Dear Fellow Parishioners,
While the liturgical season of Christmas continues for more than another week, commercial Christmas is already winding down. In fact, more of the Christmas season falls in January than in December, and concludes with the feast of the Baptism of the Lord which falls this year on Monday, January 8th. This current long weekend, within the octave of Christmas, includes two more celebrations related to the birth of Jesus and the motherhood of Mary: The Feast of the Holy Family (usually the Sunday after Christmas), and the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God (January 1st).
We make a mistake in imagining Jesus’s childhood as a solitary and isolated one. In his time and culture, life made little sense apart from family, extended family, neighbors and friends.
It is the Feast of the Holy Family that most humanizes Jesus in his infancy and childhood, as he is seen as part of an earthly family, with extended family, neighbors and friends.
The silence of Bethlehem is also the silence of Joseph, who does not speak a single word in the Gospels, yet is supernaturally attentive from the moment the future birth of Jesus was first made known. It was in the workshop of Bethlehem, at the side of Joseph, that Jesus learned so much of what he would need to know in human terms to carry out his mission. The practice of his father’s trade of carpentry – which then included elements of lumberjacking – gave Jesus the raw physical strength and stamina to face the demands of his public ministry and near-constant travel.
When reflecting on the birth of Jesus, his place in the Holy Family, and his development into adulthood, we see that grace builds on nature, but does not replace it. The lives of Jesus, Mary and Joseph were not unlike our own lives in that a strong foundation in both grace and nature forms the essential foundation for life. Mary and Joseph would have been exemplary parents and spouses no matter who their child was at birth and grew up to be.
The recently-released movie “Maestro,” is based on the life of Leonard Bernstein, one of the central cultural personalities of the 20th century, and the first great American-born symphony conductor. His father, a salesman of beauty shop equipment, refused to pay for his son’s piano lessons because he believed they were frivolous and offered no real career path. Young Lenny was so ambitious that he paid for his own advanced lessons with money he made from giving lessons to inferior students. Years later, his father was asked why he didn’t do more to encourage his famous son’s musical career, and he said, “How was I to know he’d grow up to be Leonard Bernstein?” That statement, in all its Semitic irony and quizzicalness, is not far from how I imagine Joseph’s reaction to raising Jesus: “How was I to know it would all turn out like this?”
Two compelling features of the Holy Family, and the long years before Jesus’s public ministry, are silence and mystery. They reflect the broader truth that all marriages and families are essentially mysterious. No one can ever know what goes on in someone else’s family. In fact, marriages and families are not fully understood even by those participating in them, especially when there are children growing into adulthood.
I wish you all a fruitful remainder of the Christmas season. And now, on to a healthy and faith-filled New Year.
Fr. Bill Donahue