The Holy Family and Our Families

Homily for the Sunday in the Octave of Christmas - The Holy Family

by Fr. Tommy Lane

On this first Sunday after Christmas every year when families are reunited again, the Church places before us for our reflection the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph. Families did not come about by accident. The family is part of God’s plan for us. God wants our families to be holy. The family is the basic unit of society and the Church; we could say the family is a little church. It is in the family that we first learn to communicate. It is in the family that we learn what love is. It is in the family that we first learn to forgive and to pray. It is in the family that we first learn about God and Jesus and Our Lady. It is in the family that first we learn our values and what is good and bad. The future of humanity depends on the family because it is through families that society continues. There are many attempts to destroy the family in our times but if the family will be destroyed in western society, the western world will crumble because all humanity comes through the family. There are many attempts today to redefine the family but they do not reflect God’s plan for the family.

As the Church places the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph before us this weekend for our reflection we should not think that they did not have challenges. Just like every family, they had to face and overcome difficulties and these are just some of the trials we see them facing as we read the Gospels.

  • We can imagine how misunderstood both Mary and Joseph must have been when Mary conceived Jesus through the Holy Spirit. Their story would never be believed.

  • It must have been very difficult for Mary when Joseph was considering divorcing her when they were betrothed before marriage.

  • When Jesus was born it was the most difficult of circumstances as the birth took place in an animals’ cave.

  • Recently (Fall 2015) we have seen many images of families fleeing war-torn countries as refugees and the Holy Family had a similar experience as they had to flee to Egypt to escape the greed of an insane man, Herod.

  • Mary and Joseph suffered the awful experience of losing Jesus for three days when he was twelve years old as we heard in our Gospel today (Year C)

  • We do not hear of Joseph again after this and there is no mention of Joseph in any of the four Gospels as Jesus is on the cross so we presume that Joseph had died by then, and the holy family experienced the greatest pain of all families, the pain of separation through death.

These are just some of the many challenges we see the Holy Family facing as we read the Gospels. What helped the family through all these tests was their prayer and faith just as prayer and faith help our families through difficulties. In the Gospels we also see the prayer and faith of the Holy Family.

  • From the first moment that Mary is introduced she is presented as devoted to God; “Behold the handmaid of the Lord. Be it done to me according to your word.” (Luke 1:38)

  • When she visited her relative Elizabeth, Elizabeth described her as a woman of faith; “blessed is she who believed that the promise made her by the Lord would be fulfilled (Luke 1:45) and Our Lady responded with her beautiful hymn praising God that we call the Magnificat (Luke 1:46-55), “My soul glorifies the Lord and my Spirit rejoices in God my Savior.”

  • Twice during the early chapters of Luke we are told that Our Lady was a reflective woman, pondering on the word of God (Year C, Mary kept all these things pondering them in her heart, Luke 2:19, see also 2:51)

  • When Joseph is first introduced we are told by Matthew that he is a “just man.” (Matt 1:19)

  • When the angel told Joseph in a dream not to divorce Mary and take her as his wife, Matthew tells us that as soon as he woke up he did what the angel commanded him (Matt 1:24). He was a man of immediate obedience to the word of God.

  • We see the entire family in prayer together as they made their pilgrimage to Jerusalem when Jesus was twelve years (Year C, Luke 2:41-52).

Like all families the Holy Family had many trials but it was their prayer and faith that helped them overcome all difficulties.

Apart from all the inspiration we can draw from reflecting on the Holy Family, in other places Sacred Scripture tells us what God intends our families to be. In Matt 19 Jesus says,

Have you not read that from the beginning the Creator made them male and female…For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore, what God has joined together, no human being must separate. (Matt 19:4-6)

In the letter to the Ephesians there is beautiful teaching on marriage and family in chapter five. There we read again what Jesus said,

For this reason a man shall leave (his) father and (his) mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh. (Eph 5:31)

But then there is a novel teaching in the letter as it says the love of husband and wife for one another is a reflection of the love of Christ for the Church,

This is a great mystery, but I speak in reference to Christ and the church. (Eph 5:32)

The letter to the Ephesians says that if you want to know what a family should be like, just look at how Christ loved the Church. Christ gave his life in sacrifice on the cross for the Church and that is how families are to be, loving each other to the end in a sacrificial way. There are two pieces of advice for husbands; they are to love their wives as Christ loved the Church, handing himself over for her (Eph 5:25); in other words, husbands are to love their wives by giving their lives for their wives. The second piece of advice for husbands is similar, husbands are to love their wives as they love their own bodies (Eph 5:28). The advice for wives to be subordinate to their husbands is unfortunately misunderstood; it is not saying the husband is master of his wife, no, not at all. The letter says as the Church is subordinate to Christ, wives to their husbands; in other words, as the Church becomes holy by being united with Christ, the husband’s relationship with his wife is to help her become holy. Husbands are to help their wives be holy. When you read the letter properly it is obvious it is not at all saying husbands are masters over their wives because earlier in the chapter the letter said husbands and wives submit to one another (Eph 5:21) and husbands are to love their wives to the end as Christ loved the Church. This was obviously very radical teaching in its time and shows the novelty in the Christian understanding of marriage and how God wants to elevate family life above society’s understanding of family to reflect the love in the heart of Trinity. It shows us that God’s plan for the family is beautiful.

Sacred Scripture also gives advice for children. When a man asked Jesus what he should do, Jesus listed the commandments including the fourth commandment that children are to obey their parents, and said to him,

You shall not kill; you shall not commit adultery; you shall not steal; you shall not bear false witness; honor your father and your mother; and you shall love your neighbor as yourself. (Matt 19:18-19)

The letter to the Ephesians (Eph 6:1) repeats the command that children honor their parents but also adds that fathers should not provoke their children to anger but bring them up under the Lord.

The family is not an accident. The family is part of God’s plan. God wants your family to be the best it can possibly be and the best place for children. God wants your family to be holy. The Holy Family had many trials as does every family and overcame them through prayer and faith. Our families also overcome challenges through prayer and faith remaining united in love as did Jesus, Mary and Joseph.

© Fr. Tommy Lane 2015

This homily was delivered in Pennsylvania.

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