Tears: Feast of the Holy Family

Simeon's Song of Praise by Rembrandt (1669)

There would have been tears, I think.  If Simeon had waited all those years for the Lord, if Anna were a widow and so advanced in age, they would have shed tears when the saw the Infant King, certainly when they were allowed to hold him. 

Life’s second half is awash in tears.  Tears for what happened long ago, in the first half; tears because time too short to be savored; tears because life itself has begun to run deeper. Everything seems to matter more.

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I visited a woman in ICU this past week.  She wasn’t in physical pain; her heart was irregular.  She was in spiritual distress; her heart was weighed down with the idea that she wouldn’t be home with her family for Christmas.  They had come up from Texas and would soon need to return.   Would I pray that the doctors send her home by Christmas?  During the Anointing of the Sick, as I lay hands on her, she began to cry.  She didn’t need to explain herself.  Tears are a language deeper than words.

Young people often confess to the pain they’ve caused their parents.  They know that they shouldn’t lie, shouldn’t sneak around, shouldn’t snap back with an emotional whip.  They’re genuinely sorry, truly contrite, but, typically, tears don’t come.  Life is still too long and too lustrous for that. But now I am too old to reckon how many tears I’ve seen mothers shed.  So often I find myself repeating this old line: no one can love us like family and no one can hurt us like family.

The Holy Family was no exception.  We call Saint Joseph the patron of a happy death, because he would have died with Jesus and Mary.  But what of the Mother and son who, one day, had to say goodbye to such a man?  Wouldn’t tears have come?  And when the Son went forth from her side?  Would her eyes have been dry?  The mind can know and understand and still not convince the heart.  Tears come with love.  When words fail to express love, love speaks through them.

When Pope Francis asks the Church the rethink family life, I’m sure that he is sincere in saying that questions of doctrine aren’t in dispute.  But the old cannot see tears, cannot watch another weep and not rethink themselves.  The heart says to the mind, be more creative, try again. 

Simeon blesses the Holy Family and then says to Mary:

Behold, this child is destined
for the fall and rise of many in Israel,
and to be a sign that will be contradicted
—and you yourself a sword will pierce—
so that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed (Lk 2: 34-35).

The prophecy can be interpreted in at least two ways. As a disciple, Mary will also be called to choose the cross, to choose between her own desires and the will of God. Perhaps more directly, she is reminded that no one can love us like family, and no one can hurt like family. We learn this early in life, and, with wisdom, we learn the cost of love. It comes with tears.

Sirach 3: 2-6, 12-14   Colossians 3: 12-21 Luke 2: 22-40

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