Text of Homilies > 2010 Homilies
The Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph – Cycle A
December 26, 2010
Today we celebrate the Holy Family, namely Jesus, Mary and Joseph. In the final feast day of the year, the Church recognizes the primary role that the family plays in the quality of a society, a community, and the life of every individual person.
The family is the central unit of society, and is its building block. Each of our lives was powerfully and permanently impacted by our family. For most of us, this was generally a good experience; for some, unfortunately, it caused more pain than anything else.
In the family, we learn lifelong lessons that go far in determining our ability to function successfully in society. Even more fundamental, our family values and perspectives establish the foundation for how we define success for ourselves.
Our most powerful memories and emotions are tied to our family experiences. Certainly our friends can have a significant impact on our lives as well, but friends tend to fit into one of two categories: those we treat as family, and those we don’t.
Our modern culture can attack the idea of family all it wants. It can challenge the definition of family or make it more difficult and less appealing to start a family, but that does not change the fact that the most powerful of all of society’s structures is the family. Thus, the attack on the family and family life is nothing less than society committing suicide.
It is certainly true that the family is under great pressure in our country. The US has the highest divorce rate in the industrialized world. We not only have the highest rate of teenage births, we are also a global leader in teenage suicides. Moms and Dads struggle to parent their children against an avalanche of propaganda designed to undermine them. For example, on almost all TV shows popular with teenagers or younger, parents are portrayed as the fool while their children are shown as rational, reasonable and intelligent; a far cry from ‘Father knows best.’
Our Church looks at the family through a completely different lens and this is why we always celebrate the family on the Sunday between Christmas and New Year’s each year. The Church has a lot to say on the subject of family, which stands in stark contrast to popular culture.
First, let’s start with the sacrament of Matrimony. Christ’s teaching was clear on the subject: What God has joined, no human can separate. The bond of marriage is permanent because it is a covenantal bond. The priest, or deacon, do not marry the couple; they marry each other. And in so doing, they enter into a covenant. A covenant is a type of agreement, but it is substantially different from a contract. A contract is an agreement to exchange goods – I give you some money, you give me a car or a house, etc. A covenant, on the other hand, is an agreement to exchange persons. The first covenants were between God and the Jews – from Abraham to King David: “You will be my people; I will be your God.” In matrimony it is a similar commitment: I will be your husband, you will be my wife… and vise versa.
In entering into this covenant, husbands and wives accept the primary responsibility for getting their spouse to heaven… not a commitment to be taken lightly unless you really don’t believe that there is life after death.
Our priorities change depending on whether or not we believe that there is an eternity and that our decisions in this life are the basis for how we will experience eternal life. Each view sees this life differently and so it sees the family differently.
If we accept the Church’s view of eternal life, then we can begin to have a productive discourse on the family and family life that can have a significant impact on those dismal statistics.
The Church teaches that parents are the first and best teachers of their children. It is in the family that we learn that the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. Successful family members learn to subordinate their wants to the needs of the whole family. In this point, Christ is our best teacher. He freely offered Himself for the needs of the family of God.
No society can survive in a world where everyone is competing against each other, without regard for the heath and success of society itself as of primary importance. We see evidence of this everywhere. When the individual stands in opposition to the needs of the group, chaos ensues. The current army slogan is “An Army of One”; one what? One person? No. One Mission, one Goal, one Army. It can be no other way.
Likewise, see in our creed that the Church is one, holy, catholic, apostolic. Yes, the Church that Christ established is one, united Church.
So, how do we create families that hold these values? Let me suggest the three “F’s”
The first F is no surprise; it is through Faith that we build strong families. By passing on our beliefs through living them every day, we give our children a sense of being part of something bigger than themselves. And the simplest way to do this is through prayer. I do firmly subscribe to the notion that the family that prays together, stays together. I have never seen it fail: families committed to daily prayer – at meal time, at bed time and at other times – are always abundantly blessed. The graces received at Matrimony explode throughout the family in prayer and this is one of the most powerful testaments that parents can make to their children about what is important in their lives.
The next F will not shock you either. It is forgiveness. Forgiveness is a powerful force in a family, especially when we realize that even in the closest families, stuff just happens. We can thank our first parents for passing on that flaw through Original Sin, but the truth is, dealing with the imperfections of life is part of what makes us stronger as individuals and as a family. It is easy to tell when a married relationship is headed in the wrong direction: when the little things become the big things. The ability to keep life’s events in perspective, to forgive, forget and move on, is one of the greatest gifts parents can give their children… and, oh by the way, each other. When a family has learned how to forgive, it also has the side benefit of teaching children how to forgive themselves. How many teenage lives ended in suicide because they were unable to do this.
The final F will probably come as somewhat of a surprise, but I ask that you hear me out: It is learning how to fight… but fight in a way so that love always wins. Conflicts will happen in family units; there is virtually no way to prevent them. But if we agree that whatever the resolution of our disagreement, it cannot be at the expense of love, we come at them from a very different perspective. Some family members tend to be aggressive, others passive. Some are skilled negotiators, others, easily manipulated. In each of these scenarios, love loses. The needs of the family, the health of our relationships depends on honesty and openness, moderated by loving concern and a deep desire to understand. Not surprisingly, prayerful consideration of the disagreement often leads to unexpected ideas and results.
So, there we have it, the three F’s: Faith, Forgiveness, and Fighting so love always wins. They are just a part of the Church’s Formula for a Fantastic Family.