25 December 2010

The Holy Family

First Reading, Sirach 3:2-6, 12-14
The Book of Sirach was formerly known as the Book of Ecclesiasticus; and before that in the early Greek and Syriac versions, it was known as the Wisdom-Book of Ben Sirach. The Old Latin version came from North Africa in the third century which was left virtually untouched by Saint Jerome when he did the pious work of writing the Latin Vulgate. Although the Latin and the English versions of this book both come from Greek sources, there are some noteworthy translational differences. In this Reading, for example, the verse: "Whoever honors his father atones for sins" in the Latin Vulgate translates as: "He that loves God shall obtain pardon for his sins." Obviously there are some misconceptions as to whether the author was referring to God or a biological father. It's an interesting difference when examining this prophetically because Jesus came to do the will of His heavenly Father but grew up in society as the son of Joseph. In the year 1979, however, the Nova Vulgata (New Vulgate) was promulgated and published by Libreria Editrice Vaticana; and this new edition of the Latin Vulgate is more in line with the biological father rendering. These contradictions are not anything to be concerned about when understanding that "father" in every sense of Christian usage is ordained by God, our heavenly Father. It is God Who forgives sins and it is also God Who gave us the Commandment: "Honor your father". It is a spiritual Father and/or priest, who, acting in Persona Christi, is able to absolve sins. The father we honor today, Saint Joseph, was not God the Father, a Catholic priest, or Christ's biological father. Imagine how humble this saintly man must have been to be given the heavenly assignment of living under the same roof with a sinless wife and her sinless Son. This Reading is perhaps a more detailed explanation of the Commandment: "Honor your father and your mother". It offers wise instructions to children on how to esteem their parents. It also lists the rewards for obedience to these instructions. If you have an appreciation for sacred music this Reading is God's composition for family life. When followed according to His plan, it produces a beautiful harmony.

Second Reading, Colossians 3:12-21
Saint John Chrysostom takes notice that in Saint Paul's wisdom he writes that love is the bond of perfection. Commenting on this he adds: "The apostle says not 'love is the crown', but something greater, 'the bond of perfection', the latter being more necessary than the former; for a crown is a heightening of perfection, but a bond is a holding together of the components of perfection." And certainly all those qualities listed by Paul in the preceding verses are landmarks on the road to perfection. The Peace of Christ is the final Authority of our hearts. If His Peace truly reigns in our hearts, then all that is deemed unsuitable of our calling as Christians will be quickly evicted from our hearts. The word of Christ is His teachings; and if those teachings richly dwell in us, then the richness or abundance of them will flow into teaching and admonishing one another as our worship and love of the Almighty will rise up in our hearts. Singing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs can be translated to mean "liturgy", in both the Mass and the Liturgy of the Hours. The advice to do everything in the Name of the Lord Jesus could greatly help our personal examination of conscience, for to do anything in His Name requires first discernment to determine if the task or deed would be pleasing to Him. The remainder of this Reading is optional and may not be proclaimed at the Mass you attend because it tends to raise a few eyebrows. But it really doesn't have the dictatorial tone that many give it. After reading through the duties of wives, husbands and children, sadly what has been excluded here is the end result which is: "Knowing that you shall receive of the Lord the reward of inheritance" (Colossians 3:24). In order to understand this more fully, it's best to go to Ephesians where Saint Paul writes similar words. He writes: "Husbands, love your wives, as Christ also loved the Church, and delivered Himself up for it" (Ephesians 5:25). Men, this is a tall order. In the Sacrament of Matrimony a husband must understand that he has been called to love, care, honor, sacrifice and, if necessary, even die for his wife. In other words, since marriage is a sacrament a husband is called to do the things that Christ willingly did and continues to do for His Bride, the Church. Saint John Chrysostom appeals to husbands when he says: "You have seen the measure of obedience; hear also the measure of love. Would you have your wife obedient to you, as the Church is to Christ? Take then yourself the same provident care for her, as Christ takes for the Church." In Genesis we read: "Wherefore a man shall leave father and mother and shall cleave to his wife; and they shall be two in one flesh" (Genesis 2:24). This was reiterated by Saint Paul in Ephesians 5:31. This verse indicates equality and should soften the imperious tone that many see in this Reading. And certainly the Sacrament of Baptism confers equality. Children are to obey their parents as this is pleasing to the Lord. And finally, Christian parents should raise their children in a Christocentric environment because our children will surely face challenges that could easily discourage them; and they will need to know and experience the Peace that only Jesus can give. Of course, our model for married life and family life is the Holy Family, the honorees of this weekend's liturgy.

Gospel, Saint Matthew 2:13-15, 19-23
During a visit to Ireland in 1979, Pope John Paul II offered these words: "Dear fathers and mothers, believe in your vocation, that beautiful vocation of marriage and parenthood which God has given to you. Believe that God is with you - for all parenthood in heaven and on earth takes its name from Him. Do not think that anything you will do in life is more important than to be a good Christian father and mother. The future of the Church, the future of humanity depends in great part on parents and on the family life that they build in their homes." On this Feast of the Holy Family what is placed before us is the model for marriage and family life. As gruesome as it may sound, there is a level of comfort in knowing that the Holy Family endured a great deal of trials and suffering. Marriage and family life requires work on a daily basis and it would be very difficult to relate to a model family if there's no evidence of a struggle. In this Gospel story, Joseph and Mary had to flee because Herod wanted to kill their Child. One underlying theme here is the trust this family had in God. In this story and other Gospel stories which focus on Christ's pre-birth and childhood years, we see this family forced to endure a handful of hardships; and yet there is not one single word recorded in Scripture that was spoken by Saint Joseph - no bickering, no complaints. He did what he had to do for his family and trusted that God would see them through it. And it certainly helps to have the support of Mary, who, needless to say, shared Joseph's trust in the Almighty. The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches that the Holy Family's departure from Egypt recalls the exodus and presents Jesus as the definitive Liberator of God's people (cf. CCC 530). Pope John Paul II said the future of the Church in great part depends on the family life that we build in our homes; and perhaps we could extend that to also mean the family life we build together in our parish home.