1. Why this feast day?
One might ask, "Why do we celebrate a day honoring or recalling the Holy Family?" An answer well might be "So that we can learn how Jesus grew up, shaped as a man by Mary and Joseph. This feast calls each of us to think about living with our family. Pope Francis recently noted that "family is where we learn to live with others despite our differences and to belong to one another." Today's readings are about our we belong to each other.
2. Sirach and Paul
From these readings we are taught that family involves more than loving one another. Even with a father's mind fails him, we are charged to take care of him. The person who reveres his/her mother stores up riches. When we take care of the elderly, our acts of love and charity "will not be forgotten" by God when final judgement occurs in our lives. Our attention to parents especially earns for us God forgives of our debt to him for our sinfulness.
In Paul's letter to the Colossians, we read how this great apostle views the various virtues we need to practice toward not just our parents but toward each other. It is evident that Paul had some experience in dealing with family. He strongly encourages his audiences to practice virtues that at times are quite difficult in family situations. But he is clear how we are to be "bearing with each other and forgiving one another."
3. St. Matthew's gospel today.
We are placed with Mary and Joseph as they flee from the threats of Herod. Joseph had a dream that gave him the direction and strength to take Mary and Jesus to Egypt for a while. Consider what they were doing for their new child. The royal edict was to destroy all male children under the age of two to make sure that their child would not live. So they traveled some distance without any comfort. They moved to a new land; to new languages; and to new customs. Not easy for sure.
They held each other throughout the journey and while living in Egypt. A work of a sculptor in the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception portrays a time of rest for the family on the way to Egypt. Mary holding Jesus close to her body and Joseph lying next to Mary and the child. Holding each other seems to be an innate reaction to human tragedy. Think of pictures or scenes you have experienced dealing with deep pain or loss: there is no shaking of hands when greeting each other in those moments, there is only hugs in silence and usually tears. We even grasp the bodies of some who are not exactly living as we might like, but none the less there is in tragic moments that inner drive to give comfort to someone who is suffering. This is where we learn that family life is not about perfection. Rather it is about our faithfulness, our fidelity to each other in these difficult moments.
This day of looking at one family and then at ourselves in the mirror of our family live teaches us that family life involves even respecting at times the messy bedrooms or the scattered dirty socks left here or there in a house, or even the tube of tooth paste left uncapped on the bathroom sink's shelf.
Family life demands of us much patience, forgiveness and understanding. Family life rewards us when we are down and out, when we have come upon difficult times. Perhaps a great need in our culture at this time is for us to strengthen the love we have first and foremost for our families.