December 29, 2019 • Feast of the Holy Family
First Reading: Sirach 3:2–6, 12–14
Responsorial Psalm: Psalm 128:1–2, 3, 4–5 (cf. 1)
Second Reading: Col 3:12–21
Gospel Acclamation: Colossians 3:15a, 16a
Gospel: Matthew 2:13–15, 19–23
The readings for this Sunday are, unsurprisingly, about family — the Holy Family and ours.
The first reading is taken from the Book of Sirach. Families are God’s idea and creation. There is family in the Trinity. There is the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, who proceeds from the Father and the Son. They are united in love, purpose, substance and more. Consequently, when God created man in His image, a plurality and unity of creation was necessary in order to provide in a tangible, visible form something of the mysteries of the Trinity. The human family was created with a man and a woman and the children who issued from their union of love. God did not create the human family to live independently from the Trinity, but in dependent harmony with the Trinity.
However, our first parents and their family fell into disharmony with God and each other through the deception of the Evil One and their imperfect love of and trust in their Creator. The Bible and the Judeo-Christian Faith is an ongoing story of God’s redeeming love, pursuit and sacrifice for the salvation of mankind, bringing us back into harmony with Himself and each other. This is the backdrop for what Jesus Ben Sirach, the author of the book from which the first reading is taken, has to say. He is speaking as a father to his son in this book of wisdom, which explains the male flavor. It is an interesting point that this book was a family project, because Ben Sirach’s grandson translated it from his grandfather’s Hebrew to Greek. Then it was included in the Septuagint, the pre-Christian Greek translation of the Old Testament.
So, who set parents over their children? God did! He intended for the parents to care for their children and instruct them in the ways of God and creation. And He expects the children to reciprocate by honoring their father and revering their mother. And God has built-in rewards for doing so. God is well pleased when He sees these things happening in our families, because after all, it was His idea!
It is, again, interesting that Ben Sirach affirms the mother’s authority over her sons. Why is that? Because guys can sometimes lord their generally greater size and strength over women. They tend to get cocky, arrogant and domineering. My dad backed up my mom’s authority with me. If I disrespected her, his hand dropped to the buckle of his belt, which would become a leather strap if I persisted. I only tested that a couple of times.
So, let’s look at the benefits of honoring our fathers and revering our mothers. But at the outset, it is important to note that these are general truisms. Nothing is guaranteed in this life because of our free will and the Fall, except the love of God, that He created us to be drawn into union with Him, and that we have a purpose to fulfill. So, here we have God’s plan for us, that we may remain united with Him:
- It atones for sins. What?! Have you never read that love covers a multitude of sins? 1 Peter 4:8.
- It preserves us from sin. How? By following our parents’ good example and instruction (if we had good parents), and by showing God’s unmerited love and favor (if our parents were not so good). It also shows gratefulness and thanksgiving toward God and our parents.
- It makes God more inclined to hear our prayers. He’s not saying, “Are you talking to me? You know, your heavenly Father?”
- It stores up riches. Revering our mothers prepares us to be future spouses who honor and/or revere their spouses.
- We will be gladdened by children and be more open to life in our marriages.
- See 3 above. Psst, this is a double emphasis, which means pay special attention.
- Long life – Again, generally speaking. Your song is not likely to be, “I fought the law and the law won.”
- If we are obedient to our fathers, we bring comfort to our mothers. Huh? It means we are not out of control. My dad was the heavy, the last resort. If I didn’t obey him, I was in trouble.
The final paragraph is a plea from Ben Sirach to his son to care for him in his old age, even if he gets dementia. And I suspect his son did because his son’s son translated Grandpa’s book for future generations of Hellenistic Jews to benefit from. And God will take notice and not forget. Why? Because family was His idea and He lives in relationship within Himself.
“Do these things actually work?” Some may ask, if they come from severely abusive and dysfunctional families. I can say yes. I have seen it in my own family of origin, and more extensively in my wife’s large extended family. Perfectly? No, my wife was horribly abused by a family member of that large extended family who was not following Ben Sirach’s advice to his son.
The responsorial psalm emphasizes the importance of a grounded love relationship with God as the basis of our family relationships.
The second reading is about maintaining our relationships within the family of God, the Church.
Again, being rooted and grounded in relationship with Christ is necessary for the health of our horizontal relationships.
The Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph is our example. I wish I had time to develop written reflections on all the readings. But there is something I did notice, which would seem to bolster the perpetual virginity of Mary. When the Lord is telling Joseph to flee to Egypt, He always says, “take the child and his mother…” and not “the child and your wife.” Mary was the spouse of the Holy Spirit. I remember when I first heard that from our priest in my last parish and the light bulb came on: “Of course!”
Families are God’s idea, and what we do in our families can influence them towards God or away from Him for generations. We can build up or tear down. For those of us who come from destructive backgrounds, let me encourage you that God can use you to create a new beginning and direction for your family tree, to bring blessing on it instead of cursing. I have seen it happen many times. But of first importance is your own relationship with the Holy Trinity and the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph. That will provide the basis for the change on down the line.