The nation of Lebanon had long been considered an oasis of beauty and peace in the war-torn Middle East, but that began changing when a civil war pitting Christians against Muslims broke out in 1975. One Christian family, consisting of the parents and four boys, tried to survive by moving from place to place in hopes of avoiding the fighting. The husband and father was able to emigrate to the United States and obtain a job, hoping to soon relocate his wife and children to safety in America. However, for two years the family was snarled in bureaucracy, unsure if it would ever be allowed to leave Lebanon.
Writing about the situation years later, one of the boys said, “We saw a lot of the suffering; it felt like we were in hell. It was very scary. My mom prayed very deeply, and she asked our Blessed Mother if it was God’s will for us to go to the United States that she would give my mom a sign to know that we should travel to [the Mediterranean island of Cyprus] to get our visas because they were issuing them to everyone during that time. As she was praying, my mom fell asleep, and she had a dream of a mountain, and suddenly, behind the mountain, a bright light came up, and the light got so bright that she woke up. Mom knew—she had a deep confidence in her heart—this was a sign for us to leave.”
“The next morning, we packed up everything and went really fast because they were going to bomb again. The ship left, and they started bombing and getting close to the ship. We went to Cyprus, and through our Blessed Mother, she provided for us two men who were also there trying to get visas. They helped us through the entire three weeks we were in Cyprus. They took us to a place where we could stay, they took care of me and my brothers, and they helped my mother. I felt like this was the presence of our Blessed Mother. When we went to get our passports, we were the last ones—me and my brothers and my mom and those two guys were the only ones who got visas, and we knew it was because of our Blessed Mother. She opened up to us to come to the United States. We have been very blessed. Our Lady and Our Lord are doing great things” (Cheri Lomonte, Stories from Mary’s Touch, p. 19). As this family from Lebanon discovered, if we trust in the Lord, our journey through life will be successful.
We might call King Herod an “anti-role model,” especially when it comes to family life. Herod was ruthless and cunning; he had a brutal temper and raging paranoia, and was especially suspicious of his own family. Among the hundreds of people he executed during his long reign were his wife’s grandfather, his brother, two of his stepsons, one of his own sons, and his beloved wife. Thus, it was entirely in character for Herod to try to murder the infant Jesus—but, of course, he failed in this effort, and soon afterwards died a horrible and agonizing death. The king’s skillful politics within the Roman Empire and his many amazing construction projects, including the Temple in Jerusalem, earned him the title “Herod the Great,” but of course, his historical importance is now of absolutely no consolation to him as he suffers the fires of hell. Herod trusted in himself, not in God, and so his life was not only wasted, but ended in complete and eternal disaster.
While there are relatively few people in today’s world as wicked as King Herod, there are many whose lives are headed in the wrong direction—persons who, in their greed for wealth, status, power, pleasure, and self-indulgence, have no time or respect for God and no compassion for those who suffer; indeed, there are more than a few who seem to delight in causing suffering. These persons, like everyone else who’s ever lived, are subject to the judgment of God. This is terrible news for some, but wonderful news for others—and by our moral values and choices, we determine which fate will be ours.
Which direction are we choosing to follow—the path which leads to eternal life, or to eternal damnation? The fact that we’ve gathered here in Christ’s Name shows that we wish to follow Jesus into the joys of Heaven—but we must not grow complacent. The readings given us for the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph speak of the importance of showing kindness and compassion to the members of our families, and promise that those who do so will receive God’s favor. Indeed, the Lord is happy to guide, bless, and protect those who seek to live in humility and righteousness—just as He protected the Holy Family as they fled Bethlehem for Egypt. God never abandons those who put their trust in Him—and the Blessed Virgin Mary, and her spouse St. Joseph, having themselves experienced God’s saving care in a time of distress, are happy to intercede on our behalf when we turn to them in our need.
The Feast of the Holy Family is a wonderful reminder that God’s grace can be experienced in a unique and powerful way within our families and homes; it’s also a personal invitation to us to trust and participate in the Lord’s saving designs. The Lord has a plan for us, and a mission for us to fulfill during our time on earth—one which can glorify God, help other people, and bring us everlasting happiness and peace. We don’t need to know all the details in advance; as long as we’re willing to trust, our Heavenly Father will provide for our needs and protect us from evil, personally caring for us at every moment until our life’s journey is complete.