Hi everyone, here’s my homily for the Feast of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph.  The readings for today’s Mass can be found at:  http://usccb.org/bible/readings/122913.cfm.  Thanks so much for reading, sharing this blog and for your feedback and comments.  MERRY  CHRISTMAS!  God’s Blessings on you and yours in the New Year! – Fr. Jim


           In recent years, weve seen with greater anger and animosity the so-called War on Christmas.  There’s arguments over singing religious Christmas carols in public schools; The  legality of displaying a nativity scene on public property; debates over whether saying Merry Christmas is insensitive and that instead Happy Holidays is a less objectionable alternative (which covers everything from Hanukah, Kwanza, Christmas and New Years)

            All of it just seems incredibly ridiculous.  That people argue that theres proselytizing simply by the singing of Silent Night by children or that they are threatened by the sight of Mary, Joseph and the infant Jesus in a manger scene seems to be the very definition of ridiculous.   In a society where supposedly being tolerant is the noblest of virtues, weve somehow become less respectful of one another and much more easily insulted at even the mere perception of a slight towards our viewpoint, our beliefs.  This is true of us Christians too, by the way, and how we react and respond to some of these challenges.

            For the most part, Ive tried not to allow these annual debates to bother me. But one thing that has troubled me in the midst of this escalating war on Christmas has been a somewhat new tradition.  A group of atheists who each year purchase billboards expressing their opposition to Christmas.  A few years ago there was a picture of the nativity scene with a headline saying YOU KNOW ITS A MYTH – THIS SEASON CELEBRATE REASON.  That was followed up with the  THERES PROBABLY NO GOD (love the qualification in this one) NOW STOP WORRYING AND ENJOY YOUR LIFE.  Which led to this years billboard in Times Square right in time for the season, asking:  WHO NEEDS CHRIST IN CHRISTMAS? NOBODY.

            When I heard about it, and saw it, what struck me was that this wasnt simply advocating that one group should be sensitive to other peoples beliefs… this wasnt promoting a different ideology or holiday.  It quite directly demonstrates a hatred towards God; a hatred towards Jesus Christ.  Just think about it how much time or energy do we spend on things that we dont believe in?  As Ive said to my students at Montclair State numerous times – I dont believe in the Buddha – but I dont think about Buddha.  I dont get angry when I go to the Chinese restaurant that I order take out from and see a Buddha statue there and refuse to order from them again – I dont argue with Buddhists that theyre wasting their time.  I dont believe in the Buddha, so he doesnt really enter into my thoughts much other than sharing this example.  And he definitely doesnt invoke a passionate, anger filled wrath that causes me to hire a marketing company, a graphic designer, purchase billboard space and angrily denounce him, his existence and mock those who do believe in him and his teachings.

            Which is why that billboard is troubling.  Because it reveals that theres obviously people who want to eliminate Christ.  Sadly, not just from our observance of Christmas.  For some, Jesus is troubling… threatening.   To what?  To their self interests.  To their pursuits of power, material things.  To their beliefs that the accumulation of these things will somehow guarantee security in this life.  To the arrogance that we are the masters of our destinies. 

             Looking at the Gospel today we see that this is nothing new.   Here we are in the midst of celebrating the season of Christs Birth, we come to this Christmas feast of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph and what does the Gospel recount for us?  That not long after a star leads the Magi to behold the Christ Child, not long after the glad tidings of angels to shepherds announcing Jesus birth by proclaiming GLORY TO GOD IN THE HIGHEST AND ON EARTH, PEACE TO PEOPLE OF GOOD WILL – we see the lack of peace in people of not-Good will.  King Herod is so paranoid by this newborn, so obsessed in his hatred of this royalty he has never met, so blind in his rage and fury – that he takes no chances.  He orders the slaughter of every Jewish infant boy.  As this horrendous evil is being inflicted in the first attempt to eliminate Christ from Christmas, Joseph takes the family and flees to Egypt.

            Whats so troubling is that the evil in Herods heart is so all consuming that it inflicts evil on other innocents.  And there’s a part of us that might wonder. Why would God allow this horror to take place?  Quite simply it’s always been about choice, about our greatest of gifts given to us by God – free will.  From Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden – they are given but one command… Serpent tricks and finger pointing at one another aside – they each decided for themselves not to follow Gods law and found themselves outside of paradise, regretting that choice for the rest of their lives.  Longing for a day to return.

            Which God so lovingly, lavishly, generously gives us in the intimate encounter of God becoming man in Jesus Christ.  No longer would humanity need to read signs, hear words of prophets for direction… God becomes one with us and one of us.  He makes himself vulnerable and accessible.  What threat does an infant pose?   How much security or protection is there in these blessed and loving people but materially poor people – Joseph and Mary.  Yet we see that God becoming man, God entering into our human story in Christ at the first Christmas evokes two extreme responses:  unspeakable evil and horror vs the selflessness and complete abandonment of will in sacrificial love of Mary and Joseph.  That’s why 20 centuries later the names Herod and Mary and Joseph immediately conjure up two very different images.  One of a ruthless tyrant… The other as members of The Holy Family.

            In This Christmas of 2013, the choice, the stark contrast of extremes remains the same.  The impulse for us to fight back is a very human temptation.  For example – There’s been reports of vandalism done to atheist billboards.  And it’s a very human thing to equivocate the different evils as a way of trying to justify our actions.  We find it hard not to fall into the same silly games Adam and Eve did – pointing fingers as to who started this all and made us do some of the uncharitable things we do in this noble fight FOR Christ FOR Christmas.

            But it seems that we are challenged once again by the poverty and simplicity of the Holy Family, by the examples of Mary and Joseph.  To recognize the precious, precious gift that our Heavenly  Father has entrusted to us.   That he enters into our homes, our lives as Jesus Christ.  Will we prize this as the most precious treasure we possess and are unwilling to diminish the value and meaning of the gift.   Will we let our loving attitudes, our selfless examples, will be the ultimate witness answering who needs Christ in Christmas?  We do… For Christmas and every other day of our lives.