By Fr. Glenn Jones:
Well, here we are … the last week of 2020, a year that few will lament having come to its close. In the celebrations of the new year on 12/31/19, who would have ever guessed that it would have taken such a nasty turn? Come on, 2021 … don’t fail us!
As this pandemic pandemonium year closes, we all likely have mused over and re-examined our family ties and closeness as we were subjected to the ever-climbing COVID toll as many lost friends and family over these ten months. This common experience has brought to the fore greater realization of our fragile biology contained with its inherent, inescapable mortality. Yet, if there is to be any silver lining whatever to this year, perhaps it is that we appreciate our loved ones all the more. Even those who have not lost surely realize that “There, but by the grace of God, go I,” …that they just as easily could have been among the mourning had the virus been more virulent—especially among the young.
Jesus, of course, warns us many times in the Gospel of what has become blatantly apparent this year: that we “know neither the day nor the hour” of our demise. After all, no one walked into the Twin Towers on 9/11 thinking that they’d be in mortal jeopardy in just a few moments … one of countless examples, from auto accidents to heart attacks to shooting incidents and, now, pandemic viruses.
Annually we Catholics celebrate the feast of the Holy Family on the Sunday between Christmas and the New Year as we commemorate the little family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph—the model for all families, reminding us of the mutual support, sacrifice and love that family provides.
We honor Joseph, the just man … silent and humble guardian and provider … who protects Mary and baby Jesus along their journey, in exile, and ultimately returning and setting up his family carpentry shop in Nazareth. Then Mary—young wife and mother—offering her life totally to God in accepting the awesome and mysterious responsibility to bear His Son … giving birth in a stable, in exile having to abandon family and friends so as to protect her newborn from being pursued and murdered … eventually caring for and rearing her Son to sounds of the carpenter’s trade, and following Jesus—her only child—even to death on a cross and, no doubt, after the resurrection.
Then, of course … Jesus … literally the perfect Son. God made Man.
Wouldn’t we have loved to know more about the early, unrecorded life of the Holy Family! But, alas for curiosity, we only have the two short incidents in the Gospels of that early period—the infant Jesus’ Presentation in the Temple soon after His birth, and of the twelve-year-old Jesus astounding the teachers in the Temple with His knowledge (Luke 2). The Gospels then are silent about Jesus’s early life until he comes to John the Baptist and begins His public ministry, demonstrating the beyond-marvelous humility of the Son of God, who deigned to become one of us to save us … “a little while lower than angels.” (Hebrews 2:7)
As the new year approaches, it always ushers in the resolution-making … in which we often take last year’s (or years’) list and, with at least present determination, post it on the ‘fridge. Again. At least until it makes us feel bad for not sticking to them.
This year, however, may find a bit more urgency and motivation to stick to those resolutions. Being confronted this year with the uncertainties we’ve had, is it not wise to re-evaluate our lives, no matter the age? After all, who among us is so perfect that he cannot improve himself RIGHT NOW … or at least work on it? Nagging grudges … selfishness … haughty arrogance … the “look after #1!” attitude. Most, if not all, have some shade of all these faults.
We often look for some universal solution or panacea to our problems or puzzles. So … what is the one virtue that can assist in ridding ourselves of all of those tints of vice? None other than that over-arching, yet elusive, virtue that the Holy Family had in spades: humility.
In our feast day, we see how Joseph manifests humility by silent and unhesitating obedience to the will of God and service to Mary and Jesus—obeying the angelic messenger, yes, but perhaps even more so in his being termed “a just man” in the Gospel prior to that revelation.
Mary, as mentioned above, surrenders her whole life to God in humble acceptance of His in becoming the mother of His Son … unprotestingly, uncomplainingly … despite all the trials that she endured. She is an exemplar to all mothers in dedication to her child and to God.
And then, of course, Jesus. The very fact of His becoming “flesh and dwelling among us” (John 1) is humility unfathomable … and love unfathomable—love for the Father, yet love for each of US as well. And yet we also read that “…He went down with [Mary and Joseph] and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them…” (Luke 2:51). God obedient to humans, His creatures. He would work, sweat, be dirty, tired and hungry, hot and cold, ridiculed and persecuted—even to death. How the angels must have gazed in wonder at the utter humility of God.
The first sin was rooted in pride—the desire to “be like God” (Genesis 3:5), and so there is no more important virtue to cultivate than pride’s antithesis: humility, which fosters and nourishes all virtues. Without humility, there is no selflessness, no service, no obedience, no charity … no love, for love seeks the good of the other, and places the other before oneself. Humility is not degradation; on the contrary, seeking humility is emulating Christ, whom we can never hope to match, but we can strive nonetheless. And so there is no more worthy aspiration than that … or better new year’s resolution.
“Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 18:3-4)
“He who is greatest among you shall be your servant; whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.” (Matthew 23:11-12)
Rev. Glenn Jones is the Vicar General of the Archdiocese of Santa Fe and former pastor of Immaculate Heart of Mary Catholic Church in Los Alamos.