Homily – Holy Family

Now that I have reached a certain age, I have come to the realization that everything I really ever needed to learn. I learned at the dinner table, surrounded by my family.

We learned everything that is really important. We learned what to say and what not to say, although I’m really not very good at that last part. We also learned what it meant to have manners, to behave, to listen, and when to speak. We learned all those important lessons, whether it was just our family dinner or we were surrounded by all of our family members.

And in those big family gatherings, I learned another very important lesson, if I may quote a famous psychologist. It is important for every family to get its saints out of heaven and its sinners out of hell. The point being that it doesn’t pay to either idealize or demonize our families. What is important is that we learn our family values, our worldview, our perceptions about ourselves and about others when we’re surrounded by our family.

And that the most important thing of all on this Feast of the Holy Family is to realize that every family is not perfect. But every family is called to love and respect, to love God and to love one another, to respect God and to respect one another. On this Feast of the Holy Family, we are invited to slow down a bit after the craziness of Christmas and to ask ourselves some questions.

For example, Abraham, our great ancestor in faith, the father of many nations, trusted God’s promise to inherit, to have heirs, to be the father of many, even though he didn’t understand how God was going to do that. And there was evidence to the contrary. But He trusted God that God would grace his life and his work and that he would be fruitful.

How good are we today at trusting through the grace of God that we will be fruitful, that will we will be worthy of the baptismal calling we’ve been given. And if we ask ourselves that question, if we ask about our families and our heirs, then we have to ask about our hearts. In my heart, do I love and respect my family?

Both my family. That’s biological, my family of friends and my family here at Saint Charles, the whole family of the church. Do I live my daily life reflecting that love and respect for God and his people? That’s what we hear in the prophecies and predictions of Anna and Simeon in the Gospel today. They proclaim God’s love by recognizing the Messiah, Christ Jesus.

Do I? Do we proclaim our love and respect for families, for our church, for everyone, and by how it is that we proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Now that leads us to one final question. It’s about Joseph and Mary. How did they live with the understanding that the favor of God was upon them, that the favor of God was upon their only son?

How do we live in the understanding that the favor of God rests upon us? And on this last day of our civil year, how is it that we are going to combat the greatest lie that we are told? And that lie is that we cannot be holy. We are called to the holiness of Joseph and Mary, to Abraham, to Simeon and Anna.

Each and every one of us call to be a saint. The greatest lie of our culture today is that we are not a holy people. Indeed, and in fact, we are a holy people favored by God. Now, having said that, how is it that we then understand that our families are not composed of all saints? I could tell you stories about my older brother.

I will not bore you, but let me tell you there the most interesting thing about my family, having said that and thank you for the chuckle, it got no laughs at the night when we celebrate the Feast of the Holy Family. Every year, these questions all rise up in us because the Scripture readings may seem out of step with our modern lives, but really they strike at the heart because they ask us to consider the ideal and the real.

First are reading from the Book of Wisdom from Sirak, who writes about an ideal that generations love and support one another, that we care for the young and the old, that the younger members of the community are obligated to look after. Those of us who might be a little bit older, especially when we get forgetful. That’s really true, by the way.

Some of us have the responsibility of caring for elders. Some of us experience burdens, but we all experience the love and respect, wisdom and kindness of generations living with one another because it’s a love that is characterized by gentle responsibility. It is the work of the heart. When we look to the wisdom of Saint Paul in the letter to the Colossians, the first part is the beautiful ideal of how we are to live our lives in kindness and in charity.

The second part is reality. Parents don’t nag, children don’t whine, teenagers don’t pout. Old people don’t be grouchy. It’s reality, Paul reminds us that we as a family are called to holiness and that every holy family has real problems. Yes, Joseph and Mary lived with the teenager. Joseph and Mary had to deal with a baby. Jesus was born in a manger because his parents were immigrants.

They had to go into exile, so they left their homeland with nothing, arrived on foot and needed to be welcomed. That’s not far away. That’s our neighborhood. Does it sound familiar? Immigrants walking on foot fall away, falling, walking far away and needing to be welcomed when presented in the temple. Simeon does not call Jesus the Prince of Peace.

Rather, he calls him a sign of contradiction. How did Joseph and Mary learn to be a normal, stable, happy holy family? Theirs were the same challenges that are ours. The perfect Holy family is what our families are called to be, and that perfection is simply love and respect, because God loves and respects us so much that He’s sent us his only son.

So we all have stories. We all have secrets. Some of us have older brothers, but what is holds us all together is Jesus Christ with Joseph and Mary, the Holy Family. It’s what’s available to us, the bonds of love and respect. Paul gives us the ideal over all these put on love that is the bond of perfection. Families may never be perfect, but love perfects the bonds that hold us all together.

And so as we put one year to rest and we begin a new civil year with our families and our friends, let’s remember it is important for every family to get its saints out of heaven, to live here on earth with us. And it sinners out of hell in the bonds of love and charity. The point is that it doesn’t pay to either idolize or demonize.

What really matters are the bonds of love and respect that come to us on this Feast of the Holy Family.