HOLY FAMILY  12/30/12     

It's a wonderful time of the year to celebrate the Feast of the Holy Family of Jesus,
Mary and Joseph. That's so because family life is elevated to great prominence at
Christmas. It's probably the season when we best recognize that the greatest gift
we have is our family.
And if you flip that around - we know that it's probably the hardest time of the year
when key family members have passed on. We miss them so much.
Our families are the beginning and the end of life. We’re born into one - usually
spend our whole life connected to one - and die in one.
It's the primary social unit - the first school we go to - to learn to live our lives. It's
also our primary church and some call it - rightly - "the domestic Church." It's
where we learn the faith.

***
The question today is what makes a family holy? The Bible gives us a few clues.
St. Paul’s Letter to the Colossians.
Writing to the early Church, as a family member, he says that we “are to bear with
one another and forgive one another.”
"We all belong to the household of God and that each member is to be accorded
dignity, kindness and patience."
"Overall, be thankful, and put on love as the first virtue." So, do we live those
virtues in our family? Do we forgive? Are we patient? Thankful for what we
receive? Do we love the other members?

***
Sirach also says that all family members have dignity.
A father is to honor his children.
A mother her sons.
Children must honor both parents.
Are those dynamics flowing in our family?
If they are you're on the way to being a holy family.

***
On the part of parents, a family characteristic that's so vital today is providing the
kind of care and concern for young people where they're protected from those
dangers that can hurt them. Some years ago...on tv...a young woman on C-Span
Book Notes interview program. (Brian Lamb, one of best TV programs, ran for 16
years) She was brought up without religion - and didn't have a whole lot of
discipline either. They let her do just about anything she wanted. No religion. No
rules. For years, she thought she had the 'coolest parents' around.
She was the envy of her friends.
When she was a teenager, after being out all night, she came home at 5:00 o'clock
in the morning - and discovered her very liberal, very ‘hip’ parents weren’t even in
yet. She had beaten them home.
It was then she realized that what she had wasn't freedom. They didn’t even care
that she was out - didn't care what she was doing.
They were too disinterested in her to care enough to provide any structure.
For years she thought she had freedom, but discovered - over time - that her family
life was a sham.
Years later, she became Catholic. That's when she found freedom, she wrote - in
her relationship with Christ. She was no longer a prisoner of culture - she was no
longer at sea. An important characteristic of a holy family is discipline. If you have
that in your family - you know you're loved.

***
The Book of Sirach says more...
Don’t neglect the family member who needs you!
Sirach dwells on family members who are old, and particularly the honor and love
we must have for our fathers and our mothers - when they're old.
When you honor your father and your mother:
- you make up for your sins
- store up riches
- and your prayers are heard
What beautiful promises!
I know many of you have cared for parents - or continue now to care for parents -
in their old age - and that at times you’ve done that with great personal sacrifice.
You'd do it all over again. This is holiness. We never regret the time we spend with
our parents when our roles are reversed, and we who were the beneficiaries of
great love are now called upon to lavish our great love on those parents
who need us so much.
I learned so much from my father visiting his parents - in their old age - while still
exercising the responsibilities he had for his own family.
Whenever he could he went to them. In some periods it was once a week. In times
of greatest need it was every day.
He was making a gift in kind - for the love he’d received - and he was a terrific role
model to us by doing that.
When he got old and was dying the 5 of us were there as often as we could be.
And how much that meant to him.
There are too many of you to number who've done the same thing.
Hopefully, young people today will see us doing this - so that the great
commandment of honoring father and mother will be passed from one generation
to the next to the next.

***
Finally, when you look closely at the lives of Joseph, Mary and Jesus - in every
one of them you see a common characteristic - that made their family holy.
Each knew: Their life was not about them. It's about God. It's about God's will for
you. Joseph probably had his own plans. But he receives these dreams - dreams
which lead him to lay aside his personal plans and do what God wants.
Mary must have had her plans - as any young teenage girl would - to grow up and
be married and have a family. She receives a message from an angel that those
plans would have to be put aside. She'd be the mother of the Savior - and in a
Virgin birth. She follows God's will, not her own.
Both of them surrendered to a higher power. You see, our lives are not about us.
To be holy is to live for what God wants from us.
Then, there's Jesus himself. Today's Gospel gives us the only glimpse we have of
his youth. Up until now he's been a dutiful child - following the direction of his
parents.
Then, they take this trip to Jerusalem - to go to the temple. The parents leave and
unknown to them, he stays.
He's so caught up in ecstasy - talking with adult leaders about God - asking and
answering questions - that he seems to lose himself and stays behind.
When Joseph and Mary discover he's gone they're horrified. They find him 3 days
later they and complain, "Why have you done this to us?"
And, he speaks that devastating line, "Why were you looking for me? Didn't you
know I must be in my Father's house?" Even as a teenager, he was happiest trying
to discern God's will.
Our lives are finally not about us. They're about what God wants for us.
This is what it means to be holy - putting our lives in God's hands and doing His
will.
That's the big challenge for all of us. Our families are called to be holy. That's
where we discern God's will and obey it. And how do we know God's voice?
Whatever prompts you to the greatest love - whatever moves you to the greatest
giving of yourself to other family members - that's the voice of God in you.
That's not easy. It's hard.
But when everyone in the family does this - that's when a family is holy.