by Msgr. Joseph P. Calise
The preamble to Alcoholics Anonymous is a statement of who the group is and is usually read at the beginning of an AA meeting. It reads, “Alcoholics Anonymous is a fellowship of men and women who share their experience, strength and hope with each other that they may solve their common problem and help others to recover from alcoholism. The only requirement for membership is a desire to stop drinking. There are no dues or fees for A.A. membership; we are self-supporting through our own contributions. A.A. is not allied with any sect, denomination, politics, organization or institution; does not wish to engage in any controversy; neither endorses nor opposes any causes. Our primary purpose is to stay sober and help other alcoholics to achieve sobriety.”
Basically, a fellowship is formed by the caring of one for another, which takes the form of sharing their stories, the journeys that took them to where they are today.
In their book, “The Spirituality of Imperfection,” Ernest Kurtz and Katherine Ketcham use stories to describe the spiritual journey of seeing our imperfection not as a handicap but as a way to better identify with one another as we rely more and more on a power greater than ourselves to reveal the real meaning of our lives.
In the opening pages, we read this story: “Time before time when the world was young, two brothers shared a field and a mill. Each night they divided evenly the grain they had ground together during the day. Now as it happened, one of the brothers lived alone; the other had a wife and a large family. One day, the single brother thought to himself: ‘It isn’t really fair we divide the grain evenly. I only have myself to care for, but my brother has children to feed.’
So each night he secretly took some of his grain to his brother’s granary to see that he was never without. But the married brother said to himself one day, ‘It isn’t really fair that we divide the grain evenly, because I have children to provide for me in my old age, but my brother has no one. What will he do when he is old?’ So every night he took some of his grain to his brother’s granary.
As a result, both of them always found their supply of grain mysteriously replenished each morning.”
The essence of love is thinking of the other first, and so thinking of the other first becomes essential to the formation of a family. In the Gospel, there is a lot of movement.
Obedient to the words of the angel, Joseph takes Mary and Jesus and flees to Egypt. Upon the death of Herod and another angelic visit, Joseph brings them back to Israel, but rather than settle in Judea, they settle in Nazareth in Galilee.
In his infant days, Jesus lives the Exodus geographically: Because of persecution, they flee to Egypt, and when instructed by God through his angel, return to Israel. Permeating the Gospel story are Joseph’s desire to be obedient to God and to care for his family. In this, I believe, is our message for the Feast of the Holy Family.
The second reading from St. Paul’s Letter to the Colossians contains some currently controversial verses on the subordination of wives to their husbands, whereas at the time they were written, those lines would have been controversial because they called on husbands to love their wives rather than consider them property.
However one feels about the closing verses of the optional long form of today’s second reading, the preceding verses in which Paul invites everyone to “put on … heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience” and overall to put on love describe the essence of a holy family. It is faith-based love that forms a family more than simple genetics; even Jesus is Joseph’s adopted Son.
If love is faith in action, this love is at the heart of what it really means to be family. Perhaps, this is why so many find their first real sense of family in AA or one of the many other 12-step fellowships that are available to us.
The story about the brothers that I began above ends with these words as quoted by Kurtz and Ketcham: “Then one night the brothers met each other halfway between their two houses, suddenly realized what had been happening, and embraced each other in love. The story is that God witnessed their meeting and proclaimed, ‘This is a holy place — a place of love — and here it is that my temple shall be built.’ And so it was. The holy place, where God is made known, is the place where human beings discover each other in love.”
(The sad reality in society today is that some try to create a family when they are emotionally or psychologically incapable. No one should tolerate abuse under the disguise of protecting the family. Help is available to victims and perpetrators. If you or someone you know is suffering from domestic violence, do not remain silent. The domestic hotline number is 1 800 779 SAFE (7233).)
Readings for the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph
Sirach 3: 2-6, 12-14
Psalm 128: 1-2, 3, 4-5
Colossians 3: 12–21
Matthew 2: 13-15, 19-23
Msgr. Calise is the pastor of St. Stanislaus Kostka and Transfiguration Parish, Maspeth.