Gospel: Mt 2:13-15, 19-23
When the magi had departed, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said,“ Rise, take the child and his mother, flee to Egypt, and stay there until I tell you. Herod is going to search for the child to destroy him.” Joseph rose and took the child and his mother by night and departed for Egypt. He stayed there until the death of Herod, that what the Lord had said through the prophet might be fulfilled, Out of Egypt I called my son.
When Herod had died, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt and said, “Rise, take the child and his mother and go to the land of Israel, for those who sought the child’s life are dead.” He rose, took the child and his mother, and went to the land of Israel. But when he heard that Archelaus was ruling over Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go back there. And because he had been warned in a dream, he departed for the region of Galilee. He went and dwelt in a town called Nazareth, so that what had been spoken through the prophets might be fulfilled, He shall be called a Nazorean.
(Archbishop Joseph Harris)
In theological circles it is often related that many of the theological architects of the second Vatican council were in fact silenced during the decade of the forties. The doctrines which they were proposing seemed so contrary to what was taught and lived that they were considered heretical and as attacks on the authority of the true church. The proponents of these new ideas could not therefore be allowed to preach and teach. These men accepted their lot and retreated into silence convinced that in God’s time, their ideas would be accepted. This has indeed happened and many doctrines which we take as normal today were rejected by the church hierarchy in former years.
As I read the Gospel passage for this feast of the Holy Family I began to see similarities between the story these silenced theologians and the story of the flight into Egypt of Joseph and his family.
We know the story very well; After Jesus’ birth wise men come from the East and inquire about a King to be born. The then ruler is afraid of losing his power and orders all the children of a certain age to be killed. Joseph takes his family and leaves the country to escape this danger. In the case of these silenced theologians also, they had something as precious to them as the child was to Joseph, their ideas for a church more in line with the demands of the Gospel; These ideas however would mean a loss of power for those in authority and so these theologians went off into silence, a silence which allowed their ideas to grow and mature and just as St. Joseph had to wait until the time was right to return with Jesus, so also these theologians had to wait until the time was right for them to return. That time, that moment was the Second Vatican council. It is important to understand that the right time does not necessarily mean instant success. It may mean in fact martyrdom for the cause but martyrdom often ushers in the success for which one hopes.
The problem for so many of us is that we do not know when to take a step backward. Very often our ideas for change are half baked and time is needed for ideas to mature and it is in the “silence of exile” that this maturation takes place. It is in the silence that One hears the voice of the Spirit who enlightens us, as St. Joseph heard the voice of God in the silence of sleep. In this passage we are told on three occasions that Joseph was warned in a dream. Exile of course may not be physical but it certainly means a retreat from the spheres of influence or indeed rejection and the silence which this entails. History is full of examples of persons who came back from the silence of exile, whether imposed or self-imposed to lead their countries to greatness. The prime example in the scriptures is Moses and in our day Nelson Mandela and Gandhi are two examples with which we are familiar. Of them it can be said as it was said of Jesus, “Out of Egypt I called my son.”
The “call out of Egypt” is never however for the benefit of the one called. It is always for the benefit of the people and it is a betrayal of this call if the beneficiaries of this call are not the people.
As we celebrate the Feast of the Holy Family, we pray that parents may learn to love silence, to exile themselves from the material distractions so that in that silence they may hear the voice of the Spirit guiding them so that they may protect their families from all those people and things whose only purpose is to destroy. May St. Joseph be the model of listening to the Spirit and of family protection.
Today we thank God for all those leaders who have matured in the “silence of exile.” It is because they accepted “exile” that their convictions were strengthened and that they were able to return and give that which was so beneficial to others but which would never have been without that period of exile. We ask for the grace to see rejection as an opportunity to think through and to deepen convictions so that when we are “called out of Egypt” we can make those contributions which are necessary for the benefit of our people.
All powerful and ever-loving God, you called your Son out of Egypt so that he could one day lead your people. It was for this that you called all the leaders of your people beginning with Moses out of various forms of exile so that your people could be led to green pastures and cisterns which are not cracked and broken. We yearn for such leaders Lord; exercise once again your saving power so that your people may be led to green pastures. Let parents Lord, develop the habit of listening to the Spirit for the sake of family life. We ask this through the intercession of Mary, our Mother and your son Jesus. Amen