1 Sam 1:20-22ff; Ps 128; 1 Jn 3:1-2ff; Lk 2:41-52
Each year, on the Sunday after Christmas, we celebrate the feast of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph. This last Sunday of the calendar year allows us to reflect on the importance of the family and helps us, as we prayed in our opening prayer “that we may imitate them in practicing the virtues of family life and in the bonds of charity.” Jesus Himself thought it worthwhile to spend 30 (of His 33) years on earth in the context of a family, thereby sanctifying family life by His presence. And while the gospels are almost entirely silent about these years, the silence speaks volumes. Jesus, Mary, and Joseph were faithful to their ordinary work and family obligations. Today’s gospel about the finding of Jesus in the temple is the only event that breaks the silence. Here Jesus gives us a glimpse of his total consecration to a mission that flows from his divine sonship (CCC534). In asking, “Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?”, Jesus shows by example that the will of the Father must come before all else.
So on this special feast day, let’s consider the roles of each family member and try to shore up the defenses of the family, because society is built upon marriage and the family. First, men and women are different. Yes, they are equal, but they’re complementary, meaning they complete and mutually support one another. Therefore, the roles of husband and wife within the family are equally important, but not the same thing. St. Paul wrote, “Husbands, love your wives as Christ loved the Church and gave Himself up for her to sanctify her” (Eph 5:25). Notice “sacrifice” in order to “sanctify” or “make holy.” Christ loved the Church that much (crucifix). A real man never objectifies a woman, but always loves and serves her as Christ does the Church. JPII: “God assigns as a duty to every man the dignity of every woman” (Audience: 11/24/1982). A husband is called to exercise headship over his family. This authority is directed toward service, not domination, because “to be a father means to be at the service of life and growth” (Benedict XVI). But a husband can lead with authority, only if he has first submitted to God’s authority. And since this authority over the family comes from God, then a husband must imitate the love that Christ has for his Church. This means that a husband will take charge by becoming the spiritual leader of his home, praying with his wife and children, and sacrificing for them, whatever the cost. Jesus came not to be served, but to serve, and to give his life for others (Mt 20:28). And every man here is called to this same heroic sacrifice.
We have to distinguish between “vocation” and “career.” A vocation is a calling from God, for example, to be a husband and father. It’s also a path to holiness. A career, on the other hand, is something that helps us to fulfill our vocation. But it can’t—I repeat, it can’t—replace one’s vocation. Your wife and children need a provider, yes. But even more, they need a protector. And a protector is present, both physically and emotionally, to those he protects. Although many work long hours, we can’t use that as an excuse to avoid the duties of home and family life. Jesus lived a life of manual labor, so work can make us holy, as long as Jesus is present to us amid our labors. But our work shouldn’t take us away from focusing on the overall well-being of the family, which involves so much more than just bringing home a paycheck.
On the other hand, the Christian wife should reflect the Church itself, in its obedience to Christ. This is why wives should love and honor their husbands, in the deepest meaning of those words. If the husband is called to be the head of the family, then the wife is the heart. One isn’t more important than the other, because head and heart are both necessary to the proper functioning of the body. And head and heart must be in frequent communication if the body is to flourish. Women have the beautiful example in Our Lady, who “kept all these things in her heart” (Lk 2:51). Mary is a model of contemplation, because she was always pondering the life and actions of Jesus as she went about her daily duties. You who are wives and mothers can keep this same outlook, even in the midst of what seems to be very ordinary details of daily life, whether that be inside or outside the home. It’s ok if you’re only doing ordinary work for an ordinary family, because the Holy Family lived the same way! They seemed to be ordinary, but they lived extraordinary holiness. So your vocation within your family also, is a path to holiness—a path to sainthood—as long as Jesus is present to you each day.
A word of encouragement to spouses and parents: keep on fighting the good fight! Make your home a place where holiness and virtue are lived. The family is meant to mirror the life of God, who is a community of Persons bound together in love. In our first reading, Hannah dedicated her son, Samuel, to the Lord. Dedicate your children to the Lord through baptism. Baptism should take place within the first weeks after the baby’s birth, not when it’s more convenient for a family reunion. We want to give the child the grace of God as soon as possible. Dedicate them to God by bringing them to Mass each Sunday. (It’s good to see so many children here!). My mom always said that in church, you can keep young children still or quiet, but not both…and sometimes neither. But keep on bringing them. The family is the domestic Church, and the parents are primary educators of their children, not only in the ways of knowledge and virtue, but especially in the ways of faith. So pray with your children every day! Bless them, perhaps by tracing the cross on their forehead each night. The daily family rosary is a wonderful way to gather the family in prayer. Above all, the Christian family is meant to be a school of discipleship, where sacrificial love and virtue abound. A father, mother, and children are reverential and supportive of one another, despite their various roles and duties. And the Holy Family should be the model for our families, because they live out holiness within the family, especially in their silence, their joy, and their sacrificial love for each other.
A word to the children and young people here: remember that your parents have given you several things that you can never repay: the gift of life, the gift of faith, and if you have siblings, that’s another gift as well, even if that’s not apparent right now. And that’s why St. Paul once wrote, “Children, obey your parents in everything, for this is pleasing to the Lord” (Col 3:20). Jesus perfectly obeyed the fourth commandment, as we heard in the gospel: “Jesus went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them.” So pray for your parents every day, love and care for them no matter what their age, and always show your gratitude to them for giving you these tremendous gifts.
Sr. Lucia, one of the visionaries at Fatima in 1917, said, “The decisive battle between the Lord and the kingdom of Satan will be over marriage and the family.” Isn’t that abundantly clear today? Since the devil can’t conquer God, his greatest attack is on the image of God (human beings). And we look out at our world and see many grave challenges facing the family: sex outside of marriage, which is common among people of all ages; rebellious children; artificial contraception, which undermines the true love of a man and a woman; broken homes and marriages; video games and other media which are dividing families even within their own homes. We won’t solve all these problems overnight. But we can begin with our own families, by ensuring that that our home is a place where God is loved and obeyed, first of all by us. Obedience to God’s commands will promote peace within the family. God’s plan for the family is: one man and one woman, in a permanent and faithful relationship that’s open to children. Period. Exclamation point! Will this involve sacrifice? Yes. But this sacrificial love isn’t just for the harmony of the family or the good of society, as important as that is. It’s done out of reverence for Jesus Christ! So if we’re wondering how to become holy, both as individuals and within our family, let’s ponder the Holy Family of Nazareth and imitate their faith, hope, and love, so that all our families might become a holy family.