The Second Sorrow: The Flight into Egypt
When they had departed, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Rise, take the child and his mother, flee to Egypt and stay there until I tell you. Herod is going to search for the child to destroy him.”
Joseph rose and took the child and his mother by night and departed for Egypt. He stayed there until the death of Herod, that what the Lord had said through the prophet might be fulfilled, “Out of Egypt I called my son.”
The unimaginable dreams
I occasionally preach parish missions and retreats around the country. Several years ago I found myself in a very large parish in California to preach the Masses on a weekend and then offer a three-day retreat. After one of the morning sessions, a gentleman cornered me in the sunlit lobby of the church. He whispered to me that his son graduated from the University of Notre Dame in the 1990’s. He then confessed to me that his son suffers severely from mental illness.
The father then went on to tell me that he had not seen his son for many years. The shy father, holding on tightly to a copy of the parish bulletin told me that his son had refused to admit his illness and would not seek medical advice or take the prescribed medications. The tired father sheepishly whispered to me that his only son lives, or rather survives, outside in a large wooded area somewhere in Indiana. He was not even sure where exactly his son was living or how he was surviving.
This father stood in front of me in this crowded lobby feeling so ashamed of himself that he could not help his son. He had tried for years to intervene in his son’s illness. I could tell by his whispers to me and by his manner that he was heartbroken by his son’s illness. He felt helpless to fix or solve the situation. This father was also heartbroken that the dreams he had for his son were shattered. The efforts, the money and the years of work in college were not being used for the good of his son’s future.
I asked him in the center of the crowd if he was able to share his concerns and his story with people in the parish. I asked if he received any emotional support from the parish community. He told me that he had not confided to anyone in the parish. His dream for his son would only be handed over in prayer. He also asks Mary continuously to protect him in his dreams that his son be safe.
The fragile father asked me to keep the dream alive for his son in my own prayer. After many years, I find myself responding to this request. I pray for him when I return to the University of Notre Dame when I ponder how so many dreams of parents for their children seem to rise up from the ground there. I remember those dreams from my own parents whenever I return to the area of my own birth.
The lonely father in that parish lobby certainly does not stand alone in his lost dreams for his child. Military parents send their children off to war and so many of their offspring do not come home and those who do come home are scared for life from the horrors of battle. Children flee from their parents to live their own lives and so many children lose their way into severe addictions or ill health. Some flee from family so they will come to terms with their own sexual orientation or the gifts and talents that were not fostered at home. Still others flee the country to try to heal from the abuse or loneliness that they found while at home with their families. Some children simply do not want to share the dream their parents forced upon them as children.
Joseph was able to respond to God in a dream to keep his infant son out of harm’s way. Jesus and Mary trusted that the dream was truly of God and for the purpose of safety. The future for the family was given to Joseph and he had the courage to act on his dream even if that led him to another country.
I cannot image how Mary must have received the news of her husband’s dream. The sorrow of fleeing the land must have pushed her trust in God to the limit. Even though the thought of leaving home shattered the family’s expectations about what the family would become, the dream had to be acted upon. This trust in the midst of threat and chaos would only make sense looking back upon their willingness to act on the dream in the moment.
Mary and Joseph still carry the lost or fragile dreams for parents. I hold on to the belief that when the original dreams of parents do not work out as planned, that the Holy Family cares for the children lost, alone and afraid in no matter what situations people find them selves. I hold on to the fact that Mary’s sorrow of flight invites mothers and fathers to continue their lives having to let go of control over their children.
Mary’s love for Jesus is still in our world today, amid the uncertainty of a child’s health or the unstable life of homelessness and mental illness. Mary and Joseph are still the caretakers for all the ways families are separated from home. They carry the love that needs to be shared when families need forgiveness and healing, love and mercy and in all the ways families need to come together in safety and security.
I cannot imagine the sorrow of this particular father entrusting his son’s life to God in such powerlessness. This unimagined dream must continue to lead us all into a new awareness of the issues that deaden the dreams of parents for their children. These unimagined dreams are the prayers that we must share in our parish communities and learn to live among us as believers.
How does Joseph’s dream inspire you to act on your life?
What do you suppose is God’s dream for your life?