Picture a husband and wife who run a small diner together. They work, talk, quarrel, and love. They do their best to raise their kids well, to teach them right from wrong and the importance of Jesus. They are not perfect. Nevertheless, their family is holy.
A lawyer loves working for a large corporation because it serves people as well as a company. He remembers that ultimately he is working for his family and his community as a whole. His wife works full time raising the children and looking after the children of others at a daytime baby-sitting service. Though their family is not perfect, it is a holy family.
A single woman raising her child alone struggles to make ends meet and to care for her child. She is raising the child in love and hoping to teach the child right from wrong. She prays for the strength to carry on alone and unaided. Her family, though some would deny it, is a holy family because love is present between mother and child.
Outside of love there is no holiness. With love, holiness flourishes.
Today is the Feast of the Holy Family. And while at first glance it might seem to us as strictly a celebration of the great love of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, it is also a celebration of our own families; both our smaller nuclear families and the larger family of God to which we all belong. But it is this day where we hold up the family of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph as a model of the holy family and ask ourselves where we in our lives can better respond to Jesus’ call to be holy as the Father is holy, both as individuals and as families. Because a holy family is made up of holy individuals.
I suppose I might ask the question: “What makes a holy family different from any other kind of family? Thinking about this, I’ve come up with three ingredients for a holy family.
Now first, as we said, there can be no holiness outside of love. Jesus chose to become human out of love. Even though she must have been somewhat terrified, Mary said yes to God and accepted her role as virgin mother out of love, and Joseph, out of love, took the pregnant Mary as his bride, then gave up all he knew to shuttle his family out to Egypt and back again a few years later to keep them safe. Of course, they still had their “moments” as family, like the time 12 year old Jesus stayed behind in the temple to give the elders a little “instruction.” Mary thought Jesus was with Joseph and Joseph thought he was with Mary, and they probably read Jesus the riot act when they finally found him. But still, from what we can see from Scripture, their love manifested itself in how they always put the other ahead of themselves.
We become holy ourselves when we consciously enter into the life of Christ and become fused with God. The more we merge with Christ, the more uplifted our own families become and the more the holiness of God is felt upon the earth.
Now even though our society and culture keeps pounding home this idea of a rugged individualism, the idea of family refuses to die. I’m noticing that people still have a need for some kind of family. I think it comes from a need to know that someone is always there for you. We’ve all seen how street gangs can be a kind of family for some of the younger folks. In the same way, I’ve seen how, on a couple of Internet lists I belong to, that some people constantly refer to the group as a family. One of the lists is for owners of late-modeI Impala SS’s. We discuss automobiles. But some of these people are folks who have moved far away from their own family to another part of the country. They use the Internet for companionship and when something goes wrong, they know that someone on the list will be there for them - either to help them solve the problem or to commiserate with them. But that’s the second key ingredient to a holy family - being there. Being there for your children, being there for your spouse, being there for you parents.
Finally, we have to bring God into the picture. Things that are holy are dedicated -or at least oriented - toward God. If we pray, together as families and as individuals, and orient each day of our lives toward doing the will of God, then we have the best chance of imitating Jesus, Mary, and Joseph as holy families.
Believe it or not, the holy family as we have just described it is under attack from many in our society today. When mothers are urged to abort their unborn children for the sake of “lifestyle” or economics. When a father can’t live in the same house as his wife and kids so that they can have proper health care benefits. When the myth and the lie is constantly repeated like a mantra that the earth cannot sustain any more population growth, even after it’s been proven otherwise. And when our elderly parents are told they should be given the option of euthenasia to save us from having to “be there.” These and more are all subtle attacks on the family that we should be wary of.
Now, so far we have mostly talked about families in the smaller, nuclear sense - those of “blood” relatives. But before I finish, I think I should point out that all of us gathered here today are “blood” relatives. That is, we are all family in the body and blood of Christ which we share at each and every Eucharist. As Jesus himself said: “Who are my mother and my brothers? Whoever does the will of God is brother and sister and mother to me.” And if we take it further and truly believe that every human being is a child of God, then our love, our concern, and our prayers should extend far beyond these walls.
So let’s continue to celebrate our existance as a holy family today and everyday, with everyone we meet.