The Feast of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph
First Reading: Sirach 3:2-6, 12-14
Responsorial Psalm: Psalm 128:1-5
Second Reading: Letter of St. Paul to the Colossians 3:12-21
Gospel: According to St. Matthew 2:13-15, 19-23
For those who have read him and are attuned to his special brand of wit, G.K. Chesterton can be a writer who is most helpful when we need to cut through the weeds and get to the heart of the matter. When asked by a British newspaper to comment on what was wrong with the world, Chesterton, rather than wasting pages of ink like the other famous people who responded, simply replied, “I am.”
It is that sort of vision that helps us to better understand the human condition, and, as today’s feast reminds us, especially that essential part of the human condition known as the family.
Using the same type of logic that brought him to say that for those who are Her enemies “any stick is good enough to beat the Church,” Chesterton takes on the champions of liberty who see the family as an attack upon human freedom.
To those who believe that marriage and family life are the closing and locking of the door to a world of limitless choices, Chesterton has but one response: guilty as charged. As he saw it, the idea of liberty or freedom, as perceived by the modern world, needed to be turned on its head. And for him that meant putting it right side up again.
Chesterton proposed that liberty, rather than being a utopian set of infinite choices, was actually the right to choose one set of limitations rather than another. By choosing to marry, and therefore to bind oneself to another person as well as to any subsequent children, one is exercising liberty. It is no less a use of human choice and freedom than to bind oneself to career, possessions, or pleasures.
All uses of liberty are of necessity limiting, and it takes a brilliant mind like that of Chesterton to help us see through the short-sighted arguments about personal freedom, empowerment, and following one’s bliss. The paradox of Chesterton’s view – and his view is always one of paradox – is that only when we give up freedom can we truly be free. A commitment to a spouse and children brings with it the freedom to live in a drama that can include visions of angels warning parents to flee for Egypt or to come home because the coast is clear.
Too often the lesson of the Holy Family of Nazareth is so far removed from the day-to-day world of actual families that there is no relevance between them and us. For many, a quick look back to the events of this Christmas can be a reminder of the gap between those involved in the chaos of the day and those we celebrate on today’s feast. But to look at the initial choices that Mary and Joseph made in their relationship, and to see the consequences and the difficulties that accompanied them, is to put this feast in its proper perspective.
Yes, people’s lives are imperfect, and getting married and starting a family does not make their lives any more perfect, but that is really not the point of the family or this commemoration of it. As both the Church and Chesterton would tell us, the point is a binding of oneself to others without reservation, which is an offering up of personal liberty in favor of the liberty of others.
The world might call that folly, but for those who have experienced it in all of its comedy and tragedy, there is a much better word: love.