The Feast of the Holy Family (B)
28 December 08
I frequently ask the question “What do you want to be when you grow up?” of my students as well as the young couples I work with who are preparing for the Sacrament of Marriage. After floundering around for a bit, they usually will say something along the lines of what each would like to achieve in their lives. Primary is earning lots of money and being able to buy all of the toys that are believed to bring happiness. Secondary is the career that each would hope to enjoy. “No, no, no,” I respond with a tone of dejection, wagging my head back and forth to suggest they’ve made the wrong response. “No, who has God created you to become?”
Idle chat takes a sudden turn into more serious discussion as these students and young adults discuss matters like virtue, character, and goodness. It is only at this point that I raise the all-important question: “And how will the decisions you are going to make today bring that outcome about?” After all, what’s important is not what any of us wants to become but who God has created us to become. This is the only way our lives will truly make a difference in this chaotic world and we will experience true happiness (i.e., that which by nature we desire to possess and the possession of which can never be taken away).
Today’s feast of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, raises a similar question for spouses, their children, and each family unit: “What do you want your marriage and family to be?” After all of the platitudes are espoused, which oftentimes liken the ideal marriage and family to that of Charles and Caroline Ingalls in the television series Little House on the Prairie or John and Olivia Walton in The Waltons, the all-important question must be answered: And how will the decisions you will make today bring that outcome about?” It isn’t enough to espouse all of those pious platitudes about what we want our marriages and families to be like; more significantly—and more demanding—is what each of us is going to do to bring these about.
My nephew and his wife found out the day before Christmas that they are going to be parents. The “shock” of the fact that their lives will never be the same again hasn’t yet abated, but now is time for them to begin thinking about what they hope to be the result of their marriage, parenting, and family life and, then, to begin thinking backwards from that. Sure, its a good thing for Brenden and Nikki to contemplate the ideals, the Ingalls, Waltons, and their own parents as well. But, then, it’s time to decide what needs be done today if the hoped-for future is to be realized, given God’s grace. I’m pretty confident for my nephew and his wife in this regard. She’s already decided to leave her career in the pharmaceutical industry to be a “stay-at-home Mom.” In today’s world, that’s quite a sacrifice―which means, in Latin, “to make holy”―and especially for those women who believe this is tantamount to submitting themselves to their husbands, as St. Paul called for in today’s epistle.
One commandment is at the heart of today’s Feast of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph. You’ve probably already guessed which one: the fourth commandment which states “Honor your father and mother.” It’s a commandment that many people today—moms, dads, and kids, too—find troublesome as each day they confront the challenges of building not just good marriages and families but also, and more importantly, holy marriages and families. This commandment is two-pronged. It requires, first, that spouses and parents live in a way deserving of honor. It requires, second, that children give their parents the honor they are owed because of their virtue, character, and goodness.
And so, parents: as we consider today what it means to be a “holy family” think back to when you were married and first learned that you’d soon be parents. What ideals did you set for yourselves and now, looking back, where do you find yourself today? Let’s engage in a little examination of conscience:
· What have you and your spouse vowed yourselves to be for each other so that your children would learn from you what it meant to be a holy family?
· What vision and values have you espoused and sought to make the primary focus of your family life each and every day?
· As spouses, has your behavior—your words and actions—communicated that vision and those values to your children? (Or, if you can’t identify anything concrete: Forget yesterday, last week, and even last year, how will what you do today make it possible for your vision and values to come to fruition in the life of your family?)
In today’s reading from the Book of Sirach, we heard: “God sets a father in honor over his children [and even when he’s lost his mind]; a mother’s authority he confirms over her sons.” It’s pretty easy to demand honor because one happens to be a biological parent. We all know, however, that it’s quite a different matter for parents to live out their marriage vows in such a way that children honor their father and mother because they provide the religious and spiritual leadership it takes to grow and mature as a holy family.
Then, too, consider Mary and Joseph in today’s gospel. They took Jesus to church, fulfilling the religious laws concerning ritual purification and presentation. If you are here today with your children, that’s great! Your behavior indicates to your children that there is a higher law—God’s law—to which even human beings—even parents—are responsible. Yet, even so, when you are in church with your children, do you bring them with the idea that you are presenting your children to God so that He will purify them of any impurity so that you may become a holy family? This raises some important questions about your focus when you come to church:
· Do you regularly thank God for the gift of your spouse, your children, and your family? After all, for many people, the realization of these gifts comes only at a funeral when hearts are filled with regret that one’s heartfelt thanks was never expressed.
· Do you pray for your spouse and children and converse with God about them? After all, don’t you think God is as interested in them and their healthy growth and development as you are?
· Do you offer your children to God as the first and best fruits of your work? After all, is that not your primary work?
· Do you ask God to purify your children from sin and its effects so that you may become a holy family? After all, it’s unusual that children are sinless.
Then, after you leave church and are at home, do your children experience you as their primary teacher of our faith and religion? In word and in act, do you model for your children a vibrant and living relationship with God? Practically speaking:
· Do you lead your children in daily prayer?
· Do you read and discuss scripture with your children?
· Do you provide instruction and wisdom about our faith and religion from the Catechism of the Catholic Church?
Again, the commandment “You shall honor your mother and father” first requires parents who deserve honor for the quality and character of their marriages and lives as God’s ministers in the domestic church. Yes, parents bear a pastoral ministry, one entrusted to them by God, by blessing parents with the gift of children. To fulfill this important ministry, that of parenting, requires obedience to God and conscious decisions—here and now, day in and day out—to put into practice those behaviors that will bring parents well-deserved honor because it is earned, not demanded or purchased.
And so, kids: as we consider today what it means to be a “holy family,” think back what you need from your parents. (Notice, I didn’t say “what you want from your parents.” Consider how you speak with your peers, for example. What are the standards you have set for your parents?)
· What is it that you want to be when you grow up? Not what you want to become but who you want to become?
· What is the quality of character that will make your life have a deep and abiding sense of purpose that, in turn, will make it possible for you to exude those virtues that you will make you more attractive as a person than your physical appearances or possessions ever could?
· And, then, the very tough question: Who most deserves honor, respect, and obedience because they model this quality of character for you and won’t tolerate you living down to any lesser standard?
Again, the commandment to honor your parents requires children who honor the quality and character of their parents who struggle so hard—not just to survive, but more importantly—to grow as God’s family—as a holy family. Of course, this requires obedience and making conscious decisions—here and now, day in and day out—to put obedience into practice by honoring, respecting, and attending to your parents’ directions because they have vowed themselves to God on your behalf.
When you have a moment today, ask your parents this question: Is being obedient easy? Remember: they have vowed to love, honor, and obey each other all the days of their lives. So, they have some experience with obedience. More than likely, your parents will tell you that it’s not easy to be obedient. Without obedience, however, there will be no honor. And, without anything to honor, there isn’t much of anything to nurture love.
After asking your parent that question, then ask yourself these questions:
· Have you ever thanked God for the gift of your parents and the gift of the good marriage, holy family, and home they are working hard to build? After all, it’s so very easy to take all of that for granted.
· Do you pray for your parents each day and converse with God about them? After all, there’s certainly a lot to pray about. So, why not begin with what’s close to home?
· When you come to church, do you pray for your parents? After all, do you think that God isn’t interested in how the parents He has selected for you are doing?
· Do you ask God to purify your parents from sin and its effects? After all, even though most children believe their parents should be perfect and hold them to that standard, it’s highly unusual that parents are sinless.
All too often, young people will talk today about how they are “victims” of “dysfunctional” families and family members. They point to all of the obvious failures of family members, especially their parents. Some young people even talk about how they “hate” their parents and can’t wait until they are freed from what they liken to the “prison” of their home. These young people say they feel victimized because they are “stuck” with parents they never chose. In light of these kinds of statements, I can tell you this: every young person I know who has said this and I have asked “Do you ever pray for your parents?”, not one has ever responded “Yes, I do.”
The Feast of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph is not some sentimental and pious recollection of what probably wasn’t perfect family bliss of the Ingalls or Walton variety. No, today’s feast recalls the fact that—just like each of us—Jesus was not simply a product of nature but also a product of nurture:
· Jesus grew up in a home;
· it was an environment created by Mary and Joseph as they fulfilled their vows to one another and to God;
· Mary and Joseph made decisions that taught Jesus about obedience, that is, to bend his will to that of his parents by honoring them; and,
· these learning experiences, provided by parents whose words and actions evidenced a profound love of God at the center of their lives and marriage, enabled Jesus to trust them as his parents, and as an adult, to fulfill the will of his heavenly Father’s despite the pain and suffering.
Can you imagine how proud Mary and Joseph are of their son? Can you imagine how proud of his parents Jesus is? All of this didn’t come about simply as Jesus, Mary, or Joseph wished it into being or as they closed their eyes, clicked their heels together, and were suddenly transported with Toto to Nazareth. No, it was a direct result of making decisions day in and day out: Mary and Joseph to be honorable and Jesus to honor his mother and father.
This presents our challenge today. We live in a culture whose members are desperate to honor just about anything and everything other than parents. The good news, however, is that God has given us the opportunity to turn all of that around, first, by identifying who we want to become and, second, making decisions today that will translate that from an idea into honorable behavior.
Does today’s homily raise any question(s) that you would like
me to respond to? Mail your question(s) by double clicking on
the mailbox. I will respond to your question(s) at my first