The Feast of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph
Sunday, December 26, 2021
Homily Notes for the Feast of the Holy Family, 2021
· A feature of the papacy in the past century and into the 21st century was the efforts the Popes made to make pilgrimages and visits to countries around the world. Some joked that St. John Paul II spent more of his papacy outside the Vatican than within it, including when he would sneak away to go ski without telling anyone, while both Pope Francis and Benedict XVI both made many pilgrimages, with the hopeful expectation for Canadian Catholics of when the Pope will visit our nation to meet with the indigenous peoples of our country.
· Prior to St. John Paul II, the popes rarely left the Vatican, in part due to the dangers they faced of being abducted by the unscrupulous leaders of Christendom or revolutionary governments that emerged after the French Revolution, both of which wanted to control the papacy, or because of the logistical challenges of long-distance travel prior to airplanes taking us around the world.
· For these reasons, one of the most significant yet lesser-known events of the past century of papal history was when St. Paul VI travelled to the Holy Land in 1964. It had been centuries since a Pope visited the land where Jesus once walked, some wondering if a pope had ever visited the Holy Land since St. Peter made his way to Rome to be its bishop and the Pope of the early church.
· When St. Pope Paul VI arrived in Israel, the local Christian community rejoiced to see the Vicar of Christ and successor of St. Peter finally return to the land made sacred by the footsteps of Jesus.
· The recent creation of the State of Israel and subsequent wars that took place had left the small Christian population filled with fear and uncertainty whether they would be able to continue to be the presence of Christ in the Holy Land.
· St. Pope Paul VI arrived in Nazareth to consecrate the newly built Church of the Annunciation, built over top of the ruins that were believed to be the home of the Blessed Virgin Mary and the place where the Archangel Gabriel announced she would become the Mother of God.
· Looking at the local Christians, eager to hear the Pope preach from the town that Jesus once called home, the Holy Father decided to speak of the Holy Family and what he called the School of Nazareth.
· The Pope suggested that all Christians needed to attend the School of Nazareth, that is, to spiritually enter into the home of the Holy Family to learn from their example as to how to be disciples of Christ, deeply rooted in pondering the Word of God as lived in the lives of Jesus, Mary and Joseph.
· Of everything the pope said, two lessons stood out to me as being ones that each of us can bring into our lives of faith.
· The first was to enter into the silence of Nazareth. What he meant was that when we use our imagination, in a holy manner, and try to imagine what life was like in the home of the Holy Family, you are called into the deep contemplative silence that permeated their home. Jesus spent many quiet hours in silent prayer in his family home or among the hills that surrounded Nazareth.
· Mary spent countless hours in quiet contemplation as she watched her son grow in wisdom and the favour of men, pondering what his mission as the Messiah would become and what was the sword that Simeon foretold would pierce her soul.
· Joseph spent many hours in quiet prayer as well as he worked, caring for his family, teaching his son his trade and marvelled as the Son of God, whom was known as the Son of Joseph, lived among him as God in the flesh.
· We too should seek out times of silence to contemplate the presence of God in our midst!
· The second great lesson that we learn from Nazareth is the great value of work and its essential place in the family life. Joseph and Mary worked hard in their respective vocations, not simply to do what needed to be done to assure the family survived, but also because they knew the inherent dignity that comes from work, since when you give of yourself to your occupation, family and community, you realize that in doing so you are reconnecting with the vocation that Adam and Eve were given in Eden, to care for the earth and build up the family of God through hard work and dedication.
· So too did Jesus spent the vast majority of his earthly life in the midst of work, be it as a student in learning the Law of God to day after day working alongside Joseph in whatever jobs awaited them. Every time he swung a hammer, planed wood or dug trenches, Jesus was showing himself to be the New Adam, not only in saving the world from sin, but in restoring human work to its original purpose of being a means to help someone grow in holiness as their dignity was built up in the labours they undertook.
· Might we learn from the Holy Family during their lifetime in Nazareth how to rediscover God in the midst of our daily work. Whatever that be, in some occupation, in our homes, in our retirement, work remains a part of who we are and we are presented with an important choice to either ignore the presence of God in our daily labours or encounter Him there and in doing so discover a means to draw closer to him and imitate the virtues of that hard-working family who dwelt in Nazareth long ago…