Today, with all the sounds, sights, smells and tastes of Christmas fresh in our minds, we celebrate the Feast of the Holy Family, and well we should. Never has there been such a family where dad is a saint (but he did consider divorce), mom is the (unwed) mother of God, and Jesus – well, he is divine (and an illegitimate child by the human standards of the time). The scriptures tell us that Jesus advanced in wisdom and age and favor. Today’s Gospel tells us of the wrenching experience for Mary and Joseph of discovering that their precious boy has somehow gone missing on the trip back from Passover in Jerusalem. They find him in the temple back in Jerusalem after searching for an entire day among their relatives and acquaintances and three more days in Jerusalem. Can you imagine their anxiety? And Jesus response to them seems markedly unapologetic (though the Gospel also says that he went with them back to Nazareth and was obedient).
I think most of us have heard something like “God writes straight with crooked lines.” That idea is often (rightly, I think) invoked as reassurance that our weakness, lack of courage, and sinfulness will not ultimately frustrate God’s loving plan. But I also think it can help us get a more balanced view of the Holy Family when we think about Jesus’ human ancestry. See the beginning of Matthew’s gospel. Jesus’ human forbears included wonderful people, but also included ordinary people, and some bad people: thieves, adulterers, murderers, and the like. Fr. Ron Rolheiser, writing about Jesus and the Holy Family as an example of God writing straight with crooked lines, quotes theologian Raymond Brown:
“The God who wrote the beginnings with crooked lines also writes the sequence with crooked lines, and some of those lines are our own lives and witness. A God who did not hesitate to use the scheming as well as the noble, the impure as well as the pure, men to whom the world harkened and women upon whom the world frowned – this God continues to work through the same mélange. If it is a challenge to recognize in the last part of Matthew’s genealogy that totally unknown people were part of the story of Jesus Christ, it may be a greater challenge to recognize that the unknown characters of today are an essential part of the sequence.”
So I’d like to suggest that on this Feast, we find encouragement and the inspiration, perhaps, to recommit ourselves to our baptismal promises, conscious that not only can God save humanity in spite of all our imperfections, but that God can – and will – create something new and beautiful. Even with us. Even in our families with all of their beauty and all of their ... everything else. For a long time, it has been Catholic church teaching that we are all called to holiness, nothing less. The call is universal and the call is irrevocable. No one is exempt, no matter how humble or exalted they may be. It’s rooted in our baptism and in the Paschal Mystery that we celebrate at every Mass.