Called by God to be a family, and that’s all we need to know
---Pope Benedict XVI, Feast of the Holy Family, 2007
One of the things I love about Christmas time is spending time with my family watching the classic movies that play over and over again on TV. I love them all, from “It’s a Wonderful Life” to “How the Grinch Stole Christmas.”
But if I had to pick a favorite, I suppose it would be “The Bells of St. Mary’s.” Who can resist the charm of Bing Crosby? Father O’Malley, the coolest priest ever, with that buttery voice and hat cocked to the side just-so.
My favorite scene in the movie is when a little first grade boy named Bobby writes his own Christmas pageant and is practicing it for Father O'Malley and Sister Benedict. As a first grade teacher, this scene is especially enduring to me. There is such a great simplicity of how the children act out the story. The scene begins with Saint Joseph, played by young Bobby, who while taking a deep breath after every other word, sets the opening scene:
“I am Joseph and this is my wife, Mary. We have to go to Bethlehem and we are looking for a place to stay. And that’s all you need to know, really.”
The Holy Family. They had to go to Bethlehem. And that was all they needed to know.
I imagine the real scene was a lot more stressful and quite a bit more dramatic.
Mary, frightened and scared, not knowing what to make of this angel standing before her. Her life would be changed forever, but she said “Yes” to God because He had asked her to do something. And that was all she needed to know.
And Joseph, asked to marry a woman who was pregnant --- and not with his child. He was asked to sacrifice his entire life and all he had been taught. But God had asked him to do it, and that was all he needed to know.
They traveled for the census to be counted. They continually did the next right thing, not because they were promised riches or status or rewards. And yet, when they arrived in Bethlehem with every intention of finding an inn, they were given a stable. They had no idea how they were going to manage next. But they did everything they could because God asked them to be a family, and that was all they needed to know.
I hear the Christmas story so many times that I begin to assume the Holy Family knew what the end result of their sacrifices would be. But then I remember that Mary and Joseph knew no such thing. They knew no more of their future than any of us do. They didn’t know Jesus would get lost in a temple. They didn’t know He would turn water into wine. They didn’t know He would heal the sick and bring sight to the blind. They didn’t know their precious baby boy would be beaten and ridiculed and hung on a cross.
In the hours before Christ’s birth, all they knew was Mary had to rest and they needed a place to stay. In young Bobby’s Christmas pageant, Joseph is turned away by the innkeeper. He explains to Mary that he was told they could not stay in the inn because he had no money. Mary, sweetly and simply tells him, “It’s all right, Joseph. I’m fine as long as I have you.” And when they are finally told there is a stable full of animals and hay that they could stay in, oh how happy they are!
The beautiful Holy Family, who had said “Yes” to everything God asked and who, more than anyone I know, deserved an inn to stay in, were thrilled to rest in a stable.
God’s own Son didn’t have an easy way into this life. Or out of it. But He was given the same help and strength that was given to His parents. He was given the same help and strength that is offered to us every day if we choose to look --- not beyond our circumstances, but in the midst of them.
When we look at our own lives, how many times do we find ourselves in a stable instead of an inn? We work hard; we do what is right, but so often our lives do not pan out the way we expected. Jobs are lost, cars break down, health deteriorates, loved ones betray us, financial worries dominate our world --- we find ourselves wondering why we are stuck in a stable when we deserve to stay in an inn. This is not the ideal life we pictured for our family.
But the Holy Family is not an idyllic picture of family life. They lived a real story of a real family. Their lives were full of the worry of work and taxes and what neighbors thought of them. They didn’t ask for their way to be made simple. They didn’t ask for God to reveal His plan to all so they wouldn’t have to suffer the humiliation. They didn’t ask for it to be easy.
The Holy Family simply asked for help and strength. They were given both. And that was all they needed to know.
Mary and Joseph, while making the first home for their child in that stable, accepted where they were and recognized where they were going because they acknowledged their blessings instead of dwelling on their misfortunes. Mary and Joseph didn’t wait until they were in a cozy home to be grateful that God had pulled them through. In the midst of the rough circumstances they found at the stable, they recognized the gift that had been entrusted to them.
Sometimes it seems natural for us to think that life as a family is supposed to be easy.
Or, if we’re on the right path, that it should be made smooth for us. But if we can learn anything from Mary and Joseph, it’s that we should forge ahead doing what God asks of us and trusting that is all we need to know. Whether the journey seems impossible, or it seems we deserve better, we need only remember that God’s own Son didn’t have an easy way into this life. Or out of it. But He was given the same help and strength that was given to His parents. He was given the same help and strength that is offered to us every day if we choose to look --- not beyond our circumstances, but in the midst of them.
This New Year, as we think about what didn’t go quite right last year or how we may have wanted things to be easier, stop and remember that just as Mary and Joseph found all those years ago, we too are always given blessings in the hay.
We don’t know what the future holds. We may not have any idea of how we will manage to get through the tough times that lay ahead this year. But we do know that God has called us to be a family. And as Bobby reminds us quite simply: That is all we need to know. Really.
Therese Corsaro attends St. Mary Church, Palmdale, and teaches at St. Mary School.