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A HOLY FAMILY AT CHRISTMAS
Christmas Day and Holy Family Sunday
Each year on Christmas Eve my family would gather to share a traditional Eastern European meal and gifts. Many of you have similar practices. My earliest memory is traveling wide-eyed to my grandparents’ farmhouse, then, to keep the same customs in my parents’ home and, in recent years, in my sister and brother-in-law’s place. It is wonderful to see how, from generation to generation, the customs and handed down recipes do not lose their flavors.
For as long as I can remember this is the first year we did not get together at all at Christmas. Is this what it feels like to live alone with no family or friends? Is this a time when broken families feel the pain of hurtful arguments and disagreements?
Although this entire holiday season has been turned upside down many families and friends are finding other ways to connect either in the intimacy of their own dwelling places or virtually in the vast universe. And then there are those who prefer peaceful solitude and head for the mountains and hills in search of “new fallen snow.”
Somehow the ancient festivals find a place on our calendars — St. Nicholas Day, Hanukkah, Our Lady of Guadalupe, Posadas Navidenas, Bodhi Day, Christmas, Kwanza, the Wiccan Solstice, and Watch Night to mention just a few. On many liturgical calendars there is a trifecta of feasts (Christmas, Holy Family and Holy Innocents) running from December 24 through 28.
For me, one word ties these holy days together — family. In writing about the holy family, Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, Dr. Mary McGlone, CSJ, gently points out it “is really not about a nuclear family of two parents and an only child, but a celebration of human community.” Instead, McGlone continues, this narrative and its symbolisms “introduce us to a web of relationships that grows exponentially.”
Aha. This season, especially because of the pandemic, may not be a time to think only of our own traditions set aside, our own family units, our own households or neighborhoods. Maybe it is an invitation to expand our horizons, to see beyond our confined domains, to peer into our greater communities.
A cosmic perspective helps. The mystic Hildegard of Bingen wrote: “Everything that is in the heavens, on the earth, and under the earth, is penetrated with the connectedness, penetrated with relatedness.” Her wisdom makes us think about many things.
We look at earth as part of a heavenly family of planets, stars, and dark holes. We are moved to act, to save it from ourselves. We take the time again to observe the injustices heaped upon immigrants and refugee families worldwide. They, too, are part of our human community. We can roam the streets in our villages, towns and cities to actually seek out homeless, hungry, jobless people and find ways to make this season a bit more bearable and celebratory for these often forgotten members of our family.
Last Monday, we marked the Winter Solstice, a timely pre-Christmas event. For centuries different cultures have celebrated the Solstice in a variety of ways. The common denominator is a homage to the rebirthing sun. This slow moving seasonal transition from the bleak days of winter toward springtime offers a chance to focus on the meaning of Christmas as a brilliant rising of the Sun of God and our own rebirthing.
In the 4th century, the Christian feast appropriated the language of the cult of Mithras the Iranian god of the sun, justice and oaths and attached it to the “Sun” of Justice. John’s gospel (1:1-18) for Christmas day calls Jesus the “true light, which enlightens everyone.” Whenever people of good will practice justice they cast light upon the world. Sometimes, however, the light of Christ, our light, is imperceptible.
I missed seeing the historic conjunction of Saturn and Jupiter on the evening of the Solstice. Although their luminosity was shrouded by clouds I sensed the two of them were still there as they moved across the horizon even though I could not see them.
Sometimes truth is blurred, justice is overlooked, beauty and goodness are ignored. Nevertheless, all of these life giving facets are still there waiting to be grasped, appreciated and put to good use. Often, we do not see things as they really are because our views are obscured.
How do we make this season’s message of peace and prosperity come alive? Paul wrote to the Colossians, “Put on, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, bearing with one another and forgiving one another.” (3:12-17) This mission will take time.
As author Heidi Haverkamp reminds us the world did not become more peaceful the moment the Jewish Jesus arrived. “So much of what we are waiting for in our personal lives, communities, and nation are things that we will still be waiting for after Christmas, and for quite a long time afterward.”
The vulnerable infant in our crèches “grew and became strong, filled with wisdom…” (Luke 2:22, 39-40). He learned that to make the human family better he had to take action. He set an example and invited others to join him in his mission. Pope Francis nudges us today … “Let us continue, then, to advance along the paths of hope.” (Fratelli Tutti, 55) Our radiance can no longer be obscured. The human family needs us. We need one another. Merry Christmas!