SOLEMNITY OF THE HOLY FAMILY – YEAR A
One of the most wildly popular series of children’s books in recent years is “A Series of Unfortunate Events” authored by Daniel Handler using the pen name, Lemony Snicket. The Feast of the Holy Family we celebrate today might very well go under the subtitle, A Series of Unfortunate Events, because the Gospel we read today recounts a small series of unfortunate events that marked Jesus’ infancy and childhood.
The Magi have innocently tipped off King Herod to the birth of a new king of the Jews; and in his jealousy and rage Herod has decreed a slaughter of young boys. His violent campaign occasions the Holy Family’s Flight into Egypt with all the disruption that living as refugees brings in its wake. Even at the end of their stay in Egypt the family confronts another series of unfortunate events that places Archelaus on the throne of Judah; and so they cannot return to Bethlehem.
In truth the whole story of Jesus’ conception, birth, and childhood as recounted by Matthew and Luke involve Mary and Joseph in a prolonged series of unfortunate events. Joseph is just ready to bring his espoused wife into his home when he discovers that she is bearing a child that is not his. The census was decreed just as Mary’s pregnancy was coming to term. The inn was fully occupied, forcing the couple to take shelter in a cave. Even after the return to Nazareth, a misunderstanding when Jesus enters his teens throws Mary and Joseph into panic as they frantically search for their lost son before finding him in the Temple.
As we celebrate the Feast of the Holy Family today it is helpful to recall that not only the family into which Jesus was born, but most families must cope with lots of series of unfortunate events that put their love and coping skills to the test. In the first reading today Sirach mentions the possibility that a father’s memory will fail in old age. Certainly, Alzheimer’s Disease and other forms of dementia can be at the root of a whole series of unfortunate events. But illness of any kind can disrupt the harmony and routine of family life. Autism or learning disabilities or just the routine string of sports-related injuries can try a parent’s patience. Divorce or separation, prolonged unemployment, the move to another home or another part of the county altogether, the death of a parent or child: they all have the potential to open up a series of unfortunate events.
Jesus was born into a world where legions of people found their lives overshadowed by series of unfortunate events. His calling of his first apostles was occasioned by an unfortunate night of fishing. He spent most of his time with people such as a widow mourning the death of her only son, blind beggars, shunned lepers, parents with a deathly sick little girl, a father frustrated because the disciples could not calm his epileptic son, a woman begging like a dog at her master’s table for a scrap of mercy for her ill daughter, a crazed demoniac terrorizing the neighborhood, a young criminal- a boy gone wrong, some unfortunate mother’s son – hanging next to him on the cross.
In dealing with all of those series of unfortunate events Jesus’ strength grew out of his family background: the parents who protected, disciplined, guided and encouraged him, introduced him to his religious tradition, and brought him up into manhood in such a way that he could hear and respond to his heavenly Father’s call.
How do we not simply survive all the series of unfortunate events that challenge us, but also become sources of strength, goodness, love and hope for one another? St. Paul describes, actually he prescribes, a series of fortunate events that we need to build into our lives together. “Put on compassion…. Bear with one another lovingly… Put on love ….”
Finally, today at this altar we recount and represent a series of events that to all appearances look like the most unfortunate imaginable. “At the time he was betrayed and entered willingly into his passion…” And as we cry out to the child who was born in Bethlehem and died on Calvary, “Save us, Savior of the world…,” we acknowledge that they were, after all, a series of most fortunate events. “Because by your death and resurrection you have set us free.”