Homily for the Feast of Holy Family, Year A 2019
Recently, a lady stopped me by the street corner and asked me to do something about the drought. At first, I wondered, what can I do to stop the drought. I am not a rainmaker. How I wish I had the power to stop the drought because I am feeling the horror of it. But as I listened more to her request, I began to hear not only what she was asking, but the questions in her heart. Why are our prayers for rain not answered by God? Where is God in this drought season?
I could hear her discouragement, frustration and even anger. These are ugly times. Families have lost loved ones. Many have lost their homes, properties worth millions of dollars. Some have lost their businesses. Others are forced out of their homes because of the threats of bushfire. How about the stories of firefighters who have lost their lives in the line of duty? We hear of families not being able to reunite with their loved ones at Christmas because of bushfires.
These stories make us sick. They make us question the very meaning of our existence. Why are we here on earth? What is our purpose? Who really are we? The evolutionist would readily tell us we evolved by natural selection. There is no meaning nor purpose to life beyond the here and now. While this answer may be backed by archaeological findings and it may be appealing to many, it can leave us worse off. It can leave us to ourselves. At best, it can leave us to our ego.
And we know what our ego is good at. It easily scapegoats the other. It is because XYZ did not do ABC that is why we are experiencing LMN. This is very typical of the ego drama. A drama that began right from the time of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, when they disobeyed God and lost His friendship. It is a drama that mirrors an un-holy family. A family that is self-seeking and in love with itself. Herod is a good example of a character in this drama. He acted his part well.
When we turn to the Gospel reading from Matthew 2:13-23, we can hear his pain. Things are not going his way. He feels threatened. He is insecure. His ego is being deflated by the news of the other, a child who has no ambition for his throne. But because the drama is about Herod, written by Herod and for Herod, Herod is unsettled with the surprise of a child whom they rumour is going to be the King of the Jews. So, he listened to himself; and he obeyed himself.
Herod simply did what Herod knows how do for Herod. He gave a command that innocent children should be killed. This is not new. He had earlier killed three of his sons when he heard rumours that they were conspiring against him. He had also killed one of his wives Miriamne and her mother. Herod served Herod well. Despite all this, Herod was not at peace with himself. Why? Thomas Merton gives a pithy answer “because he was not at peace with God.” He was unholy.
In the same Gospel passage, we hear of a man, Joseph. He was a holy man. A man who lived for God. Or to paraphrase the words of Matt Maher, a Christian singer, Joseph was a holy man because God reigned in him. His whole life was about God. He listened to God and he obeyed God even when what God was asking of him was contrary to his wishes and dreams. He was open to the dreams of God. And God’s dreams brought him and his family to safety and peace.
This is the holy family. The family that looks up to God. The family that enjoys the Original Good – friendship with God. The family whose ego is healed, and it is open to the other. The family that does not see the other as a threat, but a brother, a sister that deserves to be loved and cared for. It is the family that trusts God even when things are not right. It is a family that asks a different kind of question in bad times, how can we get through this situation as a family.
Perhaps, we can ask ourselves The Holy Family Question, how can we go through the drought as Australians. How can we go through it as parishioners of St. Nicholas? How can we go through it as a family? One answer comes to mind, pray. Fr. Patrick Peyton sums it up well, “the family that prays together, stays together.” Imagine what would have happened to the Holy Family if they did not pray together. Joseph probably would not have heard God’s command to flee to Egypt. Maybe he would have divorced Mary when he found out she was pregnant.
But because Joseph prayed, and Mary and Joseph prayed together as a family, they were able to hear more, see more and do more even when the odds were against them. They knew they were loved into being by God and they were living for God and that the God they lived for would see to their future. So, they waited for God to act. And He did act. He acted for their good. Perhaps, we may have to wait on God to act in our drought-stricken land. But in waiting we should go about our daily concerns in watchful prayer, listening to God and obeying Him.
But there is still an unanswered question, how about those who have died as a result of the drought? I guess, many in Jesus’ time also asked how about the innocent children killed by Herod? This is one of those questions that prayer helps us to answer. For in prayer, as Thomas Merton puts it, we are recreated, made again in the image and likeness of God. We begin to see things from God’s perspective. We see the bigger picture, how everything is part of the plan and working for our good and the good of creation.
A quote from The Shattering of Loneliness by Erik Vardenis very apt here, “Have faith, heart, have faith: nothing will be lost to you. What you have longed for is yours, yes, yours; yours is what you have loved and fought for. Have faith: you were not born in vain. You have not lived or suffered in vain.” And faith is our response to God’s saving action. So, as a family, let us continue to have faith in God even as the drought tarries. For nothing will be lost to you at the end. And besides, God is with us and He is seeing to our future as He did for the Holy Family.
Fr. Francis Afu