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  • Reverend James Squire

Holy Family

There are many Episcopal Churches that are named “The Church of Holy Family,” but the Roman Catholic Church, in a different way, drives the message of Christmas home in a special way. The Sunday after Christmas is the Commemoration of the Holy Family. If a Hollywood director was viewing the historic event of Jesus, God Incarnate, born on Christmas Day, the focus would be on the child and a manger. The background would be blurred. The Roman Catholic Church does something special by focusing on the Holy Family on the Sunday after Christmas. A Hollywood director would focus on both the child, and the family with equal clarity. It places the birth of the Christ child in the context of relationships. In this case with Mary and Joseph.

Luther did something similar regarding the holy nature of family relationships by first using the image of the Larva Dei which is interpreted as the “mask of God” where family is the workings of God in their everyday relationships. It is then that God is revealed under the mask of the relationships in the present.

J. D. Salinger put it another way in his novel, Franny and Zooey. Franny comes home from college and is on a religious quest but pays no attention to those around her. Zooey speaks, “I will tell you one thing, Franny. If it is the religious life you want, you ought to know right now, you’re missing out on every single religious action that is going on around this house. You don’t have the sense to drink when someone brings you a cup of consecrated chicken soup.” It is my favorite message from the book because it speaks to the central truth found in the Holy Family, namely that God literally, even in a manger, is directing their lives from despair to hope as the angel proclaims “to go another way to Egypt.” Egypt is freedom and a new life! Egypt is salvation from certain death at the hands of the Romans.

Pope Francis in his message on the Sunday after Christmas summarized the importance of the words, please, thank you, and sorry, in family relationships. It is my experience that those words are at the sacred center, even with no manger physically present, of all relationships that move from despair to hope. Perhaps that is the central message of how family or any relationships can be made holy in the same way that they are depicted on Christmas Day. How does that message go? “Peace on earth and good will to men and women.”

Thank you is the essence of gratitude which is the basis of theology, ethics, and positive psychology and moves our lives forward with a zest for living and new life. The word, please, softens any exchange that is emotionally laden or bordering on the impolite. Sorry is the way forward to “another way” after harm is done and forgiveness is required and finds you in Egypt, free of anger and resentment.

Please, thanks, and sorry are all contained in a relationship that is holy. Perhaps the prologue to the Gospel of John should read, “…and the words, please, thanks, and sorry… became flesh and dwelt among us.” for that is what nourishes love. In those moments when those three words are acted upon, if we listen carefully, we will hear in our hearts, “Angels we have heard on high, Gloria in Excelsis Deo,” in the midst of sadness turned to gladness.

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