Sunday, December 28, 2014

Feast of the Holy Family

Merry Christmas! Right now we are in the Octave of Christmas. The joy of Christmas is too much to be contained to a single day, so we celebrate Christmas Day as an Octave, as eight days. And on the Sunday within the Octave of Christmas, we celebrate the feast of the Holy Family. So this is a day to honor Jesus, Mary, and Joseph together as a family, and in honoring them, we can learn a bit about what family should look like for us.

It's good for us to have a feast to honor the Holy Family, because family is precisely how Jesus came into the world. Jesus didn't come riding in on the clouds surrounded by triumphant angels to live among us. Rather than anything normally considered worthy of a king, he was born into an ordinary family, with a working dad and a stay at home mom. And from when he was twelve to when he was thirty, we know nothing about his life. The most important man that ever lived, and for eighteen very formative years we have no idea what he was doing. But the human virtue he clearly had during his public ministry, he learned that from his family, from a faithful mom and dad who taught him from the very beginning of his time on earth.

So when we turn to our gospel reading, what do we find this holy family doing? We find them in the temple, practicing their religion. After every birth, Jews were to go to the temple to offer sacrifice for purification and thanksgiving to God, so that's what Mary and Joseph did. But while they were at the temple, something a little strange happens. An old man named Simeon comes forward and after seeing Jesus he gives thanks to God and says, "Now, Master, you may let your servant go in peace, according to your word." Basically he's saying, "I've seen the Savior, now I can die happy," because God had told him he wouldn't die until he'd seen the Savior.

So Simeon speaks this beautiful prayer to God where he is thanking God for his goodness and saying he can now die happy because of the things he has seen. But then he addresses Mary and the tone changes. "This child is destined for the fall and rise of many" and "you yourself a sword shall pierce." What is this about? We know that Mary didn't die like this, so this is understood as a sword of sorrow at seeing her Son be rejected and then killed.

But if we're looking at this reading and trying to learn something about family, it's the first part of that prophecy we need to examine, "This child is destined for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be contradicted." Simeon is making it clear that Jesus will be a controversial person, that some will reject him and some will accept him, that some will rise and some will fall. Throughout the Old Testament, the prophets were regularly rejected, and killed, for the message of love they carried from God. Prophets are always divisive people, and Jesus, being more than a prophet, will no different, Simeon is telling us. But Luke doesn't want to leave it entirely negative, because Simeon and Anna represent something new and different here. Simeon and Anna represent that small portion of Israel that accepts Jesus. Many will reject him, but a few will accept him, and Simeon and Anna represent those few.

So if we want to strengthen our families amidst all the struggles and challenges of the world, we have to accept Jesus, as individuals and as families. We have to welcome into our own hearts and into the heart of each of our families. This is not an easy or a trite thing, but this is a very serious business. The family is called the domestic church. Jesus came into the world through a family because the family is the fundamental unit of human society. Therefore, in order to destroy the foundation of our society and our Church, the devil himself is very interested in destroying our families. The devil himself wants to work his way into the heart of your family and destroy the peace of Jesus present there. This is happening on a global level, but it also happens on an individual level. There's not much we can do about the global level, but we can each make sure that our own family is strong, that our own family is a single light in the dark, showing Jesus to the world.

To make sure that your own family is a light in the dark, to make your family a welcome home for Jesus, takes the work of each member of the family. It requires constant practice in the selfless love of Jesus. In the daily work of being a family, in managing the thousand affairs of a home, the devil wants to sneak in and complicate things. The devil wants to whisper in your ear after a long day, "You deserve this drink, this lazy time in front of the TV, or this shopping trip, you deserve this selfish pleasure, whatever it is, and it's ok because the rest of the family doesn't really understand" and that sounds really nice so you start to go along with this and say, "Yeah, I do deserve this." But I look through the Gospels and I can't find any place where Jesus says, "I deserve this," that's not the attitude of Jesus, but rather he is constantly looking to give to those around him. In the exact same way, in order for your family to be a beacon of light in this world, each member of the family has to say, "How can I give, how can I sacrifice myself in love for those around me." Sacrificial love is the true mark of the Christian, and it is never selfish.

Now, I can picture the car ride home after a message like this. You can see where everyone else in the family needs to change, so you want to say to your spouse or your child or your parent, "See, Father said you should be more generous." Don't do that. If you walk away from Mass today ready to see how everyone else needs to change, you missed the point. This is a call to you, not your spouse, not your child, not your parent, to find new ways to pour yourself out in love for your family.

If we each welcome Jesus into every aspect of family life, if we each practice that sacrificial love of Jesus, making the good of the other our paramount concern, then we would see a revolution in our families, in our parish, and even in our world. With Jesus at the center of your family, the world can experience the love of Jesus through your family. So welcome Jesus into your family, practice his sacrificial love, and let Jesus mold and teach you and your family.

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