In a small Michigan town there was a police department that built a rifle range where the policemen could practice their shooting skills. By a strange coincidence, two starlings decided to build a nest in a pile of brush and sticks that were used to stop the bullets as they whizzed through or past the targets. Their little nest was almost directly in the line of fire. In that dangerous spot, the birds built their nest, hatched their eggs, and raised their young. Bullets splintered twigs all around them, and threw up dirt and dust over their tiny nest. But the birds stayed anyway. Only when the chicks were fully grown did the family of starlings leave their dangerous home. One of the policemen was curious about how the starlings managed to remain safe despite all the bullets whizzing around them. He wondered why a bullet never killed any of the birds. So one day he went over to the nest, and as he inspected it a coin fell from it. He picked up the coin and smiled after reading the familiar words: “In God We Trust.”
“In God We Trust.” This simple motto was the motto of the Holy Family. It was the principle by which they lived their lives and survived the dangers, and trials, and threats of their time. We know little about the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph. What we do know comes mostly from the Gospel passages we hear at this time of year.
This year we hear the story of the Holy Family’s flight into Egypt. The Gospel reminds us that the Holy Family didn’t live in isolation. They didn’t live in a cocoon sheltered from the struggles and sorrows of everyday life. They lived in the real world that was at times very cold and dark. They struggled, just like us. St. Matthew tells us that an angel appeared in a dream to Joseph, and commanded him to take his family to safety in Egypt. He wanted Joseph and his family to escape the plans of King Herod. Herod was trying to destroy the Child Jesus because he feared Jesus would become a political rival. So at his command all male children 2 years and younger living in the vicinity of Bethlehem was killed (slaughter of the innocents). King Herod was violently insecure about his position as king. He murdered any suspected rival even killing his wife and three of his sons. Nobody was going to take his kingship away from him. Not even this baby named Jesus. King Herod responded to his fears with anger, and destruction, and violence.
As we know threats to the family are not a thing of the past. There are still many threats to family life in the 21st century. They include a contraceptive mentality, which separates life and love; individualism, which isolates couples from each other; governmental attempts to redefine marriage and family; abortion, no-fault divorce, materialism, and poor moral examples in movies and TV which promote false ideas of marriage and love.
How do we deal with these modern threats, these modern King Herods? We could follow the example of St. Joseph. King Herod responded to fear with anger, destruction, and violence. St. Joseph on the other hand when tempted to fear responds instead with trust. He didn’t do what the society of that time thought was best. Instead he trusted that God would lead him on the better path. Joseph placed himself and his little family under the guiding hand of God, following God’s direction and law. He accepted the child who came, not from himself, but from God, he treated the child Jesus not as a possession at his disposal, but as a responsibility entrusted to him by God. His whole life, like that of all fathers was focused on the mission of raising and caring for his foster child Jesus. It wasn’t about him anymore; rather, his new purpose was now service to his child. Guiding, guarding, teaching, and serving as the model of a God-fearing man.
Joseph lets himself be led by God, in God he trusted. But as we read in scripture God only gives Joseph guidance one step at a time, Joseph hears in a dream, take Mary into your home Joseph and he does. Later in another dream he hears, take your family to Egypt Joseph and he does. And finally while in Egypt he hears in a dream; go back to the land of Israel Joseph and he does. At each of these commands no further instruction is given. As he takes each of these steps Joseph doesn’t know how it will all turn out, but yet he trusts, taking each step, knowing God is right there with him.
To let God lead our hearts the way Joseph did means regularly spending time listening to Him in prayer. It means learning and knowing our Catholic faith and what it asks of us. It means letting go our own willfulness, consenting to God’s guidance trusting that He is always leading us on good paths even if they are difficult paths. When we live this way we have no need of fear, we’ve placed our lives into God’s hands.
May the Holy Family inspire our families to grow closer to God our Father.
Fr. Christopher Ankley