Solemnity of the Holy Family 12/29/13 – A Wholly Family?
The headline reads: “Families: Same sex parents. Cohabiting couples. Voluntary kin. Children with parents in prison. Immigrant parents.” Natalie Angier reports that “researchers who study the structure and evolution of the American family express unsullied astonishment at how rapidly the family has changed in recent years.” 
For some commentators, legal issues aside, these relationships certainly qualify as holy families. For other critics they are abnormal and out of sync with the status quo definition of family. So what does today’s feast of the Holy Family say about family life today? Is it about family or is there another message for us?
Today’s liturgy offers us an opportunity to focus on the interpretation of the word family, which, today, has many definitions. The key word in any social unit, described as family or not, is “relationship.” Relationships are grounded in a love and concern for others. The sustenance of relationships is what, first of all, bonds humans together. Prescribed definitions, however sacred or traditional, cannot accommodate all relationships.
How, then, are today’s scriptures helpful to us? In the first reading the author of Sirach reminds us that the parents or guardians who raised us might someday need our care. The passage also suggested that honoring parents might be a way to make up for not obeying them.  This traditional commandment is worthy given the tensions that can exist in families with young children or teens. But this could be a difficult demand when you see your parents doing something they tell you not to do.
Psalm 128 uses “fear of the Lord” as a way to be blessed by God. We have to be careful here. It would be naive to think that obeying God is a guarantee that we will be protected from disasters in life or that a tragedy is punishment for not obeying God’s teachings. One could say, however, that someone who respects the presence of God will also respect all other creatures of God on earth. That is when we all are blessed.
The second reading, probably written by a follower of Paul after his death, encourages the people of Collosae to show endurance and steadfastness and to live as if Christ were alive in them. The letter proposed that they live in a fashion appropriate to their faith. 
Possibly addressed to baptismal candidates the writing challenges them to take off the old self and to clothe themselves with Christ. This could be the beginning of a code of ethics for Christians and a benchmark for respecting all human relationships even when they are different from ours.
Some scripture scholars question the connection of today’s gospel passage with the theme of the holy family. Nevertheless, once again, like in last week’s gospel, Joseph the father of Jesus gets advice from an angel. This time he avoids the slaughter of infant boys that would have ended the life of the child Jesus.
Joseph had a hunch, trusted his instincts, and took a different route back home. Sometimes we have to change paths in life to get where we want to go. In the Middle East families were very expansive. Joseph could easily rely on vast social system for support in caring for his family not only along the way but when they finally settled down.  An extended family has all kinds of members.
In commenting on the behavior of early Christians, our ancestors in faith, Dorothy Day once wrote, “We can do it too, exactly as they did. We are not born too late. We do it by seeing Christ and serving Christ in friends and strangers, in every one we come in contact with.” 
Maybe we can spell the word “holy” W-H-O-L-L-Y to include the many faces of the human family — human beings of all races, ages, genders, social classes and sexual orientations, who love and support each other in every way possible. This definition might then give new significance to our most familiar family units. Isn’t that, after all, what the family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph did?
1 Natalie Anger. “Families” in The New York Times (November 26, 2013) D1
2 Reginald H. Fuller and Daniel Westberg. Preaching the Lectionary: The Word of God for the Church Today (Liturgical Press. 2006) 11-13
3 J Paul Sampley in Attridge, H. (Ed.) The HarperCollins Study Bible Revised Edition (San Francisco: Harper, 2006) 1999
4 John J. Pilch The Cultural World of Jesus, Sunday by Sunday, Cycle A (The Liturgical Press. 1995) 10-12
5 Dorothy Day, The Catholic Worker, December 1945