December 26, 2010
Homily by Fr. John De Celles
St. Raymond of Peñafort, Springfield, Va.
Yesterday, of course, we celebrated the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ.
The day when, in the fullness of time, the eternal God became one of us.
But his birth didn’t occur in a vacuum.
He didn’t just arrive on a cloud fully grown and ready to preach his gospel:
no, he chose to be born into a human family,
and so today we celebrate the Feast of the Holy Family
of Jesus, Mary and Joseph.
On Christmas, at Masses during the day, we read
the beginning of the Gospel of St. John:
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God,
and the Word was God.”
Inspired by the Holy Spirit, St. John chose these words very carefully.
Notice how they parallel the text of
the first words of the first chapter of the first book of the bible, Genesis:
“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.”
This is no accident:
St. John’s telling us that Jesus is Incarnate eternal word of God
who was there in the beginning and is the source of all creation.
So Genesis tells us that on each of the six days of creation,
God creates by simple speaking the word: for example:
“God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light.”
As St. John tells us:
“The word was God … in the beginning…
all things came to be through him”.
What St. John’s tell us is that Jesus, the Word,
is the person of the Trinity who communicates God to us.
Jesus, the Word of God is the revelation of God,
his explanation of himself and his love for us.
And because creation comes about by the word of command of God,
everything created by God through the Word tells us about him.
We see this most especially on the sixth day of creation:
“…God created man in his own image,….male and female he created them.
And God blessed them, and God said to them,
“Be fruitful and multiply.””
God chose, as the culmination of his revelation in creation
to reveal himself in the family:
in the union of male and female created in his own image
and blessed with the gift to “be fruitful and multiply”
–to have children.
This self-revelation of God is made through every family throughout history.
But in the fullness of time it’s made most perfectly and sublimely
through one family in particular.
St. John tells us:
“the word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.”
— he made his dwelling among us in the family of Joseph and Mary:
the Holy Family.
So we can see that right from the beginning of Creation, and right from the beginning of our salvation—our re-creation in Christ—
the family is God’s chosen instrument
to reveal himself to the world.
And so it’s not a great surprise that as we look around us and see a world
evermore plagued by crises of violence, hate, and general moral chaos,
we also find the family to be in the middle of a crisis of its own.
But in a sense, it’s not really a crisis of its own,
since it’s intimately related to the other crises in the world:
because to the extent God is not revealed in and by the family,
God will not be revealed to the world.
To the extent the family isn’t allowed
to be all that it was created to be in Jesus Christ,
neither can the world become all that it was created to be.
Before we can worry about solving world crises, we need to start at home,
with our families.
And as we start at home we need to start, “in the beginning”,
and come to understand what it is that God has created us to be.
We need to ask ourselves, what does it mean to be a family in Christ?
Today’s readings give us many practical and simple, yet profound,
instructions on family life.
For example, the first reading reminds us of the practical and spiritual need
for children to honor their parents,
both when they’re young and when they’re old.
And today’s second reading continues and broadens this instruction
to apply to all the members of the family.
There is of course a line in this reading from Colossians
that tends to upset some wives somewhat:
“Wives, be subordinate to your husbands.”
But to understand this phrase
we have to look at the whole context of the passage.
Before he tells wives to be subordinate to husbands
he first lays out the general rule that everyone must, as he says:
“Put on,…heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility,
gentleness, and patience,
bearing with one another and forgiving one another…
And over all these put on love…
Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly….
do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus.”
What Paul does here in this passage from Colossians,
is the same thing he does in an almost identical passage
in his letter to the Ephesians.
In Ephesians, before he tells wives to be submissive to their husbands,
he sets the context; he says,
“Be subordinate to one another out of reverence for Christ.”
Paul’s teaching isn’t that wives are slaves,
but that the Christian life is one of love
expressed in humility and service.
All Christians must be subordinate, or humble servants, to one another,
and it’s only in true Christian humility that each member of the family
can be everything God created them to be
–whether they’re husbands and wives, or parents and children.
It may be hard for us to imagine a perfect family
–one that’s always truly mutually humble and submissive.
But there is one family that we can look to for example:
the Holy Family.
This is the family that lives mutual submission most perfectly,
and that is the most sublimely happy and holy family ever
–the family who became exactly what God had created it to be.
The Gospels tell us that the Husband and Father Joseph
submits to his wife and son
by first taking them into his home when he finds Mary pregnant,
and then also as he sacrifices his work and life in Nazareth
to protect Mary and Jesus as he takes them to Egypt
to escape the slaughter of the Holy Innocents by King Herod.
The Mother Mary submits to her son, Jesus,
by freely agreeing first of all to accept him into her womb,
and also to take on the awesome responsibility
of raising and educating the Savior of the world.
The Wife Mary submits to Husband Joseph by following him into Egypt,
and caring for him as her husband.
And even the son Jesus–the sovereign Lord and Creator of all the Universe
–even he submits himself to his parents, as we read in Luke’s Gospel:
“He went down with them….to Nazareth,
and was obedient to them.”
This is the humility and love that all families are created for and called to,
and it is the humility and love
that the whole world is created for and called to.
And it’s in this humility and love within the family
that God humbled himself to enter into, in order to save the whole world.
Imagine how our family lives would be different if the members of our families would simply learn to humbly submit to one another.
Imagine, if fathers and mothers saw themselves as servants of their children.
Not giving up your role as parents, Moms and Dads,
but seeing your fatherhood and motherhood
as being geared not for your pleasure or happiness,
but for your children’s well-being.
And that includes the times you’d rather just let your kids do whatever they want,
because then they’d like you a lot more, or think you’re “cool” parent,
or even when you’re just worn out
and don’t want to fight them anymore.
But you know that what they really need is for you to serve them
by being the GROWN-UP and saying no, or disciplining them,
by being willing to fight for what’s good for them.
Again, not because it makes you feel good, but because it’s what they need.
On the other hand, it means not punishing them or denying them something
simply because you’re being stubborn, or selfish,
or trying to make them into little “mini-Me’s” in your own image.
As St. Paul tells fathers: “Fathers, do not provoke your children.”
But kids, I’m not letting you off the hook in all this.
The commandment is clear: “honor you mother and father.”
And St. Paul is clear: “Children, obey your parents in everything.”
That doesn’t mean that if they’re really hurting you,
or neglecting you that you have to simply take it;
as I noted before St. Paul commands fathers:
“do not provoke your children!”
But it does mean that in all things, whether you’re a 3 year old kid,
or a 70 year old kid,
you have to first ask,
how am I serving my parents in this?
And how wonderful marriages would be,
if husbands and wives lived to serve each other.
If wives truly respected their husbands, and began everyday thinking
“how can I serve him today.”
And if husbands truly laid down their lives,
as Christ who was KING of the universe,
and yet came not to be served, but to SERVE,
and laid down his life for his bride, the Church.
Imagine, in particular,
all the little stupid things that you argue over or neglect to do
that would simply vanish, if you would both just keep the attitude of that
“I am here to serve you, because I love you.”
Now, we know that not all families are blessed
with the many graces of the Holy Family
–many families may not even have a mother or father, or a child.
Sometimes this is by God’s design,
and sometimes this is because of somebody’s sin:
because of the lack of love and humility
on the part of individual family members,
either in the present generation, or in generation’s past.
But this is no reason to give up on, or loose sight of the meaning of family,
and strive to live it as completely as we can.
Nor is it a reason to try think that the “traditional” family
is outdated, or impractical,
or that it can be changed by decree of merely human authority
–that, for example a family can, on its own,
opt out of having a father or children,
or can include 2 men or 2 women who live together
as some in the world are trying to make us believe.
Because as long as all things are created in and for Christ,
the family must be what he created it to be.
Even the Holy Family suffered adversity:
the child was born in the poverty of a barn,
Joseph died years before Jesus began his public ministry,
and Mary was left completely alone
when members of her own people killed her son.
But in and through their adversity, they continued to love and honor each other,
and in doing so become an instruction for us all,
an instrument of the revelation of God’s love to the world.
Its not easy to be a family nowadays.
But it wouldn’t have been easy for Jesus, Mary and Joseph either,
had they not submitted their lives to one another in love.
If our families submit to one another, and center their lives on Christ
we’ll find the happiness and peace of God himself
revealed and made flesh
in the very human life of our own families.
With the Holy Family as a shining example,
and through their mediation of grace and intercession,
may we always allow Jesus Christ—the Word of God incarnate–
to reveal his love to the whole world
through his love incarnate in our families.