A Perfect Family | Fr. Kenneth Baker, S.J. | A Homily for the Feast of the Holy Family, Dec. 30, 2007 | From the November 2007 issue of Homiletic & Pastoral Review
Feast of the Holy Family—December 30 | "A" Readings: Sir. 3:2-6, 12-14 | Col. 3:12-21 | Matt. 2:13-15, 19-23
Title: The fourth commandment: Respect for parents; care for children
Purpose: (1) to explain that many families today, holy or not holy, are in trouble; (2) to stress the need for strong, united families with devout fathers, mothers and children.
There is no doubt that the family today is in serious trouble, given the widespread practice of contraception, abortion and divorce. In today's liturgy the Church holds up for our admiration and imitation the most perfect family that ever existed, the Holy Family composed of Jesus, Mary and Joseph.
A family is a group of persons related by marriage or blood. The word "holy" means close to God, who is holiness itself. So the Holy Family is the model for all Christian families. We are all members of a family, since everyone has a mother and father; this essential relationship gives rise to our race, sex, language and country. When God became man in Jesus Christ, he entered our world of time and place by means of the family—a member of the Jewish people, born in Bethlehem and raised in Nazareth, under the political control of the Roman Empire two thousand years ago.
The Church teaches us, based on divine revelation, that marriage and the family were instituted by God—the family is his idea and is based on the nature of man. We know from historical experience that healthy families are necessary for a healthy civil society, because man is a social being.
The family is also the "domestic church" according to Vatican II's decree on the laity (#11). There we read that "the family will fulfill its mission if it shows itself to be the domestic sanctuary of the Church through the mutual affection of its members and the common prayer they offer to God."
Regarding mutual affection, the opening prayer asks the Father to help us "to live as the holy family, united in respect and love." All of us should heed the words of Wisdom in the first reading: God blesses those who honor, love and obey their parents. "He who honors his father atones for sins; he stores up riches who reveres his mother." In the second reading St. Paul describes the virtues which should reign in family life: "Because you are God's chosen ones...clothe yourselves with mercy, kindness, humility, meekness and patience."
The Council also urges common prayer. Family prayer helps us toward peaceful family living. For, if all are obedient to God, they will love and respect each other. In this regard, Fr. Peyton's refrain is well known: "The family that prays together stays together."
In today's gospel reading we see God's loving providence at work to guide and protect the Holy Family. Three times an angel directs Joseph in a dream, and tells him what to do to protect the child Jesus and his mother. God deals with Joseph because he is the head of the family. He obeys God promptly and Mary obeys him. Thus, the Holy Family has aptly been called "the house of obedience." Since Jesus is the fulfillment of all the prophecies of the Old Testament, there is a parallel with the history of Israel when Matthew quotes the prophet Hosea as saying, "Out of Egypt I have called my son" (Hos. 11:1).
Since Jesus is our model, we might consider some traits of Jesus' hidden life. First of all, the family was poor, but not destitute. They were able to travel to Jerusalem for the big feasts. There was a lack of luxuries and unnecessary things. Our use of material things should be patterned on the example of the Holy Family.
Secondly, Jesus worked for a living as a carpenter before his public life. Here we may wonder at the humility of God, the Creator of the heavens and the earth, allowing himself to be taught by one of his creatures how to be a carpenter! A third characteristic of Jesus' hidden life is his obedience to Mary and Joseph. He was subject to them and he kept the whole Old Testament law perfectly.
Finally, the heart and soul of the Holy Family is mutual love and respect—love for God first and then, because of that, love for each other. This love fosters peace, harmony, forgiveness and reconciliation, as St. Paul says in the second reading.
St. Luke tells us that Mary pondered all these things in her heart (2:19, 51). Because of her fullness of grace, spiritually she was beyond the so-called "mystical marriage" of some saints, like St. Teresa of Avila.
Today we thank God for the Holy Family and try to imitate it as best we can in our own family life. Let us pray with the liturgy: "O God, Father of us all, you have given us a model of life in the Holy Family of Nazareth; grant that in our families we may imitate their virtues and love, until gathered together in your house, we may enjoy happiness without end."
Suggested reading: Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1630, 2204-22-33; Code of Canon Law, 110-118.
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Father Kenneth Baker, S.J., is author of the best selling Fundamentals of Catholicism (three volumes) and of the popular introduction to the Scripture, Inside the Bible.
He has been editor of Homiletic & Pastoral Review for over thirty years.
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