Holy Family Feast Year: B
Gen 15.1-6; 17.3b-5, 15-16; 21.1-7; Heb 11.8, 11-12, 17-19; Lk 2.22-40
Father did not Wake up the Next Day
Father was a hardworking man who delivered bread as a living to support his wife and three children. He spent all his evenings after work attending classes, hoping to improve himself so that he could one day find a better paying job. Except for Sundays, Father hardly ate a meal together with his family. He worked and studied very hard because he wanted to provide his family with the best money could buy.
Whenever the family complained that he was not spending enough time with them, he reasoned that he was doing all this for them. But he often yearned to spend more time with his family.
The day came when the examination results were announced. To his joy, Father passed, and with distinctions too! Soon after, he was offered a good job as a senior supervisor which paid handsomely.
Like a dream come true, Father could now afford to provide his family with life’s little luxuries like nice clothing, fine food and vacation abroad.
However, the family still did not get to see father for most of the week. He continued to work very hard, hoping to be promoted to the position of manager. In fact, to make himself a worthily candidate for the promotion, he enrolled for another course in the open university.
Again, whenever the family complained that he was not spending enough time with them, he reasoned that he was doing all this for them. But he often yearned to spend more time with his family.
Hard Work Paid off
Father’s hard work paid off and he was promoted. Jubilantly, he decided to hire a maid to relieve his wife from her domestic tasks. He also felt that their three-room flat was no longer big enough, it would be nice for his family to be able to enjoy the facilities and comfort of a condominium. Having experienced the rewards of his hard work many times before, Father resolved to further his studies and work at being promoted again. The family still did not get to see much of him. In fact, sometimes Father had to work on Sundays entertaining clients. Again, whenever the family complained that he was not spending enough time with them, he reasoned that he was doing all this for them. But he often yearned to spend more time with his family.
As expected, Father’s hard work paid off again and he bought a beautiful condominium overlooking the coast of Singapore. On the first Sunday evening at their new home, Father declared to his family that he decided not to take anymore courses or pursue any more promotions. From then on he was going to devote more time to his family.
Father did not wake up the next day
Family in God´s Plan
The Son of God, who is like us "in all things but sin" was born into a human family. It was certainly not coincidental that this "communion of persons … sign and image of the communion of the Father and the Son in the Holy Spirit" is the human institution that best reflects the life of the Trinity from whose bosom the Son came into the world. He had emptied himself to assume the condition of a powerless and totally dependent infant. He came to an unfriendly world that at best ignored him (John 1.11), at worst sought to snuff out his life at its very beginnings (Matthew 2.13). God does not normally have recourse to the miraculous when he has already made natural provision for our care. The family constitutes the privileged and protective environment into which God wills all of his children to be born and to grow. His plan for his only-begotten Son was no different.
The Model Family
Marriage and the family are so central and so incalculably vital for persons, Church and society that God willed to offer us, from the beginnings of our salvation, not a treatise but a living, perfect model of what it should and can be, of how it works. Mary and Joseph undertook marriage as a vocation: in the midst of great perplexity on their part, it was God´s plan, rather than theirs (Luke 1.27, 34; Matthew 1.18-20, 24). Their attitude as parents is exemplary. They accept the child as a gift of God (Luke). They accept that he is not their ‘property’ but owes his first allegiance to God and must be consecrated to him. They accept their son’s vocation even though it has deeply disturbing aspects: they were "marveling at what was being said about him". They accept the sufferings that will accompany their task as parents ("a sword will pierce your own soul"). They accept the full responsibility of his education, so that he may grow in body, mind and spirit
The Family of Nazareth
Exemplary too are the whole dynamics of family life in Nazareth. If God should be present in every family, here this is literally the case. The purpose of this family´s existence is God’s presence in the world. Its life revolves around the person of Christ. Grace, lived charity and an atmosphere of prayer penetrate every aspect of family life at Nazareth.
Catechism of the Catholic Church
Two fundamental aspects of the family in God’s plan are the family as the "domestic Church" (CCC 1655-58; 2204-06); and the family as a natural institution formed by "a man and a woman united in marriage, together with their children", which is "the original cell of social life" (2201-03; 2207-11). Both of these aspects, besides being central to the experience and concerns of most Christians, require special attention in today’s society and a more extended catechetical treatment. The same could be said for the respective duties within the family of children and parents (2214-31).
Taking its cue from the fact that "Christ chose to be born and grow up in the bosom of the holy family of Joseph and Mary", the Catechism (1665-67) offers a vision of the "domestic Church" that is a homily in itself:
The Family of God
The Church is nothing other than "the family of God." From the beginning, the core of the Church was often constituted by those who had become believers "together with all their household" (Acts 18.8). When they were converted, they desired that "their whole household" should also be saved (Acts 16.31, 11.14). These families who became believers were islands of Christian life in an unbelieving world. In our own time, in a world often alien and even hostile to faith, believing families are of primary importance as centers of living, radiant faith. For this reason the Second Vatican Council, using an ancient expression, calls the family the Ecclesia domestica. It is in the bosom of the family that parents are "by word and example… the first heralds of the faith with regard to their children … The home is the first school of Christian life and ‘a school for human enrichment.’ Here one learns endurance and the joy of work, fraternal love, generous – even repeated – forgiveness, and above all divine worship in prayer and the offering of one’s life".
Family in the World
We are currently witnessing many efforts to ‘redefine’ the family. No sensible person, let alone a Catholic, can believe that public officials or special-interest lobbies will somehow come up with a ‘better’ design for the family than God has given it. Revelation has made us Catholics more sensitive to the importance of this natural institution. Therefore, besides a strong witness of loving and harmonious family life, Catholic families have a particular duty to offer those around them in society their reasoned convictions regarding the vital role of the family and the need to fortify and protect it by all means. This includes proposing and supporting legislation and policies to this effect at local, national and international level. An enumeration of the political community’s principal duties in this regard can also be found in the Catechism (2211).
Family is the Fundamental Unit
Today's Feast of the Holy Family focuses our attention on the fundamental unit of our civil society - and our Church. Throughout the centuries people have taken for granted that the union of husband and wife (together with their children) constitutes a family. For that reason, we refer to Joseph, Mary and Jesus as the Holy Family. With the breakdown of Western civilization, however, some people want to revise that definition of marriage and family. With so much confusion (and outright distortion) on the meaning of marriage, this is a good moment to review the basics.
Genesis of Family
Let's start at the beginning. In the first book of the Bible, we read how God creates the universe, then the plants and animals. Finally, he creates man in his own image and likeness. He gives our first parents the command to "be fruitful and multiply." When God creates the woman from man's side, the man exclaims, "This one at last is bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh." Then the Bible says, "For this reason a man leaves his father and mother and clings to his wife and the two become one flesh."
Hardness of Heart
Now, in the Old Testament we read about many deviations from this ideal, including polygamy and divorce. But when they asked Jesus if a man can divorce his wife, he says, "Moses allowed divorce because of your hardness of heart, but in the beginning God made them male and female - and for that reason a man leaves his father and mother and joins himself to his wife and the two become one flesh." Then Jesus adds, "Let no man separate what God has joined."
In many other ways Jesus showed the sanctity of marriage. For example, he cared so much for young married couples that he did his first miracle to rescue a wedding reception. And when he met a woman who had been involved in a series of marriages, he told her that the one she has now is not her own. (The Samaritan woman, God love her, did not take offense; she said, "This man must be a prophet"). Jesus used nuptial imagery to explain his mission. He prohibited his disciples from fasting because, "the wedding guests do not fast when the bridegroom is with them." In referring to himself as bridegroom, Jesus was hearkening to a long Old Testament tradition. The prophets (Jeremiah, Hosea, Ezekiel and Isaiah) spoke of God as the groom and Israel as his bride.
St. Paul and St. Peter
Jesus’ closest followers showed reverence for marriage. Even though Paul (like Jesus) was celibate, he taught an exalted doctrine of marriage: the union of husband and wife is a sacrament (mysterion) of the union of Jesus and the Church. St. Peter devotes a good part of his first letter to instructing husbands and wives. And the Bible concludes with St. John's magnificent vision of the wedding of the Lamb (Jesus) with his bride the Church.
The Church has consistently taught the beauty and sanctity of marriage. For example, St. John Chrysostom suggested that young husbands should say this to their wives: "I have taken you in my arms, and I love you, and I prefer you to my life itself. For the present life is nothing, and my most ardent dream is to spend it with you in such a way that we may be assured of not being separated in the life reserved for us...; I place your love above all things, and nothing would be more bitter or painful to me than to be of a different mind than you." (CCC 2365)
The Song of Songs
One other testimony to this constant teaching is the way Christian writers used the Song of Songs. If it were a movie, that book of the Bible would be rated PG-13. It is a love poem that frankly describes the feelings of a young man and woman in love. Many of the Church Fathers (Origen, Ambrose, Gregory of Nyssa et al) have lengthy commentaries on it - and mystics like Bernard of Clairvaux and John of the Cross used it as the basis of their mystical theology. This shows that although the Church has often warned about distortions of human sexuality, we have constantly presented the love of man and woman that leads to marriage as something beautiful - and sacred. Holy Family Sunday is a good opportunity to reflect on the dignity of marriage and family - as foundational both to human society and to the Church – and to pray for all our married couples.
Family is Sacred. Let us promote this sacred institution in our life, in our preaching, in our teaching and encourage the youth about the beauty of family, and its value in our life.
Fr. Rudolf V. D’Souza OCD
Vancouver - Canada