Feast of the Holy Family – December 29, 2019
Very proudly displayed in my apartment in the cathedral rectory – and in my sister’s home and my mother’s – is a great photo that was taken last year on the day that my family celebrated my mother’s 90th birthday. She’s sitting on a chair in the middle of the photo, flanked by my sister and brother-in-law on one side, yours truly on the other side and her two grandchildren – my niece and nephew – standing behind her.
Everybody looks perfect. … Yet, I smile sometimes when I think of that day. If the photo were able to talk, you’d know that there was a lot of drama occurring just prior to when it was taken. … My niece didn’t like the way her hair looked. … My nephew had just taken off his sport jacket and his mother insisted that he put it back on. … My brother-in-law was somewhere else talking to somebody. … My mother was beside herself because we wouldn’t tell her what was happening next in her quasi-surprise birthday celebration. … Of course, my sister and I – well, let’s just say we were in the throes of a sibling discussion. … And then all of the sudden, the photographer says “smile” and we have this great photo of what appears to be this problem free, perfect family.
It’s certainly not by accident that in the midst of a season that finds many of us focusing upon our families, the Church offers for our consideration today this wonderful celebration of the Holy Family – Joseph, Mary and the newborn Christ child.
While I’m sure that most of you reflect – as I do – upon how richly blessed we are, all of us – and every family – experience moments of struggle and pain, sadness and joy. Some of us struggle with difficulties in our families born from many and different challenges that have evolved over the years. … Some families are experiencing joy this Christmas season as they celebrated new members – through marriage and birth. … Others are faced with sadness as they confront loss through death, divorce, and members moving away. No family is immune from life – no matter what we might imagine or conclude as we look at others from the outside – as we look at picture perfect photos frozen in time.
And it is because of this deeply human reality that touches every life in this cathedral today that we are given the model of the Holy Family to reflect upon today. … Yes, Joseph, Mary and Jesus provide us with a powerful example of how best to live our lives, one with another in our family settings. … But as we confront the realities of our family experiences, let’s not romanticize the Holy Family but learn from them. For they also remind us, more than we might imagine, of how to find hope in the midst of family challenges and burdens.
Like families of every time and place, they experienced hardship and pain. They faced a difficult and unexpected pregnancy. And in today’s Gospel, they were forced from their home because of the tyrant Herod and became refugees in a foreign land. … But they did something in their lives that becomes a lesson for all of us. They confronted their fears, disappointments and struggles with a deep faith in God and a selfless, sacrificial love that bound them together as a couple and as a family. … And it was their relationship with God rooted in their love for each other that enabled them to confront all of the many challenges of life that unfolded around them with hope.
There’s also something else that we ought not overlook in the Holy Family. Mary and Joseph understood that despite the upheaval of their lives, they weren’t given a pass. It was still their responsibility to work to embrace the great commandment of love in their family. … So too for us, as Christians, despite the challenges that we face in life, we have the same responsibility to make the virtues which Saint Paul outlines in our second reading today our own. … Seek to “put on, as God’s chosen ones … heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience” along with forgiveness, gratitude and enduring love. For brothers and sisters, the more we live these virtues – the more that we are able to embrace the spirit of selfless love and service as shown to us by Jesus – the more that loyalty and respect are nurtured within our lives – the more we will create a healthy, grace-filled context for our families.
Finally, when we fail to meet this ideal – and we will – let’s be wise and humble enough to embrace what lies at the heart of the great feast of Christmas – the forgiveness and love of God, who never tires of providing us with the grace that we need to begin anew our efforts to live the gospel – especially among those closest to us – our families, for whom we give thanks this day.
Pope Francis said it best in a reflection upon the blessing of this great Feast of the Holy Family. “Every Christian family can become a privileged place for experiencing the joy of forgiveness. Forgiveness is the essence of the love which can understand mistakes and mend them. … So let us not lose confidence in the family! … Where there is love, there is also understanding and forgiveness.”
To all of you, dear families,” the Holy Father goes on, “I entrust this important mission of the family which the world and the Church need, now more than ever”.
Previous 2019 Homilies from Bishop Bambera