The Holy Family, by Juan Simón Gutiérrez (1680)

God's Word on Sunday: A Spirit-filled life begins with family

  • December 22, 2019

Holy Family of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, Dec. 29 (Year A) Sirach 3:2-6, 12-14; Psalm 128; Colossians 3:12-21; Matthew 2:13-15, 19-23

Where and how do we learn compassion and gratitude? 

These qualities are absolutely necessary in every spiritually and psychologically developed human being. Unfortunately, they are often absent or underdeveloped and this affects our world negatively. 

The family is where we take our first faltering physical steps, but it is also the place where we begin to learn compassion and gratitude. Raising a family involves far more than providing for physical needs — it is a sacred undertaking. 

Parents sacrifice much time and energy raising children, from the lost sleep for newborns through the angst and struggles of the teen years and the financial burdens of university tuition. 

By both word and example, inside and outside the house, good parents also teach children to treat others with kindness, compassion and justice. In short, they form them into good human beings capable of bringing joy, blessings and hope to others. 

But later in life, the roles begin to reverse. As parents decline in health and energy, it falls on the children to return the kindness and sacrifice they were shown. Not only is this a way of returning the generosity and kindness, it also is an expression of gratitude for all that has been given and a confirmation that the lessons have been taken to heart. 

Sadly, this is not always a reality. In some families, children fail to learn elementary gratitude and compassion. 

Often materialism and overindulgence generate a sense of entitlement and selfishness. In other families, fortunately not many, children are twisted and broken emotionally, psychologically and physically. 

We can replicate the family environment in many ways in schools, workplaces, religious communities and public places by the way in which we live. 

Colossians offers some wonderful guidance intended for the Christian community in Colossae but relevant in all times and places. 

The qualities that make for spirit-filled and holy people should be worn like clothing: compassion, kindness, humility, meekness and patience. The final bit of clothing — the formal dress — is love. These qualities should inform our speech, actions, thoughts, conversations and the way we treat others. 

It is summed up with the wonderful urging to let the “word of Christ dwell in you richly.” This is more than conventional morality or “being good” — it is a call to become Christlike. By modelling these qualities, we have the capacity to transform people, places and communities.

Herod was lacking in all of those qualities and he certainly did not clothe himself with love. Historical record tells us he had several sons and one of his wives executed. Bereft of all that makes one capable of humane behaviour, he reacted as many tyrants and megalomaniacs do, with fear and violence. 

Fearful of losing his power and ability to dominate others, he decided to snuff out the light even as it was coming into the world. He planned to kill the infant Jesus, but God was one step ahead of him. The magi were warned to avoid Jerusalem and return to their land by another route. 

The Holy Family had to flee for their lives — Jesus began His life as a refugee. We are not informed of their adventures along the way, but a bit of imagination, informed by contemporary experience, can give us an idea. 

A man, a woman and a baby, alone on the journey, were extremely vulnerable. The road was likely fraught with danger and lawlessness. Robbers, armed soldiers and others bent on mayhem could have been encountered. 

They possibly endured harassment as they passed over into Egypt, followed by suspicion and intimidation. Thankfully, unlike in our time, the infant Jesus was not taken away from His parents and placed in detention. 

We have no idea how they supported themselves, for it is unlikely they knew anyone in Egypt. It is amazing that the savior of the world was subjected to such insecurity and danger. But the unseen protection of God surrounded the Holy Family and that made all the difference. 

We often face insecurity, even danger at times, for no one is guaranteed a smooth and comfortable life, not even the Lord. We should not expect it. 

But we can expect that the nurturing hand of God will be with us every step of the way, especially when we are walking in God’s ways.