TEXT: Feast of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, December 27, 2015
Feast of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph
December 27, 2015
Homily by Fr. John De Celles
St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church
On Friday, Christmas Day, St. John’s Gospel began telling the story of Jesus’ life
by drawing a direct parallel
between the Birth of Jesus
and the creation story found in the book of Genesis.
As John wrote, echoing the story of Genesis:
“In the beginning was the Word, ….
and the Word was God….
All things came to be through him…
[and] The word became flesh and dwelt among us.”
What John was saying was
that Christ’s coming to dwell among us at the first Christmas
was a new “beginning” for mankind
—the new beginning made so clear
in the innocent newborn Babe in Bethlehem.
But remember, Genesis, also tells us that
in the beginning God created man to live in a family:
“male and female he created them.
And God blessed them, and God said to them,
“Be fruitful and multiply…””
And so when God offers mankind a new beginning at Bethlehem
it’s no accident that he does so
by entering the world as the child of a real human family,
the Holy Family of Joseph, Mary, and, now, Jesus.
Because to renew man he must renew him as he truly is:
a creature created to live and love in a family.
Nowadays the institution of family
seems desperately in need of renewal.
Sins that most families once managed to carefully steer clear of for the most part
have become all too commonplace for the typical family today:
things like substance abuse, physical abuse, contraception,
sexual promiscuity, delinquency, bitterness, infidelity….
At the same time, things that were once considered unthinkable
have become mainstream alternatives for families in our culture:
things like abandonment and divorce,
cohabiting parenthood without marriage, in-vitro fertilization,
so-called “same sex marriage,” and on and on.
Of course there are many reasons for this,
but I would propose 2 key errors of our culture’s understanding of family
that precipitate all these problems.
First of all, we’ve come to treat family members as if they’re
mere instruments of satisfaction for each other.
Spouses are meant to give you pleasure,
so you choose the ones that are the most fun,
or the most sexually pleasing to you,
or the one who can best help you achieve your personal goals in life.
And when they stop doing those things, you move on.
Children are meant to entertain or give you a sense of fulfillment or being loved,
so you postpone having them until you have all the other things you want,
or you have them because no one else loves you,
or you have them and ignore them when they’re tough to deal with,
or not any fun.
And in turn, children treat their parents as if they’re there
only to cater to their children’s every whim,
pay for all their expenses,
and then get out of their way and let the kids do as they please.
And we wonder why there’s so much unhappiness in families.
That’s the first problem.
But the second problem may be even worse,
and that is the loss of any sense of what it means to be a family,
or more precisely, what it means to be a normal family.
Now, some will say, there is no such thing as a “normal” family.
But that all depends on what you mean by “normal.”
One definition of the word “normal” is “average” or “typical”,
and this has become the common—or “normal”—use of the word.
But another definition
—what used to be the “normal” meaning of the word—
is following some sort of norm or rule:
in other words, normal is
the way things are supposed to be.
Let me give you an example.
The average, typical American adult heart
has a high level of arterial clogging,
and is overstressed by things like
obesity, high-cholesterol, high blood pressure.
That’s average and typical, but is that normal?
If it is, then why worry?
But if you go to the doctor, and he tells you all the tests came out “normal”
–is that a cause for concern, or for relief?
To doctors, “normal” is “healthy”—the way it should be.
Normally a family is supposed to be a married man and woman with children
living and loving together.
Now, I know, that no family is perfect.
Some are downright broken and disintegrated.
But it’s one thing to see a family that’s trying its best be healthy and whole
despite being maimed by misfortune or sin,
even a family broken by death or abandonment,
and it’s a completely different thing to see
families that purposefully maim themselves,
like marriages based on selfishness or transitory pleasure,
or 2 men or 2 women attempting to “marry” each other.
One models itself after and points to the goodness of God’s plan for families,
and the other mocks and rejects that plan of normal family life.
Some say, how do we know what’s normal for families?
It doesn’t take a genius to figure this one out—at least in general terms.
History tells us that in virtually every civilized society
the laws and customs about families
have defined family as one thing:
the permanent faithful union of male and female
with the desire to procreate or adopt children,
in order to strive together for mutual love, support and wellbeing.
And it’s also clear from current sociological data and research
that men and women and their children are happiest
in stable traditional family relationships.
Still, we don’t get the full picture
until we turn to the one who invented family life “in the beginning”—God.
This is part of Christ’s reason for coming to us at that first Christmas:
to reveal to us what we need to do to become who he created us to be,
especially, in the context of family.
He begins to teach us by being born and growing up in a family,
under the loving and protective care of Joseph and Mary.
Mother and wife, Mary, who called herself his handmaid.
And father Joseph, and husband Joseph, who sacrificed everything for his adopted son and his wife,
even to the point of leaving behind his home and business in Nazareth
in order to take Jesus to Egypt to protect him
from the murdering King Herod.
And of course, Jesus taught us how to be a good son:
as the Gospel reminds us today,
even though he knew ultimately his place was in Jerusalem teaching,
“He [returned with Joseph and Mary] … to Nazareth,
and was obedient to them.”
And when he grew up he would teach us, as we read in Matthew 19,
that the key to understanding Marriage
is to go back to Genesis and remember
that “in the beginning”
“God made them male and female…
they are no longer two, but one flesh.”
Of course this revelation didn’t begin with his incarnation and birth.
It began in the beginning.
In the beginning was the Word,
and the word was spoken for centuries
through the Old Testament prophets.
One of the most beautiful and instructive prophetic texts about family
is the one that we read today from Sirach in our first reading.
I won’t repeat it all right now, but think about what he says;
notice especially the interdependence, or complementarity
between the parents and the children.
“He stores up riches who reveres his mother….
“Whoever honors his father is gladdened by children….
“He who obeys his father brings comfort to his mother.”
Honoring your father will please your mother,
and will bring you happiness as well, as will revering your mother.
The three love together, and bring each other happiness.
And this revelation didn’t end when Jesus ascended to heaven.
And so in today’s 2nd reading St. Paul, inspired by the Holy Spirit,
continues to teach us what family life should be:
“Husbands, love your wives….
Children, obey your parents in everything…
Fathers, do not provoke your children…”
And, of course, everybody’s favorite:
“Wives, be subordinate to your husbands…”
Now, sometimes people get upset at this last instruction.
To make a long story short, to understand this passage
you have to really look at the same instruction
that Paul gives in his letter to the Ephesians.
You see, the Churches in the cities of Colossae and Ephesus
were made up mainly of converted pagans,
who, unlike the Jews, effectively treated their women as mere property
owned either by their fathers or husbands.
That is not the Christian way.
So Paul, as he makes very clear in his letter to the Ephesians
rebukes them for this and tells them
“husbands should love their wives as they love their own bodies…
He who loves his wife loves himself.”
In effect saying,
“stop treating your wives like objects and treat them as you treat yourself
The key, in Ephesians, is that before he says
“wives be subordinate to your husband”,
he first says:
“Be subordinate to one another out of reverence for Christ.”
In other words, while he recognizes that husbands and wives
each have different responsibilities in the family,
St. Paul reminds us that just as Christ loved us
and came “not to be served but to serve”,
both husbands and wives must love each other
by becoming servants to each other.
He makes this point in Colossians today when he says:
“whatever you do, ….do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus.”
Which brings us back to the Holy Family,
especially to the lives of Joseph and Mary,
who loved each other very much,
but also did everything in the context of their love for Jesus.
If only all families could do this.
Now, some might say that the Holy Family was no normal family.
Yes and no.
They were not “normal” in any sense of the word as “typical”.
But they were normal in the sense of being everything a family should be.
It is true that unlike our families, the Holy Family was sinless,
but, as difficult as it may be,
with God’s grace and our cooperation
our families can strive to be sinless too –
that’s why Jesus was born, to save us from our sins!
Nothing is impossible for God.
It is true that none of the children in our families is God the Son,
but as St. John tells us elsewhere in the Scripture for Christmas,
we “may all be called children of God.”
If only we will treat Jesus as the most precious member of our families.
As we continue our celebration of the Octave of Christmas,
let us look to the Holy Family
as both an example of God’s plan for the family,
and an instrument of His blessings and grace for our families.
Let us remember to invite Jesus Christ to be the at the center our families,
to do everything in his name.
And let us pray that in this Christmas season
all mankind may rediscover the true meaning of family,
and accept the grace of a new beginning,
promised by the Baby Jesus,
born to Holy Family of Mary and Joseph.