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Several years ago on this feast a priest got up at the pulpit, pulled out a trophy and said, “The staff and I decided we are going to award ‘The Holy Family Award’ to the family that most resembles the Holy Family.” The people turned to each other and were looking around to see who would receive the award. Their main question was what standard the pastor would use. Would it be a family that did not argue, bickering, or disobey? With these standards they wouldn’t resemble humans. What is the standard for holiness in a family? I think we have two standards presented to us in the Gospel today: that of Herod and that of Joseph.
Herod was called “Herod the Great” for good reason. He renovated the Jewish temple although not Jewish himself. He adorned the temple in a way that had never been done before. He ruled with an iron fist such that though there was a general peace in the area. However, Herod was out for himself. He switched allegiances to whoever was in power in Rome so that he would be in a position of power, which he attained during the reign of Caesar Augustus. He killed three of his own sons because he thought they were scheming against him. Caesar commented on Herod saying, “I’d rather be Herod’s dog than Herod’s son.” Herod ruled for Herod. Herod was out for Herod. In a sense, Herod’s family is a model of what a family should not be—persons whose whole lives are built around themselves over and against other people.
We are then presented with Joseph. Last week we heard that Joseph had a dream to accept Mary into his home as his wife. This week Joseph has several more dreams. Whether or not these were actually dreams at night or inspirations, Joseph presents to us an attitude of complete openness and obedience to the will of God. Through this openness and obedience, Joseph’s actions fulfilled prophesies that were thousands of years old: “Out of Egypt I will call my son,” “He shall be called a Nazarene.” Joseph was obedient to the voice of God within him which enabled him to live not for himself but for his wife and for his children. All of his actions in the Gospel of Matthew today were not for Joseph but for Mary and for Jesus. Traveling back in those days was not an easy hop on a plane. Rather, it took serious efforts and was a serious burden. The road was treacherous, there were plenty of robbers and people did not know what to expect. For Joseph to go from Israel to Egypt and then from Egypt to Israel was a huge deal. All this showed the depth of Joseph’s obedience to God and deference for others within his family.
Joseph represents a model for us of what a holy family looks like: each living in obedience to God and out of deference for the other members, living not for themselves but for others. This is the model that St. Paul presents to us in the letter to the Colossians where he says the main characteristic of the healthy community is one that “bears with” others.
Perfection or holiness in a family is not the absence of lying, not the absence of bickering, not the absence of ill-will feelings. Rather, perfection in a family is “bearing with” others. It’s the sense that I am here for you and although I am not perfect I will be here for you. “For you”… and what does that mean? It means being obedient to the will of God, of listening to others, of being in constant communication both with God and with our brothers, our sisters, our mothers, our fathers, our children. The Holy Family wasn’t holy because of some random standard. They were holy because of that principle attitude of deference—of bearing with others.
This is why we come here today. None of us are holy in and of ourselves. We become holy when we practice holiness—when we practice that “bearing with” others, when we practice patience, when we practice deference for other people. Certainly this is difficult which is why we must be reminded and taught just as Jesus was taught in that family at Nazareth. The special place called Nazareth is a thirty-year span in the life of Jesus that we know nothing about other than that he was there with his parents. Holiness, deference for others, bearing with others is learned within the context of a family which for Jesus was at Nazareth. So wherever our Nazareth may be in Almaden, in San Jose, holiness is possible by day-to-day bearing with others. We come here this day not only to celebrate the Holy Family but to celebrate our families and the holiness that can come out of our families. Holiness, meaning the life of God within us, will actually be present when we bear with one another. This is the example that our Lord teaches us today in the Word proclaimed and in the sacraments received—the self-sacrificial bearing with others. This is the trophy—the “Holy Family Award” is already given us. Each of our families has a great capacity of holiness since each of us is filled with holiness, filled with God starting the day we were baptized up to today when we receive the sacraments. Now is the time to put into action the identity of who we are as a holy people.