31 December 2017Holy Family

Homily from Father James Gilhooley
Holy Family
Feast of the Holy Family - B Cycle - Luke 2:22-40

Two thirds of United States families do not eat their meals together. Of the third who do, 50% are watching TV during the meal. The average child over 8 watches three and a half hours of TV daily, largely because the tired parents use the TV as a baby sitter at the end of a long day. (Economic Policy Institute) "Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold. Mere anarchy is loosed on the world." When poet WB Yeats penned these lines, he might have been speaking of contemporary family life. The Feast of the Holy Family is not as old as one might think. Its origins are found only in the seventeenth century. In a Church, whose bloodline runs back two thousand years, three or four centuries are not a long time. In the first sixteen centuries of our Church, solemn veneration of Mary, her husband, and her Son was a non-event. There was little need to offer the Holy Family as a model, for family life was largely in a healthy condition. But then came the Industrial Age and the birth of cities. Serious problems appeared on the family horizon. Strategist that she is, the Church looked about for a counterforce. Cleverly she hit upon devotion to the Holy Family.

Yet Mary, her husband, and her Son had to wait until 1921 before today's official feast was created. It was then the threesome of Nazareth officially became the First Family of Christendom west and east. Family life today is a most difficult pursuit. One thinks of divorce, the scourge of alcohol and narcotics, the breakdown of discipline, and all the rest of the unhappy lot. We should pay attention to St Paul's letter to the Colossians in Asia Minor. Apparently word had reached Paul that Christian families in Colossae were falling apart. And so he notes the qualities that must be in a Christian home. Sit back and allow Paul's magnificent words to seep into your spirit. "Bear with one another. Forgive one another... Over all these put on love...Christ's peace must reign in your hearts...Be thankful...Wives, cherish your husbands...Husbands, love your wives...Children, obey your parents in everything." What a home it would be were one to find all the qualities Paul enumerates! They would be Hall of Fame material. People would fight to visit and just hope the family magic would rub off on them and their families. Why not allow it to be your home?

Arthur Tonne illustrates my point with a wonderful tale. George was becoming old and infirm. He had been a bachelor sailor most of his life. His nephew Bill invited him to move in with his family. George gladly accepted. Now Bill, who had never traveled, did so by listening to the many journeys of his uncle. George noticed there were times that Bill was fed up with family life - arguments with his wife, bills, kids' sickness, etc. He told his uncle more than once, "I wish I was free to roam the world as you did." One evening over supper, the old sailor told the family of a map of buried treasure in his possession.

Bill stored the information away. A year after that, George died. The nephew looked through his few possessions for the map. Sure enough he found an envelope addressed to himself. It was the hoped for map. It took him but a moment to read it. It led to the very house in which he stood. The dead salt was telling him, "Your own home and your own family are your treasure. Don't blow it. Enjoy them." Some of you may be saying, "Come out of the clouds, padre. How can we relate to the Holy Family? Joseph was a celibate. Mary a virgin. Jesus the Son of God." We do Mary, Joseph, and Jesus a wrong if we fantasize their lives.

Take the Christmas stable for openers. We picture it as something out of a glossy House Beautiful magazine. But be real. Stables are constructed not for families but for livestock. That Christmas stable was crawling with dangerous vermin and foul odors. There were no pampers nor fresh water. Imagine the drafts. Mary and Joseph had to be sick with worry for the Infant's health. And where would the next meal for the Baby come from? Consider, too, the teen years of Jesus. Most teens believe they know everything. Can you even speculate how difficult it had to be to raise one who did? We celebrate today not the feast of the Perfect Family but the feast of the Holy Family. Do you still find it difficult to relate with such a family? 

Homily from Father Joseph Pellegrino
Holy Family
Feast of the Holy Family: Praying for Our Families

A few weeks ago I was chatting with one our young ladies who has been teaching for a few years. She told me that there are children in her class that have little to no support at home. She said that she does her best to work with them, but she is limited to what she can do during the class day. Then she said, "All I can do is pray for them.” I was thinking that she was doing a lot. She might be the only person in the world who is praying for each of these children, and that is sad, but she is praying for her children. There is power in prayer. I was thinking about this and about how important it is for all of us to pray for our children and for our families. Today we celebrate the Feast of the Holy Family. This celebration reminds us of our responsibility to be a holy family, as well as our obligation to pray for our families. In today's Gospel, Mary and Joseph present Jesus in the Temple. It is a wonderful scene with numerous characters. You parents can remember when your children were infants. You couldn't wait to show them off to family and friends. You celebrated their lives on a very special day when you presented them to the Lord to receive his life.

They left the Church the day of their baptism still your children but also the Lord's. Mary and Joseph must have loved showing Jesus off just as you loved showing your babies off. They must have enjoyed the fuss that people made about him, just as you enjoyed people stopping to look at your babies and say a kind word to you. One of the people making a fuss over Jesus was a man named Simeon. The Gospel of Luke says that he was inspired by the Holy Spirit to come to the Temple that day. He was certain that he would not die until he had seen the Messiah, the anointed of the Lord. He prophesied that this child is the glory of Israel and a revealing light to the gentiles. Eight-four year old Anna joined in the celebration. It would have been a marvelous day if it weren't for something that Simeon said to Mary. He told her, "This child is destined to be the downfall and the rise of many in Israel, a sign that will be opposed -- and you yourself shall be pierced with a sword -- so that the thoughts of many hearts may be laid bare.” What a horrible way to destroy a beautiful day. Here Mary and Joseph are doing everything right, and this man tells Mary that the child's life will result in her suffering. They were good parents, the best parents, why should either of them have to suffer because of the child?

In this Mary and Joseph were no different than all parents. Because parents love their children, everything that happens to their children has an impact upon their lives. If Jesus was going to suffer from the chaos of the world, then his parents also would suffer. In the same way, when any child suffers, whether the child is sick, or are treated poorly by others, the parents suffer. The Gospels present Mary and Joseph as calmly meeting each challenge the baby's life brought. In Matthew this included Joseph's considering whether or not he should send Mary away when he found she was pregnant, the journey with his pregnant wife to Bethlehem, the visit of the Magi and the flight with Mary and the child to Egypt to protect him from Herod. In Luke's Gospel the challenges included the poverty of the stable, the prophecy of Simeon and, twelve years later, the loss of the boy Jesus in the Temple. Later on, when Jesus begins his ministry or public life, Joseph is missing, probably he has passed away, but Mary is present, calmly telling Jesus that the bridegroom has run out of wine, calmly calling him to her while people were crowding about him, and calmly standing beneath the cross. Check the gospels. Mary stood beneath the cross. She did not collapse. She was not crumpled up in hysteria.

The tranquility of the Holy Family is the result of their union with God. The peace that Jesus brings is not the absence of war or external turmoil. The peace the Lord brings is internal, spiritual. United with God, our families can calmly deal with the challenges of life. We need to pray for them. We need to pray for our families. Our families are little churches. Their homes are where Jesus, Mary and Joseph dwell. Many of our families are still growing. There are many pregnant girls in our parish. We need to be praying for them. We need to pray that they have a safe delivery and a healthy baby. We need to support these girls and their husbands in their determination to raise children for Christ. Many of our Moms and Dads are in their twenties or early thirties. We need to give them the support of our prayers as well as the encouragement of our words that they are good Christian parents. They must be. They are here aren't they? That takes a lot of work, but they value bringing their children to the Lord. When you see a pregnant girl in Church, don't be shy. Tell her that you are praying for her, and then do it. Say a decade for her and the baby that is coming.

When you see a young family trying their best to control their little children, give them a good word. Let them know that it is wonderful that they have made coming to Church a priority even though it is often a challenge. Our young families should know that when they walk into Church, they are walking into their home where they are welcome, wanted and needed. When they realize that they are surrounded by people praying for them, it will be so much easier for them to nurture the union with God they need to be a holy family. And to our young families, when you first held your children, when you brought the baby home from the hospital, when you survived the first night the baby would not get to sleep, you probably asked yourself, "How will I, how will we, deal with the challenges this new life is going to bring?”

Perhaps you are still asking yourselves that question. Certainly there is not a parent who has not wondered, "How can I be the best parent possible?” Look to the Holy Family. They kept their union with God as the foundation and glue of their lives. This resulted in the tranquility that let them meet each challenge conquering the chaos instead of being destroyed by it. The effort you make to nurture and develop your prayer life, your union with God, is fundamental to the stability and tranquility of your family. Pray for your children every day. Pray for them when they are still under your roof. Pray for them when they move out to begin their careers. Pray for them when they establish their own families. Many of us do not have children by birth. But we still have children, a lot of children.

Every child in this Church is a member of our family. Every child here is our child. We need to pray for our children. And, finally, to all our families whether Mom and Dad are young, middle aged, or seniors, the message for the Feast of the Holy Family is simple: Pray every day. Pray for your family every day. If your children are still home, pray together as a family every day. Whether they are at home or on their own, our children need us to nurture our union with God. When we do this, we never have to fear the challenges our children's lives will bring. Perhaps there is a sword that will pierce the hearts of all mothers and fathers. We have no reason to be afraid of the future. We have everything we need to meet each challenge calmly. We have the Lord. We can be a holy family.

Homily from Father Phil Bloom
* Available in Spanish - see Spanish Homilies
Holy Family
Begin the Year with Fasting and Prayer
(December 31, 2017)

Bottom line: I invite you to begin the New Year with a three day fast and prayer. Today we celebrate the Holy Family Sunday. By a nice coincidence it falls on the very last day of the year - a good moment to take stock and look forward. Like many of you, I have been praying for our families and particularly for our children. Last Sunday I mentioned the paradox - the seeming contradiction - that even though our children have more abundance than any previous generation they also experience greater depression and sadness. They have devices like computers and cell phones that can instantaneously retrieve information and connect with people anywhere, yet they experience more disconnectedness. And by dramatically increased numbers they have become alienated not only from the practice of the faith but even from faith itself. Many of our moms - and dads - feel like Mary in today's Gospel. A sword pierces their heart. I feel it too. There's no easy answer. Plenty of advice out there and we should not ignore it, but no quick solution. I certainly don't have an answer but Jesus does. For that reason I have undertaken fasting and prayer for our children.

I ask you to join me in a three day fast to begin the New Year 2018. In the bulletin I explain what I hope to do and the guidelines for a Daniel Fast, what foods to eat and which ones to avoid. It's not super rigorous. I've done it a few times this past year. The first day you might feel a craving and a hunger that seems insupportable but the second and third day turn out not so bad. For certain people it may not be difficult at all. Some of my priest friends will have a cup of coffee and a piece of toast in the morning, then go through the day so busy that only about 9 at night they realize they haven't eaten all day. That's not me. I love food and I panic if I miss a meal. I fantasize about food. For me perfect happiness is a bowl of linguine and a glass of wine. Even though I'm not a big meat eater, I do love a nice steak. I'm thinking about how I want the Knights to cook my steak on the 27th, how much sauteed mushrooms and onions to smother it with and what I'm going to put on the baked potato! To fast, to abstain from savory food does cost me something. But I find that fasting joined to prayer has great power. The fast itself becomes a prayer offered to God.

So I invite you to begin the year with a three day fast offered to God for our children. I mentioned some of the disturbing things happening to our children. But there are hopeful, positive signs. Besides revealing depression, disconnectedness and loss of faith, the studies show that our young people have a longing for family. Some of their dreams about family are amazingly traditional. For example, studies asked young adults ages 18-24 if they agree with this statement: "It is best for a the man to achieve outside the home and the woman to take care of home and family." 73% said yes.* That is, almost three quarters of our young people want the man to work hard for his family and the wife to be able to devote herself to caring for the children and home. Not so easy in today's world. It would mean doing without a lot of things, but that's what young people say they dream about. Young people want family. They even want a traditional family. Here's an even more surprising result.

They asked young adults, once again 18 to 24, if "the husband should make all the important decisions in the family." Brace yourself. 39% agreed. That's a ten percent increase as compared to 15 years ago. Four out of ten dream of a very traditional marriage. We know that dreams and reality are often very different. Still the Bible says, "Your sons and daughters shall prophesy and young men shall have visions." We want to encourage those visions and help young people realize those dreams. Tomorrow - New Year's Day - I will talk more about this. For today I invite you to begin the New Year with a three day fast and prayer. You can start after the Bowl games, but begin tomorrow and continue through January 4. For sure we face a great challenge today but not without hope. God will intervene if we empty ourselves before him. In the words of today's Psalm, "The Lord remembers his covenant forever." Amen.

Homily from Saint Vincent Archabbey, Latrobe, Pa
Saint Vincent Archabbey
Holy Family
The Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph,
Modern Sirach 3: 2 – 6, 12 - 14;
Collosians 3: 12 - 21; Gospel Luke 2: 22 - 40

This celebration of the Holy Family is one that puts the birth of Jesus into an important context for us. When God sent his Son he did drop down to earth from Heaven or mysteriously appear from nowhere. The Redeemer is God himself, the second person of the Trinity. This second person is also the Word of God which is the creating power that made all of creation. In the Prologue of John's Gospel we are told that "the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us." God himself as second person of the Trinity, is the Divine Word, who took on flesh and was born into the world just like those who he came to re-create. We have just celebrated his birth to Mary in Bethlehem, and today we celebrate how they truly Jesus, Mary and Joseph were a Holy Family. This Gospel describes a ritual that would take place Forty Days after a woman gave birth to a Son, and we celebrate this event on February 2nd, the Feast of the Presentation. In the midst of their completion of this purification in the Temple and elderly man approaches them with a work of knowledge. He knows that this forty day old baby is not just any baby, but he is the Messiah. He has been waiting for this day and had been inspired by the Holy Spirit so as to know that he would not see death before he had seen Christ the Lord. He is drawn to the Holy Family and in his short prayer says much.
1. Simeon may now approach death for he has seen the Messiah,
2. Jesus would be the fall and rise of many in Israel, and
3. A sword will pierce your heart. His prayer is knows as Simeon"s Canticle and is part of Compline, Night Prayer of the Church. This encounter of the Holy Family and Simeon was probably not noticed as being special by others in the Temple. There were numerous families who came to Jerusalem for this ritual each day and to the eyes of many they were just another family with their forty day old baby. However, this was an encounter that brought peace to Simeon for he saw that God was true to his word and allowed him to see the Messiah. He also spoke in somewhat a prophetic way as he revealed what the presence of Jesus meant to Israel and to Mary and Joseph. To the Holy Family it was a confirmation of the message of Gabriel to Mary, and the dream of Joseph in which the Angel told him to trust. It confirmed that this child born of a virgin was truly God Himself and would change the world. How often in our lives do the seemingly insignificant events and encounters turn out to be moments of profound confirmation to God's work in our lives.

This Feast of the Holy Family presents us with two important reminders that can help us in our faith. The first is that Jesus, Mary and Joseph were the Holy Family. And even as the Holy Family they faced the knowledge that things would not be perfect. The second point is that each family is called to be a Holy Family. We grow in holiness by growing in unconditional love for one another, praying for one another, and praying for each other. This Feast calls us to ask the Holy Family to intercede for us in our various needs as God's families. As Servant of God taught us, Fr. Patrick Peyton taught us, "The family that prays together, stays together." Father Killian Loch, O.S.B.

Homily from Father Alex McAllister SDS
Holy Family
Feast of the Holy Family

The first Sunday after Christmas is always dedicated to the Holy Family. It comes very soon after Christmas Day and so perhaps we see even more clearly the link between the two celebrations. This Feast of the Holy Family is uniquely Catholic and is not usually kept by the Protestant Churches. I wondered why this was and thought that it might have been dropped at the time of the Reformation because it was too sentimental. But I was wrong, actually this feast is quite a latecomer on the liturgical scene and, although it has its origins in the 17th Century when devotion to the Holy Family was apparently quite strong, it wasn't formally established until 1893 and didn't actually get into the universal calendar till 1921. I think you will agree that it is a lovely feast day and helps us to keep the focus on family life which is so important, especially at this time of the year. The Gospel of Matthew today tells us of the journey made by the Holy Family into Egypt and their eventual return to Nazareth where Jesus was brought up. We aren't given any details of the sojourn in Egypt except to say that it lasted until Herod was dead. That probably meant four or five years.

The important thing to understand is that there is a significant theological motive for Matthew's account. By going to Egypt and then returning to Israel Jesus is presented as being the new Moses. You can easily see the parallels: the infant Moses was rescued from the evil Pharaoh and the infant Jesus is rescued from the wickedness of King Herod. In the Exodus Moses leads the Chosen People out of slavery in Egypt and the equivalent mission of Jesus he is that he also comes out of Egypt to bring salvation to all. There is also a parallel between Herod's massacre of the infants and Pharaoh's slaughter of the male children of the Hebrews. Later on in the Gospels you can notice other symbolic parallels such as the forty days and nights Jesus spent in the desert which symbolically correspond to the forty years Moses spent in the desert. The final phrase of our Gospel text today is also most interesting. He will be called a Nazarene.

By going to live in Nazareth he naturally becomes a Nazarene, but there is a play on words here because the word Nazarene also means a select holy one set aside for God's service like Samson and Samuel. This is confirmed in John's Gospel where the sign above Jesus as he dies on the Cross reads: Jesus the Nazarene, King of the Jews. And Jesus certainly merits this title since he truly is the Holy One of God, the unique God-man who alone can bring salvation in all its fullness. So what we have here is not just a pious story about Jesus being taken to safety and returned in due time to live in a nondescript village in Palestine until he is ready to make his mission known. No, what we actually have is an account of a series of events which are in fact a revelation of the identity of Jesus. As I said, this is not so much a story as a theological exposition. Matthew is making it absolutely clear to his Jewish readers just who Jesus is and he underlines it heavily by means of scriptural parallels so that there can be absolutely no mistake. Jesus is the New Moses, the Holy One, the Son of God, the one who comes to save his people.

This theological analysis aside, what do we make of this feast of the Holy Family? To all outside appearance they are a family that has got off to a very unfortunate start: The wife pregnant before marriage with its unfortunate connotations, then the journey to Bethlehem for registration where they are forced to take refuge in a broken down stable. The child born in these adverse circumstances is suddenly dragged off on an even more perilous journey into exile for some years in Egypt. Stability is only found when they come to the rural town of Nazareth; and they only end up there because Judea would have been too risky. This is the story looked at with the eyes of an outsider. But we who understand Jesus' role in the world see clearly that it means that he intentionally chose not to be born into the wealthy and powerful elite but into a poor and marginalized family. This was a deliberate choice since his message is first and foremost good news for the poor and downtrodden. What Jesus values is not wealth and position, intellect or culture. Jesus values our humanness; that is just us without all the trappings.

He values our being and nothing else. This has a reflection in our family life. We value each other, our brothers and sisters, our parents and children, not for what they achieve but for who they are. We accept our brothers and sisters, our parents and children quite unconditionally. Their failures and mistakes are forgiven without them even needing to ask for it. This is because we know them deeply; it is because they are our own flesh and blood, because we have grown up together in a bond of trust. Now this is not always the case, not all are so fortunate as to have grown up in a loving family. But it is still today the norm for most people and certainly what everyone desires and works towards achieving for their own children. We are not always very good at expressing our feelings towards the members of our family. Perhaps it is precisely because these bonds are so deep that we cannot find the words to adequately express what we feel, and too often perhaps we therefore take each other for granted. But somehow we manage to find other ways to affirm each other and to express our sincere appreciation.

When these family relationships become damaged it is a very serious matter for everyone concerned and we should do everything in our power to prevent discord in our families. This might require great sacrifices but they are worth making for the sake of preserving these important bonds. We ought to realise that the relationship that we have with God is on the same sort of level, or if anything deeper. God is our creator and therefore is in a very real sense a parent to us: Why else do we call him Father? But perhaps, as with our human family, it is sometimes difficult to express in words what we feel and we need to find other ways of acknowledging the importance of our relationship with God. The family bonds that keep us close to God are unseen but very much present. He values us, not our status or our successes or our material possessions. But like a true parent he values us for who we are —his son or daughter. And he loves us more than we can ever know. We have our earthly family whom we love dearly, but we also have our heavenly family which is, if anything, even closer and more important to us. I wish you a very happy feast day and pray that the bonds of love which keep you close to God and to each other grow ever stronger and deeper.

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