Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph (December 31, 2017)

Today we celebrate the feast of the holy family. I recall when I was a very young priest, preaching that the holy family was the model family. Now that I am not so young, I have to smile recalling some of those homilies. The mother of the family is a virgin wife and mother, full of grace. The father is one who does not seem to have a problem with that. Ah, that would be after he had a miraculous dream – as all fathers many not have: a son who is 100% God and 100% man -- at the same time. It may be called a model family, but it is not the family next door?

Christian models are supposed to be imitated, replicated somehow. Yet, it is impossible to replicate the holy family. Is that to say that there is nothing to be learned on this feast of the holy family?

Ours is an era when we hear much negativity: stories of children out of control, spouse abuse, child abuse, children calling 9-1-1 after being appropriately disciplined, destructive relationships, drug-afflicted families and/or disputes resolved by violence.

Today’s feast says that the holy family does have something to say to us in the readings we just heard. Our reading from Sirach teaches us that every marriage and family requires a basic respect by each member for all the others. Respect comes from the Latin verb respicio, meaning “to look again” – not simply “look, “ but look a second time. Lack of respect makes the atmosphere both unhealthy and unhappy – and, ultimately, destructive.

From Paul we learn that we need to cultivate all the virtues characteristic of a Christian, but above all. Love. Life in the Christian family is rooted in compassionate love.

The gospel teaches that no matter who we are - even Jesus – obedience must be a part of life. “Obedience,” we know comes from the Latin verb obaudire, meaning, “to listen carefully. “ There is military obedience that calls for following orders without question – tending toward blind obedience. Christian obedience is, on the other hand, is closer to the Latin; it means to listen attentively. [There are two credits in classical language for listening to this homily.]

All of us - children and parents - need to listen attentively. When we are compassionately loved and respected, we listen more easily to the other. Love and respect are the foundation of authentic obedience, real listening.

Jesus freely chose to submit himself in obedience to his parents. Jesus’ respect, love, and obedience are based on his respect, love, and obedience toward his father in heaven, which he showed throughout his life.

We hear so much about dysfunctional families these days. But, really, how many cleaver families have we ever known? No one, nothing is perfect. Every family is somehow dysfunctional, and concentrating on negatives depresses us.

Today, let’s look at the bright side. Let’s look at all the good things that happened on Christmas: the laughing, the caring, the helping, and the generosity, the being there for one another. Let’s concentrate on the positives as we celebrate the feast of the holy family.

As Christians, we have something very important to offer the present family situation in America. The example and message of Jesus and the values expressed in today’s readings: respect [looking again] - compassionate love – obedience [listening attentively]. All are lights that we can bring to a world that desperately needs light.