Feast of the Holy Family Year B

Gen 15:1-6;21-13, Ps 128: 1-2, 3, 4-5, Heb 11:8, 11-12,17-19, LK 2:22-40

     For the past few weeks we have be focused on preparing for the coming of Christ and today the Church invites us to step back and look at how He came into the world. God could have come into the world in anyway He wanted; He could have come as the child of a great king or He could have come already grown and living on His own, but He choose to come into the world in the same manner as every other human person, through a family. Just as the first witnesses of Christ’s birth came upon the manger and beheld a familial scene, we to, in this third day of Christmas, are presented with the image of that family and invited to reflect on the example of the Holy Family.

     The Gospels only gives us a brief glimpse into the life of the Holy Family, yet in those few simple verses we are given the example par excellence of God’s true intentions for the family. While much has changed in family life from the time of Jesus, the Church still holds up for us the image of the Holy Family, not simply for our admiration, but most importantly for our imitation. The Holy Family, while completely unique, must be the model for each and every one of our families.

     While families come in many varieties, the Holy Family underwent difficulties just like every other family. The story of the Holy Family is a story of a teenage woman conceiving a child outside of marriage and an anxious man planning to separate from his fiancé. It is a story a family forced to give birth and take up residency as immigrants in a stable. A family forced to flee persecution in the far off land of the Egyptian empire, which once held their ancestors as slaves. It is a story of parents loosing their child and anxiously searching for him, a story of a son loosing his father at a young age, a story of a widowed mother watching Her only son put to death in the cruelest manner possible, and a story of a mother whose son, upon his death, gave her to be the mother of the entire human race. The story of the Holy Family is a story of less than ideal circumstances, difficulties, pain and suffering, but most importantly it is a story of holiness, a story of “the obedience that makes us available where God calls us to be, the obedience that does not rely on our own greatness but allows our God to bestow His greatness upon us and knows that only in service and self-surrender can we truly find ourselves.”[1] While we don’t know much about the Holy Family, today’s Gospel tells us that they were obedient to the commands of God and provided an atmosphere where Jesus grew strong and wise.

     Our families must imitate the Holy Family’s yes to the Divine will, after all “without a yes to God, nothing can mature in a person’s life.”[2] Though life may throw many difficulties at our families we must, like the Holy Family, persevere by recognizing “our first step to sanctity is realizing that nothing in life is worth so much as our becoming saints.”[3] In striving to achieve sanctity, our families must provide an atmosphere where we, like Jesus, can grow in wisdom and strength, where we can grow into saints.

     The family is the school of faith, the place where mutual self-giving and faithfulness provides a secure and protected place for all of us to grow in virtue and to assume our place in society on our way towards eternal life. It is in the domestic church, our family, where we grow into saints. It is the family that is “the privileged setting where every person learns to give and receive love.”[4] Today’s Gospel reading does not give us a concrete teaching on how to make our families holy, but rather gives us a witness of how the Holy Family centered their life on God and invites us to imitate their holiness, in our own way.

     At the heart of the Holy Family is love, firstly love of God and secondly love of one another. The Blessed Virgin went to be purified at the Temple and brought her Son with her to be presented to the Lord according to the law. They then returned home and despite the prophecy of Simeon, which told of the greatness of the Child and the pain the Blessed Mother would have to face, they lived a normal Jewish life and raised Jesus to be strong and wise. The Gospels are clear that faith was central to the life of the Holy Family. At the heart of their hidden life, just as it was with every devout Jewish family, was the daily regiment of morning, evening and night prayers, the annual pilgrimage to the temple and instruction in God’s sacred law. If we want to imitate the Holy Family our own families must be a “school of prayer where we learn to listen, to meditate, to penetrate the deepest meaning of the manifestation of the Son of God drawing our example from Mary, Joseph, and Jesus.”[5] If our families are going to become holy families they must be centered on prayer. Do our families take time for daily prayer. Family prayer could be as simple as gathering before bed to pray, or perhaps finding a short amount of time during to the day to pray a decade of the rosary as a family.

     My brothers and sisters, today’s feast shows us that every family must imitate the Holy Family and remain focused on the goal of setting each other on the path to heaven despite the ups and downs of life. Despite the varying difficulties and changing needs of families the same goal remains for all of us; to accompany each other in love and self-sacrifice on our earthly pilgrimage to heaven. And so the family scene at the creche begs us to ask the question: “How is my family working to lead each of us to eternal life?”

[1] Joseph CardinalRatzinger, Dogma and Preaching Applying Christian Doctrine to Daily Life. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2011. pg 367. [2] Wilfrid Stinssen, Into Your Hands, Father Abandoning Ourselves to the God Who Loves Us. San Francisco: Ignatius Press 2011. pg. 47. [3] Albert Joseph Mary Shamon, Three Steps to Sanctity. Oak Lawn: CMJ Marian Publishers and Distributers (1993). pg. 1 [4] Pope Benedict XVI. Address of the Holy Father to the Fifth World Meeting of Families. 8 July 2006. http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/benedict_xvi/speeches/2006/july/documents/hf_ben-xvi_spe_20060708_incontro-festivo_en.html [5] Pope Benedict XVI. Wednesday Audience. 28 December 2011. http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/benedict_xvi/audiences/2011/documents/hf_ben-xvi_aud_20111228_en.html

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