The theme reflected in the Feast of the Holy Family is respect. Let’s start with a line from Colossians that may seem problematic: “Wives be subordinate to your husbands.” I favor the Spanish rendering of this text: “Wives respect the authority of your husband.” This means that women respect the God-given role of husband and father. Consider the Holy Family. Mary was the Mother of God, she was conceived without sin to be the pure vessel for our Savior, her Fiat spoke for all humankind to say yes to God to enter the world as a human being – yet God revealed to Joseph that the family was in danger and they should flee to Egypt. Mary, a unique woman in all of salvation history, respected Joseph as the guide and protector of the family.
The celebration of the Holy Family reminds us that Jesus, Mary, and Joseph were refugees in Egypt when Heron threatened their lives. If the Holy Family came to the United States for refuge in our day would they be accepted? Our country has the right and duty to secure its borders but this must be balanced with the humanitarian crises which causes people to flee threats to the families. As we decide refugee and immigration policy, Christians must keep in mind Matthew 25 where Jesus says that what we do to the least of his brothers and sisters we do to him.
The respect that wives owe their husbands is not a license for men to dominate their wives. On the contrary, scripture calls men to love their wives as Christ loves the church – that is with sacrificial love – with love in which men offer themselves for their family. When we are called to love as Christ does we remember that Jesus did not come to be served but to serve and offer his life for others. Where I come from the Lakota people have a saying: “There nothing more gentle than true strength and nothing stronger than true gentleness.” A man with inner strength does not need to prove himself by dominating others, but demonstrates his strength in service.
In our times, gender neutrality is favored as if the role of men and women were interchangeable. In fact, you need not live out the sex you were born with – you can chose your own gender. This neglects the call and gifts God gives us to serve our family and our community. I believe women are uniquely suited to nurture and support while men are equipped to challenge and inspire. I have four brothers and they all entered professional careers in architecture, chemical engineering, and computer science. That is not to brag but to witness that Mom supported us in our formative years and Dad challenged us – it was a winning combination. The life skills children must acquire is respect, responsibility, and resourcefulness. If our child-rearing days are over, we can form our grandchildren and mentor other youth.
It is clear that the Roman Empire did not fall from an external threat but from a collapse within – from moral decline. It is said that in Rome, men lost their character and women failed to care for their family. The family is the basis of society and the church and our culture will decline with the decline of the family. Families must be strong and clothe themselves as St. Paul says in Colossians with heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience, bearing with one another and forgiving one another as Christ as forgiven us. Over all these putting on Christ and living in the peace to which Christ calls us.
In the movie, “A Day in the Neighborhood” about Fred Rogers, a tough-minded journalist is sent to interview Mr. Rogers for Esquire Magazine. The journalist is emotionally crippled due to his hatred and resentment of his father who cheated on his mother when she was dying of cancer and then abandoned his children. The journalist did not know that in coming to know Fred Rogers, he would find healing and reconciliation with his father. The father is able to say, “I am sorry,” and the son is able to say, “I forgive you,” and both are able to say, “I love you.” This brings us to what turns ordinary families into Holy Families – the ability to say, “I am sorry, I forgive you, and I love you.”