Monday, December 29, 2014

The School of Nazareth

Readings for Sunday, December 28/ Holy Family:
Genesis 15:1-6; 21:1-3
Psalm 105:1-6, 8-9
Hebrews 11:9, 11-12, 17-19
Luke 2:22-40

This weekend Mother Church celebrates the feast of the Holy Family, holding up for us the most perfect models of Jesus, Mary & Joseph. These giants of holiness are examples of every virtue we can name, which can easily lead us to discouragement and to question how in the world we can even look to them as models when we ourselves fall so far short of their example. In celebrating this most holy of families, it is important to remember that God doesn’t require of us the holiness of Jesus, Mary & Joseph but rather the holiness that we ourselves are called to and able to attain. And so we turn to this family to contemplate how it is that they lived and seek some encouragement in living our own lives. In a pastoral visit to the Holy Land, Blessed Pope Paul VI spoke of his desire to become a child once more and grow up learning in the ‘school of Nazareth’ where the Holy Family dwelt and where Christ grew in grace and wisdom. And so today I want to take a few moments and speak to the reflections he offered on that trip, that they might continue to bear fruit with us today.

Of the many things that the ‘school of Nazareth’ offers to us, we begin first with the aspect of work. Every one of us has some ‘work’ that we seek to accomplish in the course of our days. Some have 9-5 type jobs, others do shift work, some are out in the fields, some working in the home, students work on their studies, and those without work still have hobbies or some other task to accomplish in the midst of the day. These things are valuable in themselves and have a great dignity. They provide us opportunities for self-discipline, cooperation with God in some manner of creativity, service to others, and a means by which to sustain ourselves in this life. This work, however, can seem to be at time anything other than good and dignified, turning out to be something that consumes us rather than something that serves us and others. Admittedly this consumption takes place in certain situations or times of the year, but it should not be the norm and the example of the Holy Family of Nazareth helps us to focus all of that work towards it’s ultimate end: God. Catherine Doherty once said that “Every little thing should be done perfectly, completely connect to God. ‘This also, Lord, for love of You.’” When I read it initially, it seemed that it was saying to do everything perfectly and completely connected with God, but it was a call to do everything perfectly connected to God, completely connected to God. It is a call to give our best in the work that we do, knowing that sometimes it is rough to make things work as we desire, but doing all for love of the Lord. With each task we do, to look far off in the distance and see how it can benefit yourself and others and do it for love of them and God.

The second aspect we can contemplate in Nazareth is that of the family. In the Holy Family we see the perfect model of love and community, virtue and compassion, a strong foundation and a place in which children can grow into healthy adults. We see this clearly, but what strikes me even more for us today is the impact a family can have. In my office I keep a little bookmark that was given to me that says ‘One good priest can change the world’ and it includes a picture of Fr. Michael McGivney, the founder of the Knights of Columbus. It drives home how one priest’s work has literally changed the world through the ministry of the Knights. But if one priest can change the world, how much more can a whole family accomplish? We don’t have to look just at the Holy Family to see the effects. We can look to St. Augustine and Monica, who are known world-wide. Or St. Therese of Lisieux, who has millions invoking her intercession daily, and her family that didn’t do great acts of holiness but simply tried to live their particular call to holiness in their little town. And the world has changed. We can say the same for most of the saints as they most often came not from pagan origin but good Christian families trying to become holy people. Abraham and Sarah received the promise of generations as numerous as the stars of the sky and because of their faith it happened. And God isn’t done working with His people; what might happen if we decided today to become holier husbands and fathers, mothers and wives, children and siblings, grandparents, aunts, uncles? What might happen if we try to be holy people making up holy families today?

This presupposed the last piece for reflection: silence. Silence is where the Lord speaks to us and silence is almost impossible to find today unless we intentionally seek it out. When we content ourselves to be always entertained by electronics, caught up in distractions, and working on todo lists, we miss that most necessary piece of our day in which the Lord of Creation wants to speak to us of those things and much more. The invitation, then, is to be people of faith just like Jesus, Mary & Joseph and to spend some time daily in prayer and reflection, pondering these things in our hearts as we await the voice of the Lord to make Himself known to us. I want to encourage you, if you aren’t already doing so, to spend at least 5 minutes a day in silence. You’ll be amazed at what God can accomplish in 5 minutes. But if we all spend those few minutes with the Lord it will permit us to follow Him and grow in grace and wisdom just as Christ did. Another fruitful activity might be the daily examination of conscience – the reflect back on the day with the Holy Family and see how the day went. To focus on a crucifix or other image of the Lord, Our Lady or St. Joseph and question ourselves. How did I love like You today, Jesus? How did I have faith like you Mary, Joseph? Where did I do well in serving others as I am called? Did I do my work well for the Lord or did I do it out of frustration? Where did the Father speak to me today? These and many other questions can give us ample opportunity to reflect on the ways in which God is acting daily in our lives and inviting us to journey with Him to heaven.

May the Holy Family be not only for us a model to follow but intercessors to fill us with the grace fo God and indeed make us holy people, holy families, to the glory of God and the Kingdom.