Sunday, December 31, 2006

The Holy Family

(Feast of the Holy Family-Year C; This homily was given on 31 December, 2006 at Our Lady of Mercy, East Greenwich, R.I.; See Luke 2:41-52)

One of the most popular movies we this time of year, every year, is the film “Home Alone.” You have probably seen that movie about the mischievous boy, played by Macauley Culkin, who gets lost in the shuffle as his family leaves for a Christmas vacation. As the title suggests, he is left home alone, and comically defends the house against robbers, gets into all kinds of trouble, and has an all around great time. In the end, it becomes an endearing Christmas story about a young boy who comes to appreciate his family in a whole new way.

A few years after “Home Alone,” that same child actor, Macauley Culkin, starred in a very different movie, called “The Good Son.” He played a troubled child who was typified by violence and dysfunction; it was a very dark story indeed. The title, “The Good Son,” was meant to be ironic, since he was about as far from a good son as one could get.

Those two films offer us two very different perspectives on the family, two very different views of family life. This morning we celebrate the Feast of the Holy Family—Jesus, Mary, and Joseph—and we are reminded that we take our definition of family from no particular aspect at all in the culture around us.

We do not derive our vision of the family from popular opinion and beliefs, from the multitude of sit-coms we find on TV, nor from any of the movies in Hollywood, be they endearing tales like “Home Alone” or dysfunctional and violent stories like “The Good Son.” We receive our definition of the family from God himself, the author of life, and the founder of the family.

It is so important that we recognize that this morning, since we are living in a culture that has begun to redefine the family on every level. Many couples today are choosing to take children for themselves, as a right, through such means as in-vitro fertilization (IVF), instead of receiving children as a gift from God. Children are given by God as the natural fruit of married love or through adoption, not through any means legally and medically available.

On other end of the spectrum, many couples choose to limit the size of their families through artificial contraception, blocking God out of the equation entirely. Instead of seeking God’s plan for family life, based on his design of the human body, they decide upon an alternate plan that goes against the way God intended us to live and love.

Finally, we can see in almost every state throughout the country a redefining of the traditional understanding of marriage. No longer is it a covenant of love between a man and a woman; now it is being changed to include a relationship of love between any two persons at all: two men, or two women.

None of these are the design or definition of the family that God has given to us; none of them are based upon God’s design for our temporal and eternal happiness. In our gospel this morning we see God’s vision for family life based upon the person of Jesus Christ, His Son.

St. Luke describes the scene of the finding of the child Jesus in the temple. In many ways, it could be seen the Biblical version of “Home Alone.” Jesus is the child who is lost in the shuffle, inadvertently misplaced by Mary and Joseph, who think He has been left with someone else. They finally journey back to Jerusalem itself, and after searching for Him for three days they find Him teaching in the temple.

Jesus’ response is very revealing. He says to them:

Why were you looking for me?
Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?
—Luke 2:49

Jesus is focused first and foremost on His heavenly Father, and the Divine Family of the Holy Trinity. Another translation of His response says, “Did you not know that I must be about my Father’s business?” Jesus is obedient to His heavenly Father first, above all things . . . but NOT to the exclusion of his earthly family in Joseph and Mary.

St. Luke tells us that, after that scene in the temple, “He went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them” (Luke 2:51). Jesus Christ is The Good Son in the fullest and most beautiful sense of that expression. He is faithful, obedient and true to His heavenly Father, and faithful, obedient and true to Joseph and Mary here on earth.

There is no separation for Christ between those two realities, because that is God’s definition of the family: our family life here on earth is the very reflection of the Divine Family that we find in the Holy Trinity.

Just as the Father, Son and Holy Spirit pour themselves out to each other completely, loving each other completely, willing the good in the other completely, even so we care called to live in our own families. We, too, are called to live for the other, to give and forgive and seek the good of the other members of our family. Our families should reflect the same love that we see in God.

Does that sound a bit overwhelming? Does it seem like too exalted a view of the family, perhaps one that is unattainable? I would suggest that it is not only challenging and difficult, but that it is impossible, without the help and the grace of God.

One of the greatest gifts that I have received personally as a priest is to be able to celebrate Mass for my parents, to give the Bread of Life to the man and woman who gave me the gift of life. My father, a number of years ago, built a small chapel in our basement. With the permission of the local pastor, I am able to celebrate Mass there for my parents whenever I am home on my day off. It is a gift that has brought us closer together and helped us to experience the truth of what our faith teaches is the “domestic church.” In a real and practical way it has helped us to live out our family life on a whole new level.

I mention that because each week we gather here around this altar as a parish family to receive that same gift of God Himself in the Eucharist. We are given that same supernatural help and strength to live out our own family life as a reflection of the love within the Divine Family of the Holy Trinity. Strengthened in that sacrament, might we continue to follow God’s plan, God’s design for our human family, as He continues to lead us ever closer to the Trinitarian love of heaven itself.