands by foreign developers. Climate changes and rising sea levels have forced families to look for survival in other lands. Many Palestinians have been born in, lived in and died in squalid refugee camps because manipulative governments are unwilling to settle border and land disputes.

In the midst of this tragic reality we find that in many countries, including our own, there is a growing resentment toward people searching for a better life in a new land. Countries are closing their borders and making applications for entrance more difficult. Self serving politicians claim that many refugees are terrorists and stroke the fire of bigotry and racism in the minds of people. We find this shameful reality in Canada as our government seeks new legislation under the guise of controlling human trafficking and the need for national security. We have no difficulty letting men, women and children come here to harvest our crops, being paid a minimum wage, but when the harvest season is over we make sure they all go home.

Statelessness is a massive problem that affects an estimate 12 million people worldwide. Statelessness has a terrible impact of the lives of individuals. Possession of a nationality is essential for full participation in any society. People need to know they belong. Mary and Joseph and Jesus were stateless people in Egypt and in today’s terminology they would be known as illegal immigrants, people who are often exploited by upright citizens in sweatshops or homes where they are hired as nannies or caregivers.

You may think this is not the best subject to reflect on during this joyful season of Christmas but as today’s gospel tells us, Joseph’s family, Mary and Jesus were refugees, running for their lives to a strange unwelcoming country. As we consider their plight, their troubles, we can pray for all those around the world, no matter what their nationality, no matter what their faith, who suffer today as Joseph, Mary and Jesus suffered in their day.

This year for the fifth time our parish family will be sponsoring a refugee family, this time from Iraq. This family, fearing for their lives as Christians fled to Syria and we are helping them to start a new life here in Canada. I think this is the best way we can honor the Holy Family.

As we continue to celebrate this feast we pray for ourselves and for one another that we make our own the words of St. Paul especially in our contacts and interactions with newcomers to our neighborhoods or our country;” clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness and humility… above all clothe yourselves with love which binds everything and all of us together.” Then truly the peace of Christ will dwell in our hearts, our homes, and our land.