Feast of the Restless Family

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While preaching on the Feast of the Holy Family, I was reminded of my visit to Egypt and multiple Coptic Christian sites some ten years ago. The Flight to Egypt (only mentioned by St. Matthew), does receive abundant attention from Christian art, and counts as one of Mary’s Sorrows. It is otherwise somewhat overlooked in the Latin tradition – at least if one is to judge from the prominence it predictably achieved in Egypt. Some 14 Egyptian sites are commemorated with chapels or churches, marking resting spots or temporary abodes of the Holy Family as they followed that other Joseph into Egypt (who also went there against his will), and, in due course, would follow Moses out of it.  The sweet peace of the manger scene can lull us to sleep. We may forget the turmoil that followed upon the unexpected pregnancy, and the massacre of the innocents brought on by three Oriental star-gazers only asking directions to Bethlehem at the royal court. The Family’s years in Egypt (the Copts count seven), like the four centuries of the long sojourn of their ancestors, must have been more formative than we imagine. Jesus would have started to talk in the land of the Nile. As the Jews became a people in Egypt, and the Old Testament began to become a book in Babylonia, it seems God does his ‘best work’, as it were, when we are in exile.

 

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