Holy Family, 29 Dec 2019 ~ GSC
Today`s celebration, just four days after our celebrating the birth of the Saviour, the texts of scripture from the Book of Ecclesiasticus, through St. Paul`s most warm and loving letter to the Christians at Colossae to the Gosp3l story of the Holy Family`s exile into Egypt as refugees and the subsequent return to the Holy Land, avoiding Jerusalem, after the death of Herod, comes as a wonderful affirmation of a humanity which is One Family that vour Saviour Jesus came to redeem.!
In the passage from Ecclesiasticus we are reminded, in a special sense, of the Commandment: `Honour your Father and your Mother` showing how our Creator God honours and sanctifies family life.
St. Paul too, in chapter three of his Letter to the Colossians, reminds them and us of just who we are: “ You are God`s chosen race, his saints (his Holy Ones); he loves you and you should be clothed in sincere compassion, in kindness and humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with one another; forgive each other as soon as a quarrel begins.” Why does he say this ? precisely because, as he continues, “The Lord has forgiven you; now you must do the same. Over all these clothes, to keep them together and to complete them, put on love.” A bit that follows about wives giving way to their husbands jars a bit these days and the ensuring words, “Husbands, love your wives and teat them with gentleness.” Is the corollary that puts this in proper perspective.
The responsorial psalm having the response: “O blessed are those who fear the Lord and walk in His ways!” and the Alleluia sentence: “May the peace of Christ reign in your hearts; let the message of Christ find a home in you.” Together with what has gone before show the one-ness in the mind of God of the Human Family which should at large and, indeed, individually, reflect the Holy Family.
This brings me back to the reminder that Jesus was born in a stable or shepherd`s cave with nowhere else to lay His Divine Head. After the arduous journey of the pregnant Mary assisted by her husband Joseph and the support of a donkey in following the command of Caesar Augustus had to go that week long journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem, the city of David, both to fulfil the law of the occupying power and the prophecies of old. Even in the days before his birth His refugee status had already begun. There was to be no return to the family home and business in Nazareth until the Child Jesus was at least four years old and probably a bit older than that. He was presented in the Temple at Jerusalem at the age of just 40 days, presumably, being brought there from the temporary lodging in Bethlehem where he was born and where he had been visited by the Wise Men from the East and then being rushed off into exile in Egypt following the vision that Joseph had had of the angel of the Lord telling him, urgently, after the wise men had left, “Get up, and take the child and his mother with you, and escape into Egypt, and stay there until I tell you, because Herod intends to search for the child and do away with him.”
The scriptures we have tell us very little except that the Holy Family were exiled on Egypt but there is a very old and long tradition among the Coptic Christians of Egypt that the Holy Family arrived somewhere north-east of what is now Cairo and settled in that area to the south of Cairo and part of the Nile Valley known then and now as Babylon where there is presently a substantial Christian Community and a number of churches. The Coptic story has it that the Holy Family arrived in Egypt together with Salome, a midwife, who was also a cousin of Mary. From here they took a boat to the Upper Nile settling at Qusqam where Joseph built a small house of bricks roofing it with palm leaves and branches. Details are very precise saying that the Holy Family stayed here for three years and six months and ten days until receiving Gabriel`s message that Herod had died when he said, “Get up, take the child and his mother with him, and depart into Israel, for those who wanted to kill the Child are dead.” This was the site of Dair-al Muharraq about an hour`s drive from Asyut and said to be the site of the oldest church in the world dating from AD 60 on the site of where the Holy Family lived in exile. A flourishing Coptic Monastery still exists here in spite of the persecution that goes on.
One of the great lessons, which is mostly and sadly underplayed, is that being part of the Christian Family – as brothers and sisters of Jesus Christ through Baptism and the Sacraments -we are called to share in the suffering of Jesus and of our persecuted brothers and sisters for we are one with them. And Jesus from the beginning is the Son of God who is His creative Agent and the Redeemer but the lone who dwells with the suffering, the downtrodden, the refugee and with us sinners. He is the very antithesis of the self-righteousness of the pharisees and the religious elite of his day.
The Holy Family returns to the humble home and carpenter`s shop of Nazareth and, fulfilling the prophecies of old Jesus is called out of Egypt and is called a Nazarene. Thus it is that most of his ministry is centred around Lake Gennesseret and Upper Galillee and, something we often do not take hold of, the crossways of an international trading area and so, naturally, after the Lord`s Resurrection and the first Pentecost a centre for the promotion of mission!