Homily for the Feast of the Holy Family C 2015-6 (Dec 27)

Homily for the Feast of the Holy Family C 2015-6 (Dec 27)

Today’s feast causes me to think about what family is and how the meaning of “family” has changed throughout the years. Some people will have us believe that there has always been one idea of what constitutes a family – two parents raising 2.5 children would seem to be the version I see most often. But we know this was not always so.

Early Biblical families consisted of a husband and often many wives with their children. By Jesus’ time, family constituted not just the parents and children but included grandparents, brothers and sisters of the parents and all their children. It was somewhat tribal.

In the years after Christ, at least in Christian countries, there was an immediate family of two parents and often many children, and an extended family that lived nearby or with the parents.

Today, with the advent of many divorces, we often have blended families, single parent families, same-sex parents and their children, mixed race families, and adoptive families, while the extended family is no longer is as nearby, making it difficult often to know each other as well.

Even more, sometimes we consider the people we are living near who are not related to us, but whom we treasure for their support and love, as family.

So when we think of the Holy Family today, I don’t see it so much as a model of what a family should look like, but more a model of the qualities for any family that we should value.

First of all, each family is unique. Certainly Jesus’ family was as it is presented to us: a virgin mother, a father who was really just a step-father and protector, their movements in the early years dictated by angels sent by God. Not an easily emulated model!

In the Gospel reading today we have the only incident known to us from Jesus early life, and it is not an ideal situation, at least for the parents. When families travelled to Jerusalem for the Passover, they would often travel in separated groups, the women with the women and children, the men with the men. At some point, the child was seen as a man – often around 12 years old, and so that provided the confusion that allowed Jesus to remain in Jerusalem. Mary thought he was with the men. Joseph thought he was with the women, and it wasn’t till they got together that they realized neither was the case. Any parent would worry about a 12 year-old taking off and being by himself in the big city. Mary and Joseph were no different.  They left their groups and went back to Jerusalem to look for him. That took three days of not knowing where he was. As a parent myself, I can only imagine the thoughts that go through a parents’ head in such a situation. Besides blaming themselves for not being sure of where he was when the left, they were worried about all the things that could happen to a boy in the big city.

When they found Jesus in the Temple, of all places, they were somewhat irate. Actually they do sound like typical parents today: “How could you do this to me!?” And like most twelve-year-olds who think they know just about everything, they get answered with: “What are you so upset about? I know what I am doing. I am doing what I am supposed to be doing. I am about God, my Father’s business.”

Mary and Joseph, however, did not quite get what Jesus was saying, but Mary never forgot those words. She treasured them in her heart, we are told. They apparently told Jesus that he had to go back with them, and Jesus did, without argument. Even more, we are told that he was obedient to his parents and he grew in wisdom.

The first two readings today are also about the relationships between husbands and wives, and their children, and we have to remember that the basic principles are the same, but the way of expressing it and the social context of the times may make it seem a bit harsh or out of touch with today’s realities.

What I like about the first reading is the importance of caring for elderly parents. I know that it only talks about fathers, but that is the social context of the time in a male dominated society, and we need to apply the principles today to both men and women. The concept is that we must give back to our parents for the gift of life and nurturing, being patient with them in their senility and always being kind to them. The basis for this seems to be that we would want to be treated in the same way by our own children and so we model what we want to have happen to us. A little selfish perhaps, but a very real sentiment.

In St. Pail’s reading today from Colossians, I would like to focus on all of the qualities that Paul says are brought to any good family: compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, patience and forgiveness. What a great list! If we could only always be able to do that! Paul’s monitions to husbands and wives don’t quite fit the model of equality in relationships that we have today because, once again, the society at that time was male dominated, but if we apply what Paul has said before, I think I would like to change around what Paul says for today. Instead of wives being subject to their husbands, let husbands be the subject of the wives. Let both husband and wife think about each other first in all things. I look at the 71-year marriage of my own parents and I realize that they always thought of each other first.

So, in summary, even though the context of the family has changed as the society has changed, the principle of love is always the most important and will be the things that makes successful families. If you have come from a family where love has not been the dominating force, you know the hurt that that can lead to, and I pray that you will be able to forgive or find forgiveness. That is my wish for you this day and the Good News that you need to make part of your lives as we remember the Holy Family today.

Ronald Stephens

Bishop of Holy Trinity Diocese and St. Andrew’s Cathedral Parish

The Catholic Apostolic Church in North America (CACINA)

[Volume 3 (Luke) of Bishop Ron’s homilies, one for every Sunday and Feast from the last Cycle C, is available from amazon.com for $9.99 – “Teaching the Church Year”]

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