In this time of Christmas, the Holy Spirit guides the Church in the celebration of the Feast of the Holy Family. It is a special remembrance, for it reminds us that Jesus was born into the most basic of communities: the community of the family. And it was there that he learned much of what became the source of the convictions of his life.
When we reflect on it, we reflect upon the family, in many different ways. Certainly in our own day, we reflect on the challenges that the family faces. But as we do that, I think sometimes we forget that family is basically built on memory and it’s built on memory of shared experience. When you reflect on the Holy Family and the experience, the shared experience that they had, you begin to see how that memory of that shared experience was so integral to the development of Jesus – integral to his human development, that he might become a person of compassion, a person of forgiveness and a person of reconciliation.
But that didn’t come just out of the sky. It came from those shared experiences – the experience we see today which had to be shared with him, the same as in your own families. Hopefully, somebody shared with you the experience of your baptism, and helped you to realize reflecting back on that memory, help you to realize how God not only entered your life but brought you by the power of the Spirit into the life of God, by uniting you with Christ and making you a member of the family that is the Church.
And as you go through the Scripture – and there are isolated moments – but you see again the incident as recorded in Matthew of Mary and Joseph finding Jesus in the Temple after thinking that he had been lost and the joy that came from that reunification that reuniting ,even though it probably was maybe a small amount of time, I think the Scripture tells us it was three days when they found him again in the Temple but there you have that sense and then how he goes home with them to Nazareth the young boy at that point probably no more than maybe 10, 12 years old if that, much probably even a little younger. But it goes home with them and it says he grew in wisdom and understanding. It was through again these experiences that he matured that he came to realize the gift that he was and that Mary came to realize and Joseph came to realize the gift that he was.
See, I think oftentimes we get caught in incidents, in events, you know, and we see the Scripture as a collection of events in the life of Jesus. But there’s always a word that we skip over and it’s a word that’s very much captured in these early stories of Jesus, and that is that they reflected, they reflected on the experience and it was through the reflection, through the reflection, that they grew in wisdom and understanding. When you think about it in your own family, in your own family unfortunately usually in times of crisis in your own family there is that experience of reflecting.
There’s a number of stories yesterday, well actually in today’s New York Times Magazine. They were collecting stories about families and their experience of coming together for Thanksgiving, having experienced COVID-19. And as they came together, the stories really talk about the reflection, the understanding that grew out of that experience – not a pleasant experience, a painful experience. What grew out of that and an awareness that came to them in many cases of what they had overlooked, what they had forgotten, what they had not realized was so much a part of the gift in the formation of their life. They only came to see that when they reflected on the empty chair at the table, but those who were no longer with them. And it’s sad but you find that over and over again. You find that over and over again. Usually when someone dies and you go and meet with the family, you’ll find that at that point they’re kind of telling you by reflecting looking back on the events they’re telling you oh we miss that. I never got to say what I wanted to say.
Perhaps the Feast of the Holy Family is meant to remind us of the value, not only of the experiences we have as family, but the value of reflecting on those experiences. This has been a hard year – there’s no other way to describe it. It has been a horrid year and I’m sure we all can’t wait for Thursday Midnight when the ball drops, and the lights go on and it says it’s 2021. But the key will be hopefully 2020 will not disappear, but will be a source of our growth, because it will offer us again the experience of reflecting on what we’ve learned. Certainly COVID-19 has taught us many, many lessons – not always pleasant lessons – matter of fact more often than not unpleasant lessons.But it also taught us how we are a family: the human family and how the strength of the human family comes from giving.
You think of the sacrifices made by the doctors, by the nurses, by the aides and by all of those people who often are overlooked, the people who work in the grocery stores. Those who in a sense put themselves out for others, because as you spoke with them and learned from them. They said how could I turn my face away from my brother or my sister? How could I leave that person alone dying in that bed I had to be there with them I had to hold their hand I had to be their family.
You think right here in Saint Charles, you know as you look at those back rows the food bags that are there and how each Thursday morning and the numbers grew. How each Thursday morning, people of the parish put their time at the service of others. And as you talked to them people who participated in that you begin to see that they came to realize that they were part of a larger family, they were part of the family of Saint Charles. But they were also part of the larger family of the people who lined up on Aiken Place from 9:30 in the morning, and sometimes I would meet them here as I was going to the office. Sometime people standing out there from eight o’clock in the morning – and they were probably there before that – and how in a sense you saw a growth come about because people saw family. Certainly as we come to the Feast of the Holy Family, we look and we say hopefully we learn by following the example of Mary and Joseph, we learn to reflect we learn to process the experiences of our life in such a way that, like Jesus, we grow in wisdom and we grow in understanding and that leads to action.