Sunday, December 27, 2009

Feast of the Holy Family - homily

I’ve told the story here before about when in my former parish I explained the famous and controversial (and misunderstood) line from today’s second reading (long form), “wives be subordinate to your husbands”. I gave the explanation to a group mostly of women, saying that another translation is ”wives be submissive to your husbands”. Submissive means to be “under the mission of”. The mission of a husband is to serve his wife as Christ serves the Church: to lay down his life in sacrifice for her. The wife receives her husband’s love and returns her love to him as the Church receives Christ’s love as returns her love to Him. So, wives should let their husband serve them. When the women heard this explanation, they said, “oh, is that what it means? Well, thank you very much. I’ll tell my husband”. After the Mass in which I told this story here, a couple came up to me. The wife was all smiles and thanked me for the story. The husband said sarcastically, “yeah, Father, thanks a lot”.

Today we celebrate the feast of the Holy Family – Jesus, Mary, and Joseph. While this is a feast of great rejoicing in the Church, I understand that not everyone is filled with gladness and joy, unfortunately. Some here don’t have a positive experience of family. It is so sad because family is the foundation of our society. Some can’t relate at all to the “great anxiety” that Mary and Joseph were filled with when they lost Jesus for three days. One or both of their parents don’t care enough about them to worry about where they are or what they’re doing. Some parents cannot celebrate the “obedience” of Jesus toward his parents because they can’t even get their kids to come to the family dinner each night. To those people, I am truly sorry that you are not having a positive experience with your family and ask that you make the best out of the situation.

But, we need to have a model for the human family. We all need examples. For us as individuals, we hold up the saints as models whom we want to emulate. As families, we look to the Holy Family as the model for our families to imitate. Now, I know that the Holy Family is practically perfect. There is a perfect wife and mother and a perfect son. Poor St. Joseph! He has such little room for error…no wonder he doesn’t get any speaking parts in the Gospel! Seriously, he is a very holy husband and father. We see in them what God intends for the human family: a mutual love and respect between husband and wife. A husband and wife is to have this mutual gift of self… so much love for the other with an openness to life that it creates another person, a child. This child is to grow up respecting and being obedient to his parents. And not just obedient as a young child, but also as an adult child which the first reading tells us: “take care of your father when he is old”.

This is all in imitation of the Most Holy Family: the Father, Son, and Spirit. The Father and Son have infinite love for each other. This love overflows – like coffee overflowing a cup – and generates a Third Person, the Holy Spirit. The Spirit is the love between the Father and the Son just like a child is the love between his parents. The Holy Trinity is a communion of persons…a communion of divine love. We are invited into this love and actually participate in it through the Eucharist and all of the sacraments. We have a share in the divine life, the divine love of the Trinity!

Finally, there were many moments of Grace on my path to the priesthood, but a few stood out. There was one particularly powerful moment of Grace during an Ordination years ago around Christmas time. I was told beforehand that it would be a huge moment of Grace, so I should have an intention at that moment. My intention was for peace and reconciliation in our family because we were going through a tough stretch. When that moment came, it was overwhelming. It was more powerful than I could have imagined. Shortly thereafter, my family experienced profound reconciliation…it was unbelievable. We have been at peace ever since; in fact, this past Christmas was one of the most peaceful ever in my family (extended and all). God’s Grace is powerful stuff. I ask you…I beg you, if you are having a family problem, please bring it to the Lord and let His Grace begin to work on it. With God, all things are possible, even peace and reconciliation in our families.

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