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Friday, December 17, 2010

“An angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, ‘Get up, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.’ Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother by night, and went to Egypt.” (Matthew 2:13-14)

The Holy Family 

December 26, 2010
The Holy Family
Matthew 2:13-15, 19-23   Reading Here 
Fr. Robert deLeon, CSC 

Sitting silently in the barber’s chair a few months ago relishing a brief trimming, the all-male conversation about me centered on predictable topics – sports, politics, the weather. With four barbers clipping away, I was enjoying the gentle chatter that volleyed between the barbers, sheet-wrapped patrons and those yet waiting their turn for a trim. Over the years, I’d come to relish the anonymous camaraderie that filled the small shop. With banter and laughter continually in the air, yet there seemed clear boundaries that one did not transgress. These were men, for heaven’s sake! No self-revelation allowed! Safe topics only! But this day, the line was crossed.

As the soft hum of clippers against my head massaged me almost into sleep, suddenly the deep, funereal tolling of a bell filled the shop. Conversation ceased immediately as barbers and patrons alike looked about for the source of the sound. Only after several seconds did the red-faced man two chairs down admit to being the source. Reaching into his pocket, he retrieved the solemnly tolling cell phone, chuckling as he did so, “It’s my wife. Or one of my kids. You know how it is.”

Loud laughter filled the shop while the man engaged the caller for just a few seconds. Resignation nearing defeat marking his tone, I heard him tell the other party that he’d be home soon. Then, phone returned to his pocket, I guess he felt he owed us more explanation than he’d already provided. “Yeah, I set up separate ring tones for family, work and friends. When family calls, I know my own plans are pretty much dead.”

Louder laughter filled the shop, all knowing exactly the demands family can place upon a man, even when all he wants is a few minutes of peace in the barber’s chair. Even then, the deep, funereal toll of the bell calls him back to duty.

On this Feast of the Holy Family of Nazareth, the gospel reading we hear invites us to focus on the character of St. Joseph as faithful and dutiful husband and father. While the Christmas season traditionally highlights the images of mother and child, Joseph so often remains a hidden figure. In fact, there are no scriptural accounts of a single word he ever uttered. Indeed, it is the gospel witness of Joseph’s heroic faith and courageous action that further brightens the Christmas season as St. Matthew relates, “An angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, ‘Get up, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.’ Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother by night, and went to Egypt.” (Matthew 2:13-14)

While we have no way of knowing what ran through Joseph’s mind as he accepted the challenge of his duties as husband and father, I think it safe to say that his response was a bit more grace-filled than that of the barbershop patron who’d assigned his family a funereal ring tone with the explanation, “When they call, I know my own plans are pretty much dead.”

Fatherhood often seems a maligned topic in our society today. Cultural stereotypes, typified by what we read in the press and view on the screen, provide few examples of healthy, holy fatherhood within the family. And, sad to say, the church itself has been complicit in tarnishing the ideal of spiritual fatherhood through the activity of abusive priests. And though both scripture and Christian tradition provide saintly role models to guide us, St. Joseph foremost among them, still do we need more contemporary figures who stand before us as healthy, holy fathers. So it is, I believe, that we are invited this day to reflect on those positive male role models who, like St. Joseph, have “fathered” us both as heroic earthly companions and faith-filled guides in the ways of heaven. I’m thinking of those holy men who, even should their cell phones toll funereally, would respond at once to our needs.

A hint of such holiness was demonstrated recently at a Firestone Service Center where I found myself in the company of an adult daughter calling her elderly father to inform him of a minor car problem. Apparently, she’d been on her way to visit him, and now she needed to inform him of the delay. As too often happens these days, I was uninvited party to the cell phone conversation – half of it anyway, it being not at all difficult to imagine the other half.

Phone to ear, daughter began, “Dad, I had to stop at Firestone, so I’m going to be a little late getting over to your house, okay?” Some silence as Dad apparently got it all wrong, and daughter’s brow furled deeply in frustration. “No, Dad, I didn’t get fired! I said I’m at Firestone! And I’ll be over after they’ve fixed my car.” Another interval as daughter looks at me and smiles weakly. Then, “Dad, I still have my job! I promise! Don’t worry. I’ll be over in a bit. Why don’t you just sit down in your recliner ‘til I get there, then I’ll tell you the whole story, okay?” That settled, she ended with an “I love you,” to which I think old Dad responded in like manner.

Fatherhood: a potentially hazardous topic to tackle these days! But if we can put aside the highly publicized and mostly negative examples the media headlines, we surely have no shortage of holy men willing and wanting to support and guide us along the way. Some of them may balk a bit at our summons, a tolling cell phone indicating the death of their own plans. Some of them, age-impaired, may have the ability to assist only by their anxiety and through their prayers. And some of them, like St. Joseph, stand strongly beside us mostly in silence as they walk us home.

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