A person wrote to Ann Lander. Dear Ann Landers: I have been married for 20 years. My husband is a blue-collar guy who works hard to support his family. I also work fulltime, and when I come home, I take care of all the household duties, including cooking and cleaning. My husband leaves his work shirt and pants on the floor wherever he happens to be undressing. He expects me to pick them up, wash them and put them in the closet. I have done this for years, but I always resented it. I have asked him to please put his work clothes in the hamper as a courtesy to me, but he won’t do it. Two months ago, he dropped his good suit on the floor. I asked him to hang up. He refused. I told him I wasn’t going to pick it up for him. Well, Ann, it has been on the floor ever since. Should I give in? (Weakening in Buffalo, N.Y.)
Ann Lander said, “For God’s sake, pick it up. You are the one who is miserable!”
We continue our Christmas celebration with the feast of the Holy Family. The readings present us with numerous holy characters. The first reading presents the family of Abram and Sarah. They are older and childless couple. Being childless is a disgrace in the Jewish society. Abram converses with God and let God know how he feels, “See you have given me no offspring, and so one of my servants will be my heir.” Abram has a good relationship with God. He and Sarah are sad and disappointed because they cannot have children, but they are not mad at God. Even they do not get what they want, they still have a good relationship with God. That’s holy.
The second family is the family of Mary and Joseph. Mary and Joseph bring the child to the temple to perform the purification ritual according to the prescription of the laws. In the Jewish tradition the woman becomes unclean by the event of giving birth the first time. She must go through rituals of purification. If it is a male child, the child must be circumcised on the seventh day after his birth and given a name. Thirty-three days latter the woman herself must go to the temple and make an offering of a lamb and the priest shall make atonement for her so that she can once again be clean. If the family cannot afford a lamb, two doves can be offered.
Mary and Joseph are devout Jews. They take their religious responsibilities seriously. Mary knows that she is a virgin. Joseph knows that he is not the father of the child. They both know that their child is the Son of God. Obviously, they should be exempted from the ritual of purification. Mary and Joseph, however, accept the responsibility of being family, husband and wife, mother and father as an ordinary Jewish family. They made commitment to follow the Jewish custom to raise Jesus in their tradition. That’s holy.
This family does not consider just the obligation of the woman to go to the temple for the purification ritual. They also follow the prescription of the law on offering. They know that their Son is God’s Son. Everyone should give offering to that child instead. But with humility, they faithfully fulfill their religious obligations. They are so poor that they cannot afford to have the preferred offering of a lamb. They do not excuse themselves, but do what they can by offering the two doves. That’s holy.
They know their Son is God’s Son, but they still do their best to raise him right. The Gospel tells us: “When they had fulfilled all the prescriptions of the law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth. The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favor of God was upon him.” That’s a holy family.
Secondly, like any other parents, Mary and Joseph must have loved their child, and want to showing him off to others. They must have enjoyed the fuss that people made about him, just as you enjoyed people stopping to look at your babies and say a kind word to you. One of the people making a fuss over Jesus is this old man named Simeon. He is inspired by the Holy Spirit to come to the Temple. He is certain that he will not die until he sees the Messiah, the anointed of the Lord. But what he says to the mother is disturbing. “Behold this child is destined for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be contradicted, and you yourself a sword will pierce, so that the thoughts of may hearts may be revealed.”
What a horrible way to destroy the peace of a loving family. Mary and Joseph are doing everything right, and this old man is telling Mary that the child's life will cause her pain. Mary and Joseph are good and religious parents. Their child is the Son of God. Why should they have to suffer?
The Gospels present Mary and Joseph as calmly meeting each challenge as their lives move on. They have to struggle as any other family. Mary cannot explain herself to Joseph of her being pregnant. How could he believe her, a teenage girl, saying that she has conceived by the Holy Spirit? Joseph also cannot understand Mary’s condition either. He knows for sure that the baby is not his. So whose baby is it? Both of them, however, respect each other. Both of them want to do the right thing. They do not want to hurt each other’s feelings. They carefully listen to the Spirit and follow God’s instruction. It is not over yet. When the baby is about to be delivered, they cannot find a place for their child at the first moment of his life. Imagine how would you feel, if you have to put your child in a stable the first night of his life? Then, not too long after that, they have to pack up and run as refugees, because Herod is after the child. We wonder, “Why does the Son of God have to run away from a human king?” Twelve years later, Jesus gets loss in the temple. They have to go look for him everywhere. When they find him, Mary calmly says, “Son, Why have you done this to us? Your father and I have been terribly worried trying to find you” (Lk 2:48). They calmly face each challenge with total trust in God. That’s holy.
Later on, when Jesus begins his ministry, Joseph is missing, probably dead, but Mary continues to be with her Son. At Cana, while people are crowding about him, Mary does not call the attention to herself. she calmly informs Jesus that the bridegroom has run out of wine. She tries to help others. That’s holy. And at the foot of the Cross, full of pain, but She does not collapse. She is not crumpled up in hysteria. She calmly stands beneath the cross watching her Son to die. That’s holy.
Because of their union with God, the external turmoil and chaos in life cannot disturb the tranquility of their family and their trust in God. They can deal with the chaos around them calmly. They are not losing their faith. We are cranky and moody. We lose our calmness because we lose our union with God. When we choose the chaos of sin, then the least provocation from outside of us can become an occasion of great grief and horrible over-reaction.
Mary and Joseph were able to endure the chaos around them because they had peace within themselves. King Herod lived in chaos and sin. He could not bear the thought that a baby had been born who might someday be a threat to his throne so he had the innocents killed. Perhaps there is a sword that will pierce the hearts of all mothers and fathers. Learn from Mary and Joseph. Do not be afraid of the future. And be ready to meet each challenge calmly. We have the Lord. We can be holy family.
The Sunday before Christmas, I saw a woman standing in front of our church as if she was looking or waiting for someone. I greeted her. She told me that she was visiting from Colorado. She came to visit her daughter and she is looking for a Catholic church to attend Mass. “Father, I am disappointed and saddened,” She said, “I have three children, two sons and one daughter. I tried my best to raise them Catholics. I took them to church when they were with me. They went through all the catechism classes, but now none of them is attending church. What can I do?”