Family. Now there’s a loaded word. For some of us, the word “family” conjures happiness, support, love, connection, and community. For others it can mean pain, rejection, and despair. Yet, we are often obsessed with this word, this unit, and this group of people. What is a family? And how do we get to the place where “family” lives?
The word “family” has a powerful meaning in our faith, and that meaning is more painful for some of us. Perhaps it reminds us of who and what we are not, or that we might not be as safe or as welcome as we hope.
Today, we celebrate the Holy Family, awash in thoughts of Christmas. Families are meant to be places of refuge and goodness, sources of love, but family life can also be challenging. Family is an invitation from God that can bring us to many places we would rather not go.
Luke’s Gospel tells us Joseph has a dream and hears that he must take his family and flee. Can you imagine having this dream and acting on it immediately? I can’t. Yet this is exactly what Joseph does.
Like any good father, Joseph wanted to provide safety and security for Mary and Jesus; to that end, he did what he had to in order to provide those things. It would be easy to stay in the most literal territory here, and think of a father protecting his family from harm by physically moving them. But what if the dream asks us not to go out into the world, but rather to go more deeply into God’s invitation?
Hold that thought as we head into more challenging ideas from the second reading from Colossians. Some of the words from Saint Paul’s letter run like a fault line through ideological lands, causing some of us to turn away and not listen. If we are too literal, are there any worse words than what Paul writes? “Wives, be subordinate to your husbands, as is proper in the Lord.”
It is easy to get stuck here. But if we go back to the call to travel more deeply into God’s invitation, we might find something. This is an invitation to be part of God’s family. What happens when we respond to the call of that dream?
Consider today’s texts with some words from that letter to the Colossians, that are not heard today, words in the prior verses:
But now you must put them all away: anger, fury, malice, slander, and obscene language out of your mouths. Stop lying to one another, since you have taken off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed, for knowledge, in the image of its creator. Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcision and uncircumcision, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all and in all.
Did you hear that? “Christ is all and in all.” Being submissive creates a vertical power structure that may be a challenge – causing others to either submit or dominate. With Christ, everything changes! Through the dynamism of the Trinity, we are called to live in mutuality. The old model no longer functions. When we think about being submissive in this context, we might be able to see a way in which we submit to one another, finding the freedom of faithful surrender to the common good.
It does seem like a stretch, but so does waking up and taking your entire family to Egypt after a dream. In fact, doesn’t pretty much everything about Jesus seem like a stretch? It does if we live in our rational heads alone.
So now what?
God sends us dreams that challenge us to surrender. Surrendering to God takes us to new and unknown places, places that may be difficult. Kind of like family life, or most relationships, for that matter! If we can let go and follow, we may understand that we are free. It is a mutuality that demands we surrender our need for power, and give that to God. This is the dream that asks us to drop everything and go to a place of love.
How do we do this? And what kind of family does God ask us to dream into reality in our world?
First, let us examine our own families… Every family is burdened with some kind of division. What can we do to heal the strife? If we have fled, is it time to return? Do we come back to the original spot, or let God lead us to new places? Can we surrender to one another in the love of Christ? Can we dream and find the courage to journey with our families? It is only through our trust in God that we have this freedom, belief in Christ Jesus, and with the movement of the Holy Spirit that we might find our way.
Second, what about our faith communities? Every worship community that I have ever been a part of has had some divisions. Whether it is over the music, the priest, and gossip – divisions exist. In Catholic parishes there is the ever-popular pre and post Vatican II split. If you notice, all of these tussles fall into vertical power structures, even if they are well intended and meant to serve the Lord. If we are the mystical Body of Christ, are we willing to be that Body in the world? And be called forth to journey to places that we never imagined we would go to, but where God invites us?
Third, our world. Big or small government, open or closed borders, love stranger or fear them, war, peace, weapons, torture, hunger, climate change, justice, and more. What if God’s dream says that we need to reposition our hearts and minds? Can we surrender, seeing all as one in Christ? Or at least trying to do this? Can we call “outsiders” our Christian family? Global family? If God created everyone we are family. This can’t simply be a happy-clappy, wake up, and love the world moment. It is the transformation that comes from our relationship with God, and through the journeys on which God leads us.
Now that’s a tall order, and God knows that. We have to start small and work outward. If we begin with the dream to take the journey, we begin first with ourselves, and then our families. The world? If we say yes to the dream, God can mold us into being a family, but we must say “yes,” even if it terrifies us to do so. God is with us in each moment.
What will you dream tonight? What will you do in response to your dream? May we all find the courage in Christ to hear God and listen; to go where we are called to go, forever changed in and by love. The journey is a risk; the decision to not undertake it is a greater risk. What will you dream tonight? And what will you do when you awaken?
This homily is part of the compilation, Naked and You Clothed Me: Homilies and Reflections for Cycle A, featuring Richard Rohr OFM, James, Martin SJ, William Bausch, Rob Bell, Gregory Boyle SJ, Mike Leach, Simone Campbell SSS, Jan Richardson, Deacon Greg Kandra, Christine Valters Paintner, Dan Horan OFM, the art of Mickey McGrath OSFS, and the writing of others, including me. This book is published by Clear Faith Publishing, and is available at this website. The book is $20 with proceeds going to charity.
If I am honest, I was most ambivalent about receiving this particular Sunday, but I figured that was what was asked of me, that was what I would do. If I occupied a pulpit, what else would I do? I would preach. After praying this came out and it was submitted months ago. I had truly forgotten all about it until I read a post at PrayTell about some of the feelings that Holy Family Sunday instills in some of us. So here it is.
Please consider supporting our project with your purchase. If you order by 12/31/13, you can get our first volume, Hungry and You Fed Me: Homilies and Reflections for Cycle C for only $16!
Thanks for reading today. It would be a surprise if everyone agreed with me, so I hope that some of you will comment.