SOLEMNITY OF THE HOLY FAMILY – YEAR C
Despite the government shut-down this past week, NORAD performed its annual chore of tracking the progress of Santa Claus around the globe on Christmas Eve. I must confess that I was too busy keeping tabs on the crowds coming and going church that night to keep track of Santa into the bargain. But I was fascinated to read about another journey by air on Christmas Eve – one that brought more joy to a daughter than anything that Old Saint Nick might have put into her stocking.
When Hal Vaughn of Ocean Springs, Miss. learned that his daughter, Pierce, a flight attendant for Delta Airlines, was to work on Christmas Eve and Day, he penciled in the six flights, too. They spanned the nation, from Louisiana, Florida, Massachusetts and Michigan. “Obviously, he really loves his daughter, or he wouldn’t have taken all those flights to spend Christmas with her,” a fellow passenger on one of those flights said, calling the gesture “a great Christmas story about a father and his daughter.”
Christmas and the love of a father for his children: they are two sides of one coin. And, while we looked at one side on the Feast of the Nativity, we look at the other today, the Feast of the Holy Family. We do so while listening to St. John’s magnificent reflection, “See what love the Father has bestowed on us that we may be called the children of God. And so we are.”
Hal Vaughan, impelled by his love for his daughter, Pierce, spanned the North American continent in a series of aircraft, but our Heavenly Father accompanied his beloved Son Jesus on a far more breath-taking mission. In the person of a tiny baby, our God pierced the impenetrable barrier between eternity and time, between the Infinite before whom we can only sit in silent awe and adoration and the tiniest of human creatures cradled in Mary’s arms and to whom we sing lullabies, the unbridged abyss between heaven and earth.
Given the absolutely mind-boggling reality of the Incarnation, it was almost inevitable that misunderstandings would arise, even for that holy couple Mary and Joseph. How do you raise a human child who is, at the same time, the all-holy, ever-blessed, eternal Son of God, ever-adored by choirs of angels who seemed to disappear and go silent as dawn broke over Bethlehem that first Christmas Day? If those of you who are parents have ever found yourself perplexed at how to handle a teenaged child, think of Mary and Joseph who, having received precious little instruction from visiting angels and recurring dreams, were flying – so to speak -by the seat of their pants by the time the boy turned twelve.
Of course, at last, a misunderstanding came along; we read about it today. After the slip-up in the caravan and desperate search for their missing son, Mary and Joseph are surprised by the somewhat cavalier way in which Jesus seems to dismiss the pain they have suffered. “Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” And, says St. Luke, “they did not understand what he said to them.” How did it all work out? “He went down with them and came to Nazareth.” Jesus was obedient to them and advanced. Mary kept all these things in her heart.
Today’s feast of the Holy Family reminds us that we are always accompanied by God. He is content to allow us to chart the course of our lives; but, like Pierce Vaughan’s father Hal, he travels with us because he cannot bear to be apart from us; and there is no length to which he will not go to demonstrate his love. He is with us in our misunderstandings of him and one another. He is with us in our anxieties and disappointments and frustrations. He is with us in the glorious Jerusalem’s of our lives and in the humdrum Nazareth’s. He is with us in our never-ending, sometimes stumbling efforts to advance, as well as in our slip-ups. Most of all he is with us as we strive to keep in our hearts all the happy memories that we treasure most dearly at this season of the year, all the members of our families and those whom we have welcomed into our family circles, and – like Mary – all our hopes and dreams for the future.