January 1, 2023: Solemnity of Mary, the Mother of God: Pastor’s Corner
Happy New Year!
It is often customary to usher in the New Year with hopes, dreams and fresh resolutions and this year 2023 is no different. Yet often these plans for new habits fall quickly by the wayside because we don’t consider the context of our resolutions. In other words, we put thought into what we might do differently without consideration of whom we do it with. For this reason, the Church situates the celebration of the New Year with the Feast of the Holy Family. After the joy and celebration of the birth of Jesus, we recognize the gift of family. Jesus does not simply appear like a mythical hero, but he enters into the fullness of humanity and the experiences of family life. This is a great gift and a great mystery. God is born into a real human family, so that family life itself might be the place where we experience God.
Because we call their family holy, we might assume that Mary, Joseph and Jesus had a perfect and happy life. Nothing could be further from the truth. If we examine the Scriptural stories of the early years of their family formation, we discover that life was anything but perfect for them. They faced fears and failure. They were fugitives and refugees. They were uprooted from family and all that was familiar. Yet, in the midst of it all, they remained faithful. Today’s feast reveals that the holy family was holy not because they were perfect but because they were faithful.
Family life is messy. There are daily challenges and obstacles. This was true for the Holy Family as well. Consider St. Joseph’s relationship with Mary. After they are engaged, he discovers that she is pregnant and that the gossip is beginning to brew. When he decides to divorce her quietly, he is visited by the angel Gabriel who asks him to trust God’s province and guidance. We can only imagine the heroic trust that Joseph had in this message. Mary herself shows incredible trust when the angel says that she is to give birth to the Messiah, she asks “How can this be?” Certainly, in this moment, she cannot possibly know the sacrifices which will be asked of her. Coming to Jerusalem, Mary and Joseph do not find room, they have to flee to Egypt and ultimately, they settle in Nazareth away from the comfort and confines of the familiar. Again, when Mary brings Jesus to the temple to be purified, Simeon prophesies that her life will be full of sorrows: “and a sword will pierce your heart.” Even the last story of Jesus’ adolescence is one of grief as his parents “lose” him in temple. Jesus’ response to Mary’s concern in that moment is a call to faithfulness of God’s vocation “Why did you search for me? Did you not know I have to be about my Father’s business?” At every point in the story, the Holy Family struggled with the challenges of being a family.
What is remarkable about the Holy Family is that, in the face of struggles, they were faithful. Joseph put aside his expectations and sense of manhood and fatherhood and provided for the Son that was not his biological scion. Mary responds to Gabriel “I am the handmaid of the Lord. Be it done unto me according to Thy word.” Jesus himself was obedient and lived a normal life for more than thirty years, before he began his public ministry. The Holy Family is holy because in the midst of challenges and difficulties, they were faithful to God and to one another.
So too for us. Family not the place where we have all of our needs met, but the place where we can meet needs of others. Just as each of the members of the Holy family grew in wisdom and grace through their experiences, so too we grow in virtue because of, not in spite of family challenges. Trust. Generosity. Forgiveness. These are core human virtues which are best learned and cultivated through family life.
The Holy Family is not just the object of our admiration but also a feast for our imitation. Whatever our family difficulties, this feast reminds us that such challenges are opportunities to be faithful, to grow in holiness, and to give ourselves to each other. As we encounter this New Year and make good resolutions, let’s include those who are close to us in these plans. Let’s focus our hopes and dreams on bringing the presence of the newborn Christ into our homes. May faith always find a home in our families!
~ Fr Michael