Feast of the Holy Family: Yr. A Deacon Joseph Celentano
St. Daniel Church December 29,2013
Today, as we always do soon after Christmas, we celebrate the Feast of the Holy Family. Perhaps our Church wants to remind us the Jesus grew up in a human family, with human challenges and unpredictabilites. Someone might understandably ask, "What can this Holy Family teach me? They are not like my family. After all, when their son grew up he could walk on water and change water into wine! The mother was a virgin who never sinned and went straight to heaven body and soul when her time on earth ended, and her husband always did what the angels told him to do, no questions asked. Not the average family living next door, you know, and certainly not like the family I live with."
Why does the Church in her wisdom want us to focus on the Holy Family today? Let's take a closer look at this Family to see if there is anything we can learn from them and if they are really so different than ours.
To begin with, this family started out in crisis, big time crisis. A woman betrothed to a man finds herself pregnant before her marriage is legally completed and consummated. However, she trusts the angel of the Lord that told her that God's hand was directing this event. Secondly, her husband wants to divorce her because by Jewish law, she has violated that law and greatly shamed him and her own family. Yet, he trusts the angel of the Lord that tells him that basically everything will be OK and that he should take this woman into his home as his wife. Soon after the birth of this child in a stable they all have to flee to another country to save His life because Herod was looking for Him to kill Him. Both parents trust in the angel of the Lord that tells them to leave immediately and eventually when to return. When this child is twelve years old, while visiting the Temple in Jerusalem on one of the great Jewish feast days, they lose him. Eventually, this child grows up to become the object of scorn, jealousy, and hatred by many influential Jewish and non-Jewish people, and at times even becomes a renegade in the hills of Palestine. This same son sweats drops of blood in fear in the Garden of Gethsemane the night before He is unjustly crucified but yet trusts that His Father God will see
Him through this undeserved tragedy. This same man is quickly abandoned by most of His
closest friends at the most crucial moment of His life, while His mother watches in horror.
Is there anything in this family's life that we can relate to personally? Is there anything we can learn from this family? What is God trying to tell us about family on this feast day of the Holy Family?
It is here where we 21st century Catholic parents and children can so easily identify with the Holy Family. The complexities and unpredictabilities of family life often bring about emotional and spiritual roller coasters like the ones the Holy Family experienced. An unexpected loss of a job or loved one, a child stuck in clinical depression, a failed marriage with children caught in the middle, a catastrophic illness to a family member, whatever—there is probably not one family in this Church today that either has not personally experienced events similar to those of the Holy Family or who hasn't seen it happen in their own children's families. As a role model, the Holy Family provides for us as a way of coping with the challenges of modern family life, no matter what the profile of our particular family might be: trust in God and be obedient to his word.
A quick look at our first reading from the book of Sirach will give us some insight into what the Hebrew mind believed was necessary for a family, like the Holy Family, to function well. The author of the Book of Sirach speaks of such things as honor, authority, obedience, and reverence in his presentation of family life. Children are to obey and revere their mother and father. Parents are to honor their children as well as exercise authority over them. Sirach reminds us that this reverence and honor for parents does not end when we leave our home to get married or live on our own. We are called to continue to care for our parents, especially in their old age, to pray for them, particularly if they pre-decease us and we are called to visit them. We are called to visit them not just on holidays or when they are sick but often. This kind of family dynamics, the author to Sirach believes, generates real spiritual benefits: sins are atoned,
prayers are heard, and riches are stored up. Undoubtedly, peace will reign in a family that
behaves more or less like this.
In the second reading Paul delivers a similar message to the people at Colossae and the qualities he describes are quit applicable to family life . Husbands and wives are to love each and honor each other's role in the family. Respect and kindness are to be shown between parents and children.
It is important to explain the last section of today's second reading to make sure we understand what St. Paul was actually saying. We must remember that the people Paul was writing to were living in Roman times. The Romans had what we know as "household codes." During Roman times, the father had complete control over the entire family from wife on down to the lowest slave. Fathers had the power of death over his wife and children! Women were totally subservient to their husbands. What St. Paul did in this letter and in his letter to the Ephesians (you can read it in Chapter 5) was to turn these household codes on their heads. Yes, he still considered the father as the head of the household but in a very different wat. In Ephesians Chapter 5 he tells wives to be submissive to their husbands but in the same breath he tells husbands to love their wives as Christ loves the Church. Paul was a revolutionary. He clearly taught that in a Christian family, the relationship between a husband and wife was one of mutuality, not one of superiority, a very different concept than the practice of his time. And so it is with a marriage relationship today in our culture. A Christian marriage is one of mutuality between husband and wife.
For Paul, the key to creating a healthy Christian community, which is certainly applicable to that of creating a healthy family community, is compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience; Paul sums it up in three words: "put on love." This is "the bond of perfection," the glue that holds a community, a family together and allows forgiveness and peace to happen
regularly among its members.
Perhaps today on Holy Family Sunday, each of us, both adults and children, can ask ourselves a few questions: Children, you may ask yourselves, "How have I been respectful and obedient to my parents this past year?" How have you showed respect and obedience to your parents, especially during your teen years when you seek more independence? Have you obeyed without complaining or showing disrespect? Husbands and wives, moms and dads, we might ask ourselves, "How have I been present to my spouse this past year? To my children? In the evening, do we all sit around in the living room at night in this day of technology and text on our phones wanting to hear the latest from our friends or do we spend quality time talking to each other, sharing the good things that have happened during the day? Have I as a parent exercised responsible authority over my children, even when I felt like giving in to something I shouldn't because I was tired of "fighting?" Parents, when things got difficult this past year, how many times did your children, young or old, hear you say, "Trust in God; He will provide. Be at peace?" How many times have we turned to prayer, especially before the Eucharistic Jesus in the adoration chapel, for guidance when we found ourselves in difficulty? How often have we as families laid our fears, concerns and troubles on the altar at the presentation of the gifts at Mass and said to Jesus, "Here, Jesus, please offer our difficulties to the Father today and ask Him to deepen our trust in His care for us?" Perhaps we might want to make some New Year's resolutions today if we don't like some of the answers we gave to these questions.
The Holy Family does indeed have something to teach all of us about family. We may not hear angels like Joseph and Mary; we may not be sinless like Mary; we may not walk on water or turn water into wine like Jesus. But we can trust God the way the Holy Family did and, in the end, know, just as they did, that everything will be OK.