Parish duties this week...Below is my homily for the Feast of the Holy Family if you care to read it. I had two goals, one not to get into gender roles and secondly not to have minds closed to the reality of gay families. There may have been a third goal, how not to say the phrases "gay families, lesbian families, same sex families." In my judgement the congregation I faced is probably very conservative. So I only whittle away, carefully.
Folks started getting restless after the somewhat long theoretical introduction. They settled down for the story, thanks to Leo Tolstoy. There is a link to his story of Where Love Is, God Is at the end of the homily. Tolstoy's story is set in Russia and is about a man named Martin the Cobbler. In any case it is a great story.
The Feast of the Holy Family fits comfortably into our celebration of Christmas. Most of us have celebrated Christmas Day with our families and friends. All the meals and gatherings with warm and tender feelings, good conversation, being with those we love merge well with The Feast of the Holy Family. On this Feast of the Holy Family, I probably could say something about the daily grind of raising a family. It’s interesting that once Jesus was presented in the temple, he and his parents returned to Nazareth and nothing more is heard about Jesus until he begins his public ministry. We only hear briefly about Jesus birth and the early years of his life from two gospel writers, Matthew and Luke. Mark’s gospel begins with Jesus’ public ministry and John’s gospel begins with that theological reflection on how the Word was with God from the beginning and then became flesh. All of you with children could probably fill books about what might have taken place in the home of Mary and Joseph and Jesus. Some of the choices for the readings today talk about various roles in the family, like wife, husband, children. I’d like to step away from reflections like that because, again, we could fill books with reflections and advice on how that all happens. Today in the spirit of the gospel writers, Mark and John, I’d even like to step away from those very traditional pictures of Joseph and Mary and Jesus representing father, mother, and child because it limits our thinking about family. We talk about the family of nations, we talk about our workplace family, our church and school family. Then there are single parent families, blended families, and foster families. It would be possible to go on. Then there is another scripture for today: “Put on, 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. And over all these put on love...” In the spirit of that scripture and the Feast of the Holy Family, I’d like to share a little story about a man who lives alone, whose family has died. The story is called “Martin the Cobbler” and was written by Leo Tolstoy. It’s a story about a cobbler, a shoemaker named Martin. He has grown old and is tired and despairing of life. It is winter. Recently a pilgrim encouraged Martin to begin reading the gospels. This is something Martin has begun to do regularly. One day In his drowsiness while reading the scriptures Martin hears a voice about his Lord coming to visit him. The next day as Martin goes about his work in his basement shop he sees a number of people. When he looks out his basement window on the world about him he sees various people in some kind of trouble or need. First it’s an old soldier clearing snow away from his window. Martin invites him in for warmth and tea. Later after the old soldier has left Martin sees a young woman with a baby poorly clothed and the baby crying from hunger. Martin invites them into his shop for warmth and food. He provides some warmer clothes for the woman and baby before they leave. Later Martin sees an old woman with an almost empty apple cart heading home when a small boy snatches one of her remaining apples. The old woman catches and hangs on to the little boy. Martin goes outside and talks with them both. Martin pays for the apple and asks the woman to forgive the boy while he asks the boy to beg to be forgiven. As they depart the boy helps the old woman carry a sack of wood chips she was also struggling to carry home. Later that night as he prepares for bed while reading the gospels, Martin is startled to hear what seem like footsteps near him and hears whispering: “Martin, Martin, don't you know me?”
“Who is it?” muttered Martin. “It is I,” said the voice. And out of the dark corner stepped the old soldier, who smiled and vanishing like a cloud was seen no more. “It is I,” said the voice again. And out of the darkness stepped the woman with the baby in her arms and the woman smiled and the baby laughed, and they too vanished. “It is I,” said the voice once more. And the old woman and the boy with the apple stepped out and both smiled, and then they too vanished. Martin's soul grew glad. He crossed himself put on his glasses, and began reading the gospel just where it had opened; and at the top of the page he read: “I was hungry, and you gave me food: I was thirsty, and you gave me drink: I was a stranger, and you took me in.”
And at the bottom of the page he read: “Inasmuch as you did it to one of these my brothers and sisters, even these least, you did it to me” And Martin understood that his dream had come true; and that the Lord had really come to him that day, and he had welcomed him. In the spirit of Martin the Cobbler, Let us celebrate the Feast of the Holy Family. For where love is, God is.
This is an AP photograph following Pope Francis' gifts of coal and switches to the cardinals on Christmas Eve. I do not recognize the cardinal to the center right in the photo, but slightly to the back and right, it appears to be Cardinal Bernard Law. He does not look pleased.