Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ.
Happy Feast to all of you families. Special prayers to parents who are skilfully holding on to the integrity of the family during these challenging times. Let there be more blessings to each one of you. Let the families be healed. Let the families be released from the grip of all challenges. Let the new year come with a dawn of hope. Christ is in charge.
The feast of Holy Family comes soon after Christmas. Why? So much significance to the family? The Bible started with a family, the first parents, Adam and Eve. Today is the feast of the second family, Joseph, Mary and Jesus: the coming of the second Adam. ( 1 Corinthians 15:45-49:).
The first man was the destroyer of relationship God. The second Adam is the restorer. The first family seek to run away from God. The second family ran to God. The second family is called Holy because it said “Let it be done according to your will”. The first father, Adam blamed the woman and made family life a history of conflict. The second holy family, Joseph, did not blame anyone, not even Mary when he found her pregnant before marriage. His patience made that family holy where the redeemer was born.
Holy Family feast is the central theme of our faith Journey. It started with the Trinity. Our God lives in a family. Three persons sharing equally, not competing. Trinity is a symbol of family. Love is the glue. Christian God is not a heartless God, segregating himself from ‘polluting humanity’ but he is a God live with only one quality love, not power. He is not a macho monster, spewing fire and brimstone of vengeance. He is a God intoxicated with love, indulging in extravagant sacrifice of his Son. John captures those mad moments of God with the beautiful pivotal Biblical verse:
God so loved the world that he sent his only Son
Not to condemn but to redeem ( John 3:16)
That redemption happens in the family. Call to priesthood and religious life is a noble calling. But this should not devalue the holy calling to Family life. All of us need to understand creation did not start with reverend fathers and reverend sisters. When God took the risk of creation, he wanted to create a family. Not monks. God did not create Fr Adam and Sr Eve. He created them man and woman. God’s first celebration was marriage since he found ‘Man must not be alone, and he created woman as his mate’.
That sacred concept of family faced great difficulties. Today, amidst the Covid the integrity is challenged by poverty, anxieties, conflicts and uncertainties. Christ knows your tears; Christ knows your brokenness.
Because he did not incarnate in a rich family. Jesus could have been born in the royal family, rich family, pharisees’ family. But when God loved, he did not love the rich and powerful. He loved the ‘lowly, raised them up’ he called them ‘Anawim’, the poor of Yahweh. He sheds tears when His children suffer. His way of responding is to send ‘his only son’ not to be a charity worker, not as an NGO distributing food, but as one among those powerless and vulnerable people. God suffered with us, like a mother nursing her suffering child, sharing in her pain, God shares our pain. Knowing our pain, he walks with us.
The problems faced by the Holy Family are the same problems many families face today. When Jesus was born there were Angels singing, kings visited him, stars appeared on the sky. All of us were born with hope. Every one of us came with the promise that God was not yet tired of us. But all through life with Joseph and Mary, there were no Angels singing, no Kings came with gifts. He was just a carpenter’s son.
He knew every problem our families facing today :
Jesus was poor from birth. The gospel today graphically gives the condition of the family. Luke confirms that Mary and Joseph were poor because instead of a lamb they offered “a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons,” the lesser sacrifice allowed for poor couples (Leviticus 12:6-8). Sufferings were foretold: Simeon predicted that ‘a sword will pierce’ Mary’s heart. The Holy Family started with many of our challenges.
Jesus knows what it means to be in a one room family. Nearly 7 lakh people are living in one room in the slums around Yangon. Jesus family knew what it means to starve like thousands of our families forced to starvation during this pandemic. Jesus family was a daily wage earner provoking the middle class and rich Jews to sneer at him “Is he not the carpenter’s son!”. He belonged to the lowest rung of society, like 60 percent of our people. He has incarnated in the company of powerless and poor.
Jesus knows what it means to be a refugee, to be an IDP. Jesus was a refugee in Egypt. He was an itinerant preacher, always displaced proclaiming “Foxes have holes, the birds have their nests, Son of Man has no place to lay his head”. To the thousands of our people in refugee camps and IDP camps, Jesus message : “I know your sorrow.”
Jesus knows the ordeal of citizenship. It was during one of those exercise to prove the citizenship the Carpenter Joseph took his wife with advanced pregnancy to Bethlehem and ended up in a cowshed for delivery. Jesus experienced persecution from womb to tomb. He knows the silent tears of unjustly condemned prisoners like Fr Stan Lourdusamy. He sheds tears to thousands of youth incarcerated in our jails while mafia bosses who exploited them live in five-star hotels.
Jesus response came through his incarnate compassion. He was rooted not only in Jewish culture, but was rooted in human brokenness. He did this by total obedience to his parents. The Bible says:
And he was obedient to them;
And Jesus advanced in age and wisdom and
favor before God and man (Luke 2:51–52).
For thirty years, the savior of the world, identified totally with the suffering of the family led by a single mother, since Joseph died early. So Jesus carries the sufferings of the families in his heart. We need to offer all our challenges, when our families we pray to a God who heals because he was the wounded healer.
During His life in Nazareth, Jesus honored the Virgin Mary and righteous Joseph, being subject to their authority during the whole time of His infancy and adolescence (Luke 2:51-52). In this way, He made evident the primary value of the family in the education of a person. Jesus was introduced to the religious community by Mary and Joseph, frequenting the synagogue of Nazareth. Our families become holy when children are formed in faith and values. Family is the first church. In pandemic time, when church is inaccessible, it is the family that becomes ‘home churches’.
We are inspired by two great qualities of the Holy Family: Love amidst all challenges, shown by patience and understanding. Holy family faced many difficulties, Jesus’ public ministry must have taken its toll on Mary. Simeon had predicted in the Temple that a sword of sorrow would pierce Mary’s soul. We can imagine one such occasion as we read in Mark 3:21 that when Jesus returned to Nazareth one day his relatives came to take him by force convinced that he was out of his mind. Not a very pleasant experience for any family, no matter how holy.
But Mary, like all mothers, was faithful till the Cross. Mothers, in the words of Mother Teresa, are created not to be successful, but to be faithful. Today we remember mothers and their great sacrifice: every mother breaks her body and shares her blood to give each one of us the gift of life. By being grateful to our mothers, we are grateful to God. The book of Sirach proclaims that: God sets a father in honor over his children; a mother’s authority he confirms over her sons (Sirach 3:2).
Fathers’ are challenged these days. Loss of livelihood has brought great burden. The first reading talks about the suffering of fathers. These are the times, the family needs to follow the great advice of St Paul :
Husbands, love your wives, and avoid any bitterness toward them. Children, obey your parents in everything, for this is pleasing to the Lord. Fathers, do not provoke your children, so that they may not become discouraged (Colossians 3:20–21).
We continue to pray for your dear Families; Your vocation is most holy. But the family faces great challenge amidst this pandemic. We pray for livelihood. We pray for patience among one another. We pray that love becomes the glue that holds us. Let our faith help us to tide over the tsunami of anxieties.
Those of us who are blessed with resources, be generous with our less fortunate families. Yangon diocese has asked each parish to support at least 50 families. I am sure your generosity is spreading to these families during these times.
God bless each one of you. Christ is in charge. We shall overcome.
Cardinal Charles Maung Bo, Archbishop of Yangon.