Feast of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph
First Reading: Sirach 3:2-6, 12-14 or Genesis 15:1-6; 21:1-3
Responsorial Psalm: Psalm 128:1-5 or 105:1-6, 8-9
Second Reading: St. Paul’s Letter to the Colossians 3:12-21 or The Letter to the Hebrews 11:8, 11-12, 17-19
Gospel: According to St. Luke 2:22-40
It can be said that all great literature is about going home. Sometimes that destiny is an actual place, as in the tale of Odysseus where he endures ten years of trials and tribulations on his way back to his land of Ithaca after the conclusion of the Trojan War. Other stories describe a more spiritual or psychological going home, one great example being Chesterton’s Orthodoxy where the great English convert talks about his journey to the Christian faith as if it were an unexpected voyage home: “What could be more glorious than to brace one's self up to discover New South Wales and then realize, with a gush of happy tears, that it was really old South Wales.”
The old expression that “home is where the heart is,” whether that be ancient Ithaca or early twentieth century Great Britain, reveals a fundamental truth about human persons – everyone needs to have a place to call their own, a place where they can be accepted solely as a ‘who’ and not as a ‘what.’
This Feast of the Holy Family can focus on a number of ideas, but none is more important than that of the family as home. The outside world can be a cold and cruel place, yet whatever goes on at work, at school, in rush hour traffic or anywhere else, once one’s home is entered and the door is closed on another day all that should be felt are the reassuring words of Julian of Norwich, “All shall be well, and all shall be well and all manner of thing shall be well.”
For the Holy Family, whose travels to Jerusalem for the required Presentation (Luke’s account) were preceded by the flight into Egypt (Matthew’s account), the idea of home as a haven was more than a concept, it was a fact. Wherever Jesus, Mary, and Joseph happened to be – Bethlehem, Egypt, Jerusalem, Nazareth – was home simply because it was where they were together, where their heart was.
This focus on the family as a ‘place’ finds great affirmation during the Christmas season as people travel across the country and the world not so much to visit a particular destination but much more so to connect with and as members of a family. For many people Christmas doesn’t seem to be Christmas without snow on the ground, yet who would trade snow for family? Who would rather be alone in front of a roaring fire instead of with loved ones in pouring rain or sweltering heat?
At their best – at their Christmas best – home and family make us feel safe, and they do that by making us feel necessary and wanted simply by our presence. To the world we can easily be reduced to commodities – producers and consumers – whereas to our family we are daughters and sons, mothers and fathers, grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins. Any home that has welcomed distant relatives at Christmas knows the importance of that feeling of belonging to something essential, something much bigger than our individual selves.
Dr. Seuss knew this and described it perfectly in How the Grinch Stole Christmas. From the naming of the characters as Whos and not Whats (Imagine the Whats down in Whatville – shudder!) to the Whos’ focus not on presents but instead on presence, the presence of their extended Who family, Dr. Seuss tapped into something primal in the human spirit. In a real and important way the Grinch became a Who, and in doing so “the Grinch’s small heart grew three sizes that day.”
Home is certainly where the heart is – for the Grinch, for the Holy Family, and for all of us.