A Tale of 2 Families

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Sunday, Dec. 26, 2010, is the feast of the Holy Family (Liturgical Year A, Cycle I). Saturday, Jan. 1, is the solemnity of Mary, the Mother of God.


This week was already going to be family week, because between Christmas and New Year’s so many people are home with their families. But it’s also a liturgical “family week”: the week following Holy Family Sunday.

We have two pieces of advice. First: Do a little planning. A recent study said that people who make an effort to step out of their routine and try new things are happier than those who don’t. Last Thanksgiving, one of our daughters took the initiative and made a “Thanksgiving Olympics” for us. We had a Thanksgiving quiz, a popcorn-tossing contest, a potato sack race, an M&M color-sorting race and a coloring contest. Those of us who were unenthusiastic about the idea were transformed by the end.

Our second piece of advice? Leave lots of unplanned time. External activities too often rule our lives, and this week is a precious opportunity to simply be a family together. After planning a day or two, “unplan” the rest.


Don’t forget to celebrate the liturgical feasts this week. It’s a great week for getting the whole family to daily Mass if you aren’t able to do so during the rest of the year.

Dec. 27: St. John the Apostle. Following Evelyn Berg Vitz’s advice in A Continual Feast (Ignatius Press), we let children have a small amount of mulled wine with dinner today.

Dec. 28: The Holy Innocents. A great day to visit a tomb of the unborn.

Dec. 29: St. Thomas Becket. Older family members can watch the movie Becket (1964). Literary families could read out loud from The Canterbury Tales (where the pilgrims are on their way to St. Thomas’ tomb).

Dec. 31: New Year’s Eve. Take the old calendar down, and go over the events written on it in order to give thanks for the previous year.


Sirach 3:2-6, 12-14; Psalm 128:1-5; Colossians 3:12-21; Matthew 2:13-15, 19-23

Our Take

Today’s Gospel could be called “A Tale of Two Families.” The first family we are well aware of: the Holy Family, comprised of St. Joseph, his wife Mary, and Jesus.

The second family is the family of Herod the Great, the Rome-friendly, cruel, tyrannical Jewish ruler of Israel. He had five wives in his lifetime. Wife No. 1 was Doris. He exiled her (and their child) in order to marry a beautiful teen he was smitten with. That was wife No. 2, Mariamne. Eventually, he executed the two sons he had with her for plotting to assassinate him — and couldn’t prevent her being executed, too. Wife No. 3 was another Mariamne, “the most beautiful woman in Jerusalem.” He paid to improve her family’s position in order to marry her, then later divorced her and disinherited her son. Wife No. 4 was Malthace, a Samaritan, the mother of Herod Antipas and Archelaus, mentioned in today’s Gospel. Wife No. 5, Cleopatra of Jerusalem, followed her.

Herod the Great was known as “the King of the Jews.” Apart from the violence, what he did was very much in line with “worldly” goals. He married the most beautiful women of his time and place, rebuilt the great Temple, traveled the world, got involved in the politics of his time, socialized with the celebrities of his day, and kept his kingdom “in the family” by dividing it between two of his sons.

But the great joys of family life described in today’s readings were never his. The first and second readings feature images of a harmonious life centered on others, but Herod and his sons broke all of St. Paul’s rules. He didn’t love his wives. By putting so much emphasis on physical beauty, he pleased himself, not them. His children did not obey him. He provoked them. We know them now as the icky antagonists in the greatest story of their time.

Joseph’s approach to life in the Gospel was much simpler — and much more successful. He was open to doing whatever God told him, including a married life of celibacy, self-imposed exile and losing the choice of a place to live. His simple, self-sacrificing life changed the course of history.

Which family do you want to imitate?

Tom and April Hoopes write from Atchison, Kansas,

where Tom is writer in residence at Benedictine College.

Cistercian Father Thomas Esposito says of discerning one’s college choice, ‘There has to be something that tugs at you and makes you want to investigate it further. And then the personal encounter comes in the form of a visit or a chat with a student or alumnus who communicates with the same enthusiasm or energy about the place. And then that love of a place can be a seed which germinates in your own heart through prayer.’

Choose a College With a Discerning Mind and Heart

Cistercian Father Thomas Esposito, assistant professor of theology at the University of Dallas (UD) and subprior (and former vocations director) of the Cistercian Abbey of Our Lady of Dallas, drew from his experience as both a student and now monastic religious to help those discerning understand the parallels between religious and college discernment.