The song is a masterpiece. It is the soul of a movie and of a man. Its lyrics are both simple and haunting. About halfway through the movie “Mary Poppins,” the magical nanny sings “Feed the Birds” to the children as they go to bed. The song tells the tale of the Bird Woman who sits at the feet of St. Paul’s Cathedral selling bread crumbs to feed the birds. The song reminds the children of the importance of small acts of charity and loving those that we sometimes pay no attention to. The Friday before Christmas, in what was possibly the only two hours of daylight we could spare in that week, my sister and I went to the movies to see “Saving Mr. Banks.” The movie tells the story of what it took to make our favorite childhood film “Mary Poppins.” It was an incredibly moving film as it goes deeper into the original author’s inspiration for this story of a nanny who comes not to save the children but their father. (I’m not spoiling anything. This revelation is in the trailer and is quite evident to anyone who saw the original film as a child.) Throughout the movie, I sat there being reminded of how excited my sister and I would get whenever “Mary Poppins” would be broadcast on TV in the pre-VHS days. As an adult and even more so as a priest, I grew to admire the film’s powerful story of the redemption of a father. Mr. Banks did not know his children, and you get chills when the score of “Feed the Birds” swells as he stands at the foot of St. Paul’s Cathedral where earlier that day he had denied his son the gift of charity in giving two tuppence to the poor bird woman. He slowly comes to the realization that his children and not his job or life of order is what he truly loved. Mary Poppins knew that the children did not need a nanny but a father and mother who loved them and protected them.
The last two Sundays we have heard of the extraordinary lengths that St. Joseph went through to protect Jesus and Mary. Today we hear of when he takes his family into Egypt to protect Jesus from Herod. Joseph is given to us as an example of a father who protects and guides his family. God had set him as head of the Holy Family which meant putting his needs aside and only being concerned with the needs of Jesus and Mary. That is what fatherhood truly is. We gaze upon the Holy Family in the Nativity scene in our church or in our homes and marvel at all the sacrifices that Joseph and Mary made to protect their Son so that he may grow in “wisdom and age (Luke 2:52)” to save God’s people.
As I contemplate these readings and reflect on the films I mentioned above, I ponder the role of fatherhood in my life. Joseph was a shining model of a father to Jesus who no doubt used the wisdom imparted to him by the carpenter in his public life. I too have a shining model of a father who always provided and protected his family and still does. Though I have no children of my own, I am called to be a spiritual father to so many and called to protect them by offering them the only thing I have: the saving message of Jesus Christ. They come for healing, absolution, comfort, and yet so many times I fall short. “No time” is the excuse I offer most often, lame as it may be, and that makes me no better than Mr. Banks in the movie who had no time for his children. I have been called to be the head of this spiritual family, and more often than not, your small gestures, your love, and your prayers remind me of how truly blest I am to called "Father." I spent some time yesterday morning sitting in this empty church and thinking about today’s feast of the Holy Family and asking St. Joseph for guidance. I want to be a better spiritual father, and I want my parishioners to be better fathers and mothers to their children. We have to make time to do simple things with them. Whether it’s just sitting next to them as they do their homework or taking them outdoors to do something fun (fly a kite!) or just being present is the best present you could give your children. “Feed the Birds” reminds us that our children will remember us for the little things we did or didn’t do, the small acts of love, the warm embraces, and the comforting presence we give them when we are around. Today’s feast challenges us to strengthen our families by being the best mothers and fathers we could possibly be by protecting our children and showing them, through our good works, the loving face of God.
Pray for our families.
Pray for our fathers.
Pray for our mothers.
Pray for your priests.