TEXT: Feast of the Holy Family, December 31, 2023

December 31, 2023 Father De Celles Homily

The Feast of The Holy Family                                                    

December 31, 2023

Homily by Fr. John De Celles

St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church

Springfield, VA

Christmas is filled with symbols that lead us to understand the truth

about the more important things that the day is truly about.

For example, the lights on the trees and houses remind us

that the birth of Jesus was the dawning of

“the light of the human race; the light shines in the darkness,

and the darkness has not overcome it.”

But one of the most important symbols is found

as family members gather together

from all over the country or even the world,

and we remember that part of the meaning of Christmas is that

the Baby Jesus was born into a human family,

The Holy Family, of Joseph, Mary, and Jesus.

Now, it’s easy for some of us to kinda get that backward:

         We think that Christmas is about our family

and that the Holy Family reminds us of us.

We have to be careful because Christmas is never primarily about us.

Christmas is, first, about Christ and what He did 2000 years ago.

And what He did was this:

The Eternal Son of God entered into the world as a human being.

What an incredible thing to think about.

And what an incredible thing it tells us about the dignity of man,

that somehow our human nature

has the capacity of being united with God’s divinity.

But the Eternal God did not just become man in a vacuum.

He entered the world as all human beings were created to:     

He was born into the family of a husband and wife, Mary and Joseph.

And this reminds us of the dignity of family.

         The first two chapters of Genesis tell us

that in the beginning God didn’t make man to live alone.

Rather, He made man in His image, as both male and female,

to live together sharing one life and love, the two becoming one flesh.

But He doesn’t stop there.

The very first thing He says to the two is, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth.”

Become parents; have a family.

This is the way God created human beings:

He created us to love, and to do so first in families,

founded on husband and wife, mother and father.

So, marriage and family are the first and foundational

relationships of society in the world

—and it is man’s very nature to be born, raised, and loved there.

This means, in turn, that that marriage and family themselves

have a certain nature:

God made marriage and family to foster true love in a particular way.


Of course, we find early on that families aren’t always perfect.

The third chapter of Genesis tells us about man’s original sin  

and we see how that sin changed everything,

affecting human nature even today by making us weak and vulnerable to sin.

But Genesis tells us that the original sin was a sin of Adam and Eve together:

It happened in their marriage

and then directly affected their children, their family

–and we see it almost immediately

in not only their expulsion from God’s presence in the garden,

but also, as one of their sons, Cain, murdered their other son, Abel, in jealousy.

Sin messes up everything—beginning with marriages and families.

Today, sometimes it seems some families are so messed up by sin

that they seem hopeless.

Some even suggest that the institution of “family”,

at least as it’s traditionally been structured, is hopeless.

Jesus would disagree.

He didn’t think human beings were hopeless after the sin of Adam and Eve;

instead, He became a human being specifically to conquer that sin.

And He didn’t think marriage or family were hopeless

because of the sin of that first marriage and family,

but rather purposefully entered into His humanity

by means of a human marriage and family.

So, in coming to redeem man, Jesus began by redeeming the family.

And He has redeemed the family, beginning with his own family, the Holy Family,

that by the grace of God and their own free choices, was a family totally without sin.

Of course, we know Jesus was sinless,

but we have to remember He was first sinless

as the son of Mary and Joseph:

St. Luke tells us that He was “obedient to them.”

Scripture also tells us that Joseph “was a righteous man,”

and, of course, that Mary was “full of grace.”

In other words—they were also sinless.


Some say, “Yeah, Father, but that’s not the way it is today.

My marriage is far from perfect and my family has lots of problems.”

True—but how many of those problems are rooted in somebody’s sin?

Maybe Dad seems to love his job or his liquor more than his family,

         or Mom seems to love the kids or her parents

         more than she loves her husband.

Maybe a son or daughter are disobedient or running with a bad crowd.

Maybe a mother-in-law or father-in-law is interfering where they have no business.

But imagine if there were no sin in your family.

Life would be wonderful.

And that’s how Christmas should affect your family.

Christ came to conquer sin and give us,

first and foremost, in marriage and family,

the knowledge and grace to restore love and overcome sin.

The problem is, all too often, we ignore the knowledge and we reject the grace.

But that’s no reason to reject the idea of marriage or family!

It’s just all the more reason to try to understand what God created it to be

and to accept His grace to strive to make it that.


Still, nowadays a lot of folks see the problems with family and marriage

and think it’s time to change things.

We see this in the changing attitude promoted by the secular culture:

Divorce is presumed to be normal and even good,

as are contraception, premarital and extramarital sex,

and living together before marriage.

The two-parent family is becoming less and less the norm.

And now, homosexual activists are called “heroic”

even for viciously attacking anyone who stands in opposition

to their efforts to redefine the notions of marriage and family.

More and more Christians, even Catholics, and even bishops and cardinals,

ignore the very words of Scripture itself

to support their redefinition of marriage and family.

They ignore the fact that Jesus clearly defined marriage

as only between one man andone woman,

         when He taught,

“He who made them from the beginning

made them male and female

‘For this reason, a man shall…cleave to his wife,

and the two shall become one.”

They ignore the fact that Jesus condemned divorce, saying,

         “What…God has joined together, let not man separate.”

Also, “Whoever divorces his wife…and marries another, commits adultery…”

They ignore the fact that Jesus blamed attempts to redefine marriage

         on “hardheartedness,” which is just another word for sin in Scripture.

Some folks simply reject what Scripture says about marriage

         because they say it’s just the work of men, and not of God.

So, for example, some point to writings of St. Paul,

         like the one in today’s second reading from Colossians

which is repeated almost verbatim in his letter to the Ephesians:

“Wives, be subordinate to your husbands, as is proper in the Lord.

Husbands, love your wives.”

They say, “Look: Paul is a misogynist! —he hates women!”

If they would only recognize that this is the word of God, not Paul,

         they might look a little more carefully at this and other texts.

First of all, if you look at the context of these two texts you see that when he says

         “Wives, be subordinate to your husbands,”

he’s simply telling them to imitate Christ who

“came not to be served, but to serve.”

Basic Christianity. 

But then he goes on to say, “Husbands, love your wives.”

Contrary to the Jewish Law and Scripture,

the laws in Ephesus and Colossae, which were pagan cities,

treated wives as property to be used by their husbands,

not equal partners to be loved.

So, Paul says, in effect, husbands, start treating her like God intended.

As he clarifies in Ephesians,

         “Husbands should love their wives as their own bodies.”

So, Paul, inspired by the Holy Spirit, says, in effect,

husbands, your misogyny is a sin,

part of your false and unnatural re-definition of marriage,

not God’s true definition—so stop it!

You have redefined marriage as property ownership,

God makes it clear it is a loving communion.


Of course, many people today might say,

         “That’s all fine and good, but don’t impose your religious views on me.”

But the thing is, the nature of marriage isn’t revealed solely in Scripture.

Think about this.

Nowadays a lot of people are avid, some even fanatical,

about protecting the environment.

One thing that’s always amazed me about all this is

how so many people can, on the one hand,

argue for the necessity of keeping the environment

the way it is “intended” (“naturally”)

and on the other,

not be at all concerned about keeping man

the way he is intended to be “naturally”.

And yet, man does have a nature.

And that nature extends to marriage and family life.

Scripture helps us understand this,

but we can see it by common sense and rational observation.

It’s clear throughout recorded history,

and even from what we know of pre-historic time,

that marriage had always and only been

a life-long union of one male and one female.

Were there exceptions to the rule?

Yes, sometimes, but almost always as the result of males abusing their power

to write the laws to suit their purposes.

For example, if women are property, of course you can own two…or fifty.

But marriage between one male and female has always clearly been

the bedrock of society,

so much so that the civil laws concerning marriage

didn’t originate in order to establish and define marriage,

but simply to protect what marriage naturally was:

Marriage existed before laws were written to protect it.

Some say, “Well how could a change that affects only a small percentage

of the population affect, like so-called “gay marriage,”

have any consequence to the rest of the population?

Yet most of these same people insist

that a one-degree change in the world’s temperature

could wreak catastrophic consequences on the global environment.

Some celebrate the new laws that redefine civil marriage.

Does that mean if we pass laws

         to redefine the words “hot” and “cold” and “normal temperature”

         they will help the environment?

Some say that pollution is destroying delicate ecosystems,

and that, in turn, will have devastating effects on all life on earth.

But I wonder, isn’t divorce and promiscuity

destroying the delicate balances of marriages and families?

And isn’t contraception devastating the reproduction of the human race?


The love of families gathered together at Christmas

is a very special part of the season.

But this love has nothing to do with Christmas

if it does not lead us to a deeper understanding

of the profound love of the Lord Jesus,

and God’s great gift to us of both

the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph,

and the human family—father, mother and children—itself.

Let us turn together to the Lord now, and thank Him for these great gifts.

And let us pray that through the Grace of Jesus Christ

and the intercession of Mary and Joseph,

we may imitate their example of loving and sinless family life,

and learn to cherish and protect this most sacred and natural gift.