Saturday, December 27, 2014

The world needs the Holy Family - #holyfamilyhomily

Christmas – Holy Family                                                  December 28, 2014
Sirach 3:2-6, 12-14                  Colossians 3:12-21                   Luke 2:22-40

This Sunday is the 4th day of Christmas – and it is not the feast of four calling birds, three turtle doves or a partridge in a pear tree - like the old song the 12 days of Christmas.  The celebration of Christmas day is such a big celebration in the Church that we have it for 8 days – what we call the “octave of Christmas.”  On the Sunday within the octave of Christmas we celebrate the feast of the Holy Family. And the Christmas season keeps going all the way until the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord - this year celebrated on Sunday, January 11.

Today we have Joseph, Mary, and Jesus - the Holy Family – as an image for our contemplation.  Lots of times our experience of the Holy Family is in nativity scenes or holy cards or statues.  They always look so beautiful and peaceful.  Their stories, taken from the gospel of Luke, are the focus of prayer in the joyful mysteries of the rosary.

 The scriptures show us that the joyful mysteries reflect their trust in God in the midst of difficult circumstances.  Consider the 1st mystery – the annunciation.  Mary’s "yes" to God’s plan meant that she had to trust God by agreeing to a divine origin of her pregnancy before her marriage.  This was a huge risk that nearly ended with Joseph’s intention to divorce her until an angel intervened.  Mary and Joseph trusted God.  

Consider the 3rd mystery – the nativity.  Mary and Joseph had to travel to Bethlehem at the very end of her pregnancy.  Then the time came for her to give birth but there was nowhere for them to go except a stable.  Mary and Joseph trusted God.

Consider the 4th mystery – our gospel today.  Mary and Joseph brought Jesus to the temple to present him to the Lord, according to the law of Moses.  Remember the words of the prophet Simeon to Mary – “this child is destined for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be contradicted – and you yourself a sword will pierce – so that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.”  He recognized Jesus as the promised messiah and then he prophesied the sorrows of Mary.  So why are these mysteries joyful?  Because Mary and Joseph trusted God, and God used all of this for the greatest blessing – our redemption.

How did the Holy Family do it?  How did they trust in God considering all of their circumstances?  For that matter, how can we do it?  How can our families be holy families?  After all, the odds are against us, if you look at national statistics.  Just getting a family started and then trying to keep it together can be a daunting task. 

The scriptures give us some good practical examples of how to be a holy family.

From both the book of Sirach and from the letter to the Colossians the key word is respect.  Respect for parents.  Respect between husbands and wives.  The truth is that respect can carry us a long way toward the exercise of greater virtues in our lives.  St. Thomas Aquinas said that grace builds on nature.  So when we exercise natural virtue, it provides more room in our hearts for the supernatural virtues.  Respect is a natural virtue.  Piety and wonder and awe are supernatural gifts of the Holy Spirit.

Good old fashioned manners are a marvelous way to practice the virtue of respect.  From “please” and “thank you” to the finer points of acting like ladies and gentlemen, the virtue of respect can be the glue that holds together a family, just as it is the glue that can hold together a society. 
All of us know that there has been a rise in uncivil public behavior through this past generation.  Course language, course gestures, course humor, and an increasing lack of respect has affected our society to the point that uncivil behavior has been accepted as quite normal.  Consider the events in our own country in 2014.  We have seen a rise in lawlessness that should deeply concern us.

Shall we do something that will have a positive effect on family life and on society?  Let’s do something counter cultural and cultivate formal manners and civil discourse within our own community.  They give us practical means of respect.  Not sure what to work on?  Have a family meeting and make a list of civil behaviors to cultivate in the family.  Behaviors that exemplify respect in the way we talk and clothe ourselves and act towards one another.  Then, help each other in positive ways to work on respectful and respectable behavior.  All of us can work on this in the coming year.

Of course, God wants us to go deeper than just mere good manners.  After all, even good manners can become cold and demanding expectations.  That’s not appealing either.

Listen to the words of St. Paul.  He said this:  “Put on, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, bearing with one another and forgiving one another… and over all these put on love, that is, the bond of perfection.  And let the peace of Christ control your hearts.”  Wow.  We all want to live in a family and a community that acts that way.  Ghandi, the leader of India’s independence in the last century once said this – “be the change you want.” 

Husbands, love and cherish your wives in the way that she would like to be loved and cherished.  Wives, love and respect your husbands in the way that he would like to be loved and respected.  Not sure what that is?  Easy.  Ask each other.  Give each other concrete examples.  Decide together what to work on as a family for next year and then make a plan to do it.  Parents, the best gift you will ever give your children is to show them how to love and respect another person.  You show them and they will give it back to you.  The same is true with priests and parishes.  We are all in this together.

Pray together as a family.  In order to have the supernatural virtues of love and joy and peace we need to give God room to work in our families.  Pray together every day.  The rosary and scripture reading are two very good tools for family prayer.  The Church gives us lots of options here.  But pray together.  This will lead us to trust in God no matter what the circumstances, just like Joseph, Mary, and Jesus.

 We need holy families.  The world desperately needs holy families that are filled with heartfelt compassion, humility, patience, love, and peace.  God’s plan for your family and for mine is that we grow as God's holy family - the communion of saints.  This is how we all become a persistent sign of hope in an increasingly darkened world - just like Joseph, Mary, and Jesus, the Holy Family, are an eternal sign of hope for us all.

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