Today we celebrate the “Feast of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph.” I remember growing up and hearing the members of the Holy Family named—usually in moments at home when I was in trouble and my parents had had ‘enough’ of me… We hear in the First Reading from the Book of Sirach (a Wisdom Book) about the relationships and behavior we should follow in any family. In St. Paul gives the Colossians (and us) a lovely description, a recipe, of how to be Christ-like in any relationship, any family, any Community. The Gospel is the familiar story of Mary and Joseph taking the baby Jesus to be presented and consecrated to God in the Temple as was the custom. There they meet two elders of the Community, Simeon and Anna, who prophesy that Jesus is the redemption and salvation, revelation and glory for all peoples. There is a lot to think about in these readings—and lots of great advice for our behavior as members of our families and Communities—most especially as we near the start of a New Year.
In thinking back on this past year, yikes! such a difficult one, I reflected on the New Year as the opportunity for healing for all—recovering physically, emotionally and spiritually from this pandemic: the grief of loss and loneliness, the anger and division in politics, the economic and justice issues that have surfaced, the awful inequality of lives being lived all around us. We are all God’s children—and today we hear how Jesus came as a light to all nations and peoples. In considering our myriad differences and diversity, I thought about what it is that connects us to other peoples—whether families or foreigners, various denominations and non-sectarians, the sacred or secular, the haves and have-nots… Is there an underlying, but present, connection of all humans?
I read an article recently called “The Social Life of Forests” where I learned that in any forest the trees and fungi underground form partnerships called mycorrhizas—threadlike fungi that envelop and fuse with the tree roots helping them to get the water and nutrients needed for growth and survival. It has been discovered that fungal “threads” link every and all trees in any forest—even trees of different species! Carbon, water, nutrients, alarm signals and hormones can pass through these underground circuits—resources flow from the oldest and biggest to the youngest and smallest trees—and even in death a tree may bequeath a substantial share of its carbon to its neighbors. Wow. Sound familiar?
Trees form a vast, ancient, intricate society—sometimes with conflict, but also “negotiation” and reciprocity. Trees are so co-dependent that some scientists describe a forest as a superorganism. And these mycorrhizal networks are found in prairies, grasslands, chaparral and Arctic tundra—anywhere where life exists on land. God is so great that He has connected all living, created beings together in one great symphony of cohesion and unity, bond and connection—that is the gift of the Spirit.
Trees are found to be codependent, like we are dependent on each other, also. This is what creates families and Communities. We need each other to heal, we need other to grow, we need each other for living and dying. We see this clearly in all the readings for this Feast of the Holy Family. We are all part of holy families, and a larger Holy Family, too. We just need to remember that this is so, that this is what we are called to evince, and that this is how to maintain and live a holy life in Christ. Today we celebrate all the families of which we are part: our personal ones, our communal ones, our sacred and secular ones—all families created and connected by God and Spirit. Happy Holy Family!
Keep singing in your hearts!
Just a Note: I also learned that trees have always been symbols of connection (take a look sometime at our “Tree of Life” in the atrium). In Mesoamerican mythology, an immense tree grows at the center of the universe, stretching its roots into the underworld and cradling heaven and earth in its trunk and branches. Norse cosmology has a similar tree; and the Japanese have a Noh drama that tells about wedded pines. You can find trees as a symbol for life and connectedness in all cultures and ages of the world.
And if you remember, we sometimes also refer to the cross that Jesus died upon as a “Tree of Life.” Food for thought…
Google: Youtube Tree of Life by Aaron Thompson
Last Sunday, the Responsorial Psalm I sang at the masses was the canticle (song text) called “The Magnificat” from the Gospel of St. Luke. A canticle is a biblical poem that is not a part of the Book of Psalms and is sometimes used in the place of a psalm as the response to the First Reading. In this canticle-response we heard the example of the Virgin Mary’s attitude of readiness and being prepared: her willingness to carry God within her. She is the model for all believers! I pray that Christ be born in all of us, too!
This bulletin today does ‘double duty.’ It is published for the Fourth Sunday of Advent and for the Solemnity of the Nativity: Christmas. This Fourth Sunday of Advent (Cycle B), we hear the story of “The Annunciation” in the Gospel of St. Luke. In her simple response to the angel Gabriel we hear the Blessed Mother’s acceptance of the will of God: “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word…” She was ready and she was prepared to do the will of God in the face of all the obvious difficulties. The question is: are we prepared to do the same? Always and every day we are called to examine our choices and priorities—most especially in times full of activity and stress (like a pandemic)⎯or in the Advent preparation for the Christmas holy-days.
The Psalm for today gives us a refrain for an appropriate attitude for our daily lives no matter what time of year: “Forever I will sing the goodness of the Lord.” Holding this refrain in our hearts and minds may help to remind us of the promise of God. In the verse I sing of God’s faithfulness and love for us, and of our salvation. The refrain may help remind us to be ready, to be prepared for the birth Christ, to give thanks in spirit and soul—for all God’s blessings in spite of this pandemic.
It is difficult accepting the necessary limitations placed upon us by Covid and the science of sound and aerosolized particles. I very much miss our St. Aidan music ensembles knowing that this time of year we would be preparing for and performing music together for our Advent Pageant and all the Feasts of Christmas. But I have faith that we will be back to it next year—safe and sound, full of sound—singing of the goodness of the Lord. In the meantime, sing of the goodness of the Lord in your hearts and minds, for God is good.
May you and yours rejoice and sing the song of Christ now in these holy-days, at Christmas and forever.
Just a Note: I am looking forward to sharing with you a Christmas recording project from the St. Aidan Adult Choir. You will get to hear it at any of the Christmas masses as a part of the liturgy; and later, on our website. We wanted to share our gifts with our Community—despite not being able to sing in-person. I’d like to thank those choir members who participated (recording your own voice can be very intimidating). I’d also like to extend a very special thanks to Mr. Jim Ciccarelli and to my son, Mr. Elliott Encarnacion, for all the details and work that went into producing this music video for our Christmas celebrations. In spite of not being able to sing together—we are singing together!
More Notes: Here are two lovely recordings for Advent/Christmas about the Christmas Rose… Enjoy!
A Spotless Rose: https://youtu.be/KPOah3NJ5-0
Lo, How a Rose: https://youtu.be/ci7LDs7txBk
Another Little More: I wanted to share some lyrics that describes Advent to Christmas. This is an excerpt from “Advent Begins in the Darkness of Night” by David Bjorlin: Advent Begins in the Darkness of Night
Advent begins in the darkness of night, waiting and watching for signs of light,
walking in faith that a path will appear, daring to follow in spite of our fear.
Advent goes on till the promised dawn breaks, tyrants are toppled, and God’s dream awakes.
Hope is perfected and faith is made sight.
Love is our center and Christ is our light.
David J. Conrad, M.A. Theology. Our Director of Faith Formation.