Feast of the Holy Family

Last October I was honored by an invitation to preach at a suburban Philadelphia parish for its annual Forty Hours Devotion. I was warmly received by the pastor and his staff. I soon learned from the parish secretary that she and others on the staff had all attended the parish school together. That coincidence added to their camaraderie at the lunch table. That same secretary had opined that for them “this town is the center of the universe.”

That description of a certain beloved place could easily have applied at a unique time to a tiny, dusty village called Nazareth. It was God’s choice for at least 30 years as “the center of the universe.” We know why. But that very idea would have been laughable to Our Lord’s contemporaries. For all its subsequent fame and ultimate glory, little Nazareth is not even mentioned in the whole Old Testament. As for that prophecy we read today, scholars tell us that St. Matthew was using a little creative imagination based on texts that only hinted at the town’s name.

On this Holy Family Sunday, dare I take that heartfelt description of a town and apply it to our families? They are, or should be, the center of our little universes, should they not? I know that’s a risky thing to say, seeing how so many families struggle these days. Just staying in touch is sometimes difficult. Staying together often devel- ops into a challenge. Using our cell phones, tablets and computers helps. Social media may ease the strain.

But none of those can overcome the devastating effects of divorce. Skipping over other possible obstacles, there is also anger and resentment that arises sometimes once the will of a parent or other relative is presented by the family lawyer. The Reconciliation Room walls in many a Catholic church could tell you more.
Yet all those obstacles are not insuperable. This is especially so when we meet them with good will and open minds, topped off by the attitude Jesus taught by word and example about our dealings with other residents of our planet. Add to that St. Paul’s “recipe” for right relations in this weekend’s Second Reading.

We know that even the Holy Family had its difficulties. There were those inconvenient travel orders given to St. Joseph which he met with his exemplary obedience. The burden was shared by a pregnant Blessed Mother. Later, both parents were faced with the fright and temporary helplessness of a lost child. Then came that boy Child’s upset- ting question: “Did you not know that I had to be about My Father’s business?” To these we add the presumed early death of St. Joseph. Then there were the seven sorrows foretold by Simeon of Mary, leading to her place at the foot of the Cross.

One substantial help for all our families amid the present social upheaval in our Western culture is that at- tributed to the late Father Patrick Peyton: “The family that prays together stays together.” It’s not an outdated slogan.

I even spotted that recently on a roadside billboard. I believe it’s worth a try. To which I add that that’s the real beauty of a family at Mass. I admire the parents of babies and toddlers, who bring them to church nicely dressed and ready for prayer, despite the work that must entail.
While we all work to heal our center, there’s always humor to soften the edges of the effort. Here is a sampling of family-based humor from three past comedians. From the late Bob Hope: “I grew up with six brothers.

That’s how I learned to dance—waiting for the bathroom!” Buddy Hackett: “As a child, my family’s menu consisted of two choices: take it or leave it.” And finally Sam Levenson: “The reason grandparents and grandchildren get along so well is that they have a common enemy.”

Today, take some time to enjoy being part of a family.