First Sunday in Christmas: Feast of the Holy Family

Marc Chagall (1909)
“Holy Family” by Marc Chagall (1909)

“Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, bearing with one another and forgiving one another, if one has a grievance against another; as the Lord has forgiven you, so must you also do.”—Colossians 3:12-13

In my family, the “Feast of the Holy Family” was always a chance to snicker in church—specifically during the reading from Colossians 3: 18-21. Definitions of family have changed radically over time. Most “families” wouldn’t recognize each other as such from one century to the next. The model of the “nuclear” family was a construct of economic forces that arose after the Industrial Revolution. The model of the “blended” family is more common now than it was 50 years ago. But what about the Jesus Family? What sort of family was modeled by the disciples of that first-century itinerant rabbi? What model of family did Paul conceive of when the church was young?

Not long ago I attended an impromptu prayer service on the sidewalk in my neighborhood. A young man, Erlin, had been killed there in a gang altercation two nights earlier. The word went through the neighborhood that his mother wanted to pray. Twenty people were crowded around a scrawny maple tree. Someone had taped Erlin’s picture to the trunk. His elementary-school-age nieces and nephews held votive candles purchased at the dollar store.

Erlin’s buddies from his “crew” were there too. They lined up behind his mother, forming a kind of honor guard. They wore dark glasses. A few had guns shoved down the front of their nylon running pants. Some, out of respect for his mother, had put their weapons—thick chains and baseball bats with nails hammered into the ends—behind the dumpster a few yards away.

Finally, his mother asked to speak. In her soft Jamaican accent, she said how much she loved her son. She said he struggled to do the right thing, and that watching him struggle had broken her heart. Then she turned to his friends—his fellow gang members—and said the most amazing thing. “He was my son,” she said. “You were his brothers. Now you are my sons and I am your mother. Now we are family. This is the way it is.” She expected his “brothers” to be at her table for jerk chicken and potatoes any time they were hungry. She expected them to help her fix things around the apartment. They must come to her with their problems, and she would pray for each of them every day.

In the gathering dark, I heard the line from John’s gospel echo and twist. “When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing by, he said, ‘Woman, behold your son!’ Then he said to the disciple, ‘Behold, your mother!’ And from that hour the disciple took her to his own home.”

“Truly he taught us to love one another; his law is love and his gospel is peace.”—O Holy Night

Richard Rohr: Salvation from the False Self

portraits-richard-rohrToday’s meditation from the Center for Action and Contemplation was helpful for me in remembering my ongoing need to realign myself with the essential Love that is the core of Christ – and not projections of myself in the fun-house mirrors of this world. Richard Rohr writes:

“We all identify with our idealized persona so strongly when we are young that we become masters of denial and learn to eliminate or deny anything that doesn’t support it. Neither our persona nor our shadow is evil in itself; they just allow us to do evil and not know it. Our shadow self makes us all into hypocrites on some level. Remember, hypocrite comes from the Greek for “actor,” someone playing a role rather than being “real.” We are all in one kind of a closet or another and are even encouraged by society to play our roles. Until grace is fully triumphant we are all hypocrites of sorts.

Usually everybody else can see your shadow, so it is crucial that you learn what everybody else knows about you—except you! The moment you become whole and holy is when you can accept your shadow self, or, to put it in moral language, when you can admit your sin. Basically you move from unconsciousness to consciousness by a deliberate struggle with your shadow self. There needs to be a struggle, it seems, and usually many of them.

The saint is precisely one who has no “I” to protect or project. His or her “I” is in conscious union with the “I AM” of God, and that is more than enough. Divine union overrides any need for self-hatred or self-promotion. Such people do not need to be perfectly right, and they know they cannot be anyway, so they just try to be in right relationship. In other words, they try above all else to be loving.

Love holds you tightly and safely and always. It gives you the freedom to meet the enemy and know the major enemy is “me,” as the old comic character Pogo said. But you do not hate “me” either; you just see through and beyond “me.” Shadow work literally saves you from yourself (your False Self, that is), which is the foundational meaning of salvation. For then “You too (your True Self) will be revealed in all your glory with him” (Colossians 3:3-4).”–Richard Rohr, ofm

Adapted from Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life (pp. 131-132) and Things Hidden: Scripture as Spirituality, (p. 166)