Father THOMAS IDERGARD SJ
Homily for the Feast of the Holy Family
Year C: 1 Samuel 1:20-22, 24-28; Ps 84; 1 John 3:1-2, 21-24; Luke 2:41-52
St. Eugenia Catholic Church, Stockholm (English Mass)
Dear sisters and brothers in Christ,
In today’s gospel we heard twelve-years-old Jesus teach Our Blessed Virgin and St. Joseph and thereby us about our membership in two families, and how they relate through him, his mission and person. As part of the Holy family, Jesus is indeed part of an earthly, natural family. But being of divine nature, he is also part of the heavenly and supernatural family of the Holy Trinity. His answer to Virgin Mary’s scolding simply says that they should have known where to find him, i.e. in the Temple; his Father’s house.
Tending to his “Father’s affairs”, Jesus’s main focus is the salvation of souls, i.e. our sharing in God’s eternal life through him. The structure of the story with the missing Jesus also points at the sole task for which he was born: it is on the third day, after having missed him and surely been plagued by his absence, that Mary and Joseph find him again.
Through baptism, where we become Jesus’s sisters and brothers, i.e. God’s children as we heard in our second reading from the First letter of St. John, we are made members of Jesus’s supernatural family. This indicates that also we are called to store up the words of Jesus in our hearts, like we heard the Blessed Virgin do. I.e. to allow them to enter our lives and to increasingly become their centre; to order everything in our lives, to prioritize, aim at and act according to God’s will.
Because what we understand by the example of the Holy family is that our lives are not about us, not dependent upon our achievements and thus our deficiencies. No, instead our lives are about us discovering our role in God’s plan and organizing them accordingly. This does not only make life profoundly exciting, life also receives its true meaning. And meaning is what each one ultimately seeks.
The Church is our help in this. Established and authorized by Jesus Christ, she gives the concrete form of our membership in the supernatural, universal and divine family. Through Christ’s presence in her sacraments and teaching, the Church helps us to stepwise see our lives and the world as Jesus Christ does. This definitely includes the way we perceive the earthly family.
God became man in a real family. Thereby he in a particular way has sanctified the nuclear family, i.e. mother, father and child. Through the Holy family God is both normative and norm breaking. Normative, because God as man had one mother and one father living together in respect and love, thus showing what every child has the right to, what is God’s plan settled in human nature.
We Christians are obliged to show the same love and to give the same support when needed to families, which for various reasons do not match this plan. Because many do not, particularly in this country and part of the world. No child must e.g. ever be discriminated against for his or her family relationships. This would be a severe sin.
But a Christian cannot partake in the make-believe game of our contemporary, secular culture, claiming that the best for a child in fact would be something else than what God so clearly has shown he wants for every child as conditions for human flourishing, through his choice of form for his arrival in this world: One mother and one father who equally complement, not compete with, each other; who honour both “for better” and “for worse” in the marital vows, and not only the first part; staying together the whole life also when things are tough; and with a total openness to new life. If we cannot stand up for this as God’s first choice, although unfortunately not possible for all to have, as culture demands our kneeling before totally different ideas and ideals, we do not obey the will of God.
The Holy family’s breaking of contemporary, humanly created norms, is that Virgin Mary did not think of the child in her womb as a part of her body, and that St. Joseph did not demand to “have” his “own” child. Furthermore, the Infant Jesus was regarded as a human person, with a name and a vocation in God’s mind already at his conception. Just like Samuel whom we heard of in our first reading from the First book of Samuel. And just like every child, everywhere. Contrary to the norms of our time, God wants us to see every child as a gift, and not a right for, a confirmation of, adults.
Trust is the key to every family’s call to holiness. God becomes a little child, i.e. the cause of the universe entrusts himself into the hands of humans. Our Blessed Virgin and St. Joseph, on their part, trust in God’s ways as they are revealed to them, although they do not fully understand them. This trust comes from the insight that we exist because of nothing in ourselves, but that our existence is a pure gift unto ourselves and each other, and therefore only can be fulfilled, and thus happy, by expressing the will of the giver.
With the trust in God and the insight of being gift, every family can become a “little Church”, i.e. the place where we are trained in that self-giving love, which is divine. That love, which does not ask for returns or count costs, but wants what is the best for the other, for the sake of the other.
Common prayer, daily Bible reading with the children, Sunday Mass-attendance and an everyday life characterized by the pursuit of the common good of the family, are important pillars for the sanctification of the family and its development into a little Church. A little Church increasingly busy with the “Father’s affairs” and becoming more and more a “dwelling place” of the Lord, as our responsorial psalm today puts it; a gateway to the universal Church and therethrough to our heavenly, eternal family.