Father THOMAS IDERGARD SJ
Homily for the Feast of the Holy Family
Year B: Genesis 15:1-6, 21:1-3; Ps 27; Colossians 3:12-21; Luke 2:22-40
St. Eugenia Catholic Church, Stockholm (English Mass)
Dear sisters and brothers in Christ,
Born into the world in a human nature, the Son of God became part of a natural, human family, the Holy Family. In his divine nature, however, he is part of the supernatural, divine family of the Holy Trinity. Baptism gives us the entrance ticket to a life in grace, i.e. as partakers of the life of Christ’s eternal family. This life is fulfilled beyondtime, but starts already here in time, where we also are part of at least one natural, human family.
The Church connects our two family belongings. Established and authorized by Christ, she gives the concrete form of our membership in the supernatural, divine family. During 2000 years now, all visible attributes and signs of Christ’s Church – above all the office of unity of St. Peter and the seven sacraments – have been preserved and fully realized in the Catholic Church, as the Second Vatican Council so clearly states. This gives us Catholics a certain responsibility; towards other Christians, to work for a full Christian unity under Peter and to firmly stand by the traditional, unchanged and definitive teaching, handed down from the apostles, also when other Christians falter under the weight of worldly ideologies; and towards the world, by an unceasing mission wherever the Gospel and its implications for a life of faith must be proclaimed.
Through Christ’s presence in her teaching and seven sacraments, the Church helps us to stepwise see our lives and the world as Jesus Christ does. I.e. to understand that our lives are not about us, but about us discovering our role in God’s plan and by our free will organizing our lives accordingly. This effects the way we build up, care for and live in our human families, as well as the way we look at families in general. Helped by the order God has established in creation and confirmed in the Incarnation.
God as man had one mother and one father living together in life long respect and love, thus showing what every child has the right to, an order settled in human nature. We Christians are obliged to show the same love to families, which for various reasons do not match this plan. Many do not, particularly in this part of the world. It is e.g. a severe sin to discriminate against a child for family patterns chosen by the parents. But we must not be silent about what God would wish for every child, a knowledge, by the way, also accessible through psychological science. We have no obligation whatsoever to kneel before, actively sympathize with, every life style that the powerful – politicians, media and elite opinions – want us to view as perfect replacements to God’s unambiguous and revealed wish for every child, and his and her human flourishing.
Our Blessed Virgin Mary did not see the child in her womb as a part of her body, and St. Joseph did not demand to “have” his “own” child. The Infant Jesus was seen as he truly was: a human person, with a name and a vocation in God’s mind already at his conception. Just like every child is, everywhere. In the Gospel passage, we heard the story of the Presentation of our Lord. The prescribed sacrifice in the temple was a symbolic expression of parents acknowledging a truth stated by Israel’s law in the Old Covenant: a child is a gift from God – not a right for, and a confirmation of, adults – and therefore ultimately belongs to God. With the New and eternal covenant, every child partakes in the consecration of Infant Jesus through the Sacrament of baptism.
We constantly hear from the secular choirs, outside and inside of the Church, that the Catholic Church needs to “modernize” its teaching on life, marriage and family; adjust it to current trends and ideas, which of course themselves soon will be “unmodern”. But the Church will never do this. She cannot. Truth does not change with fashion and opinions about it. God’s truth is established in nature and fully illuminated by his revelation. Things are not true because the Church teaches them. The Church teaches things because they are true. Her task is to lead people to salvation by proclaiming the truth, and mercifully help them to take steps on the path towards an increasingly realization of truth in their lives, albeit a life-long project also with setbacks on the way for many. Precisely because her mission is love, the Church can never hesitate about, or water down, the direction and end goal of every human being. To which everyone of course is free to respond. But no-one can demand of the Church to be silent.
Let us never forget that we are in the midst of a spiritual battle. The battle for our souls becomes flesh, as it were, in a battle for our bodies. Sister Lucia, one of the three children witnessing the apparations of Virgin Mary at Fatima, in Portugal 1917, prophesized that the final battle between the Lord and the kingdom of Satan will be about marriage and family. Speaking with Pope St. John Paul II, the traditional family is the supporting pillar of creation displaying the truth of the relationship between man and woman, between the generations. If this pillar is damaged, the entire building collapses, which we already experience. Make sure to be on the right side in this battle.
Dear sisters and brothers! Every family is called to holiness through trust. In the first reading from the Book of Genesis, we heard about Abraham, our father in faith, as role model in trust in God. Its basis is the insight that we exist because of nothing in ourselves, but as pure gift unto ourselves and each other, and that our lives only can be fulfilled by expressing the will of the giver. This is not feeling happy, but being happy. Being with God. Who through the death and resurrection of his Son has overcome all the darkness, suffering, pain and ultimately death of our lives here, however happy, and who wants to lead us to eternal life with him. If we only allow him to; listen to him, which is to obey him; trust him, so that we can say with today’s responsorial psalm: “whom shall I fear … of whom shall I be afraid?”.
A family guided by trust in God becomes a “little Church”, i.e. a “training camp” for faith and self-giving love. That love, which seeks what is best for the other, for the sake of the other; and which, so clearly showed in the second reading from the Letter to the Colossians, has to be practiced in the family, in order to be practiced in the Church and the world. Strengthened by an active and regular participation in the sacramental life of the Church, common prayer, common daily Bible study, even if short, and every day catechesis, where parents and grandparents explain the Catholic faith to the children, every human family can become a gateway to the universal Church and therethrough to our eternal family. Amen.