C Cycle – Feast of the Holy Family 21
I remember the first time a homily on this feast day caught my attention and created a desire in me to be a better husband and father. It was not so much the words of the homily that created that desire because my mind went elsewhere right after I heard the words – the church holds up the Holy Family as a model for all families.
The thought that the family I grew up in or the family Anne and I were becoming could be anything like the family of Joseph, Mary and Jesus seemed to be a good ideal but far from possible. After all Mary was specifically prepared for her role in salvation history. God specifically chose Joseph to be the earthly father of Jesus and the husband of Mary. Jesus was the incarnate God come to earth, who experienced everything we experience on earth but never sinned or doubted God was with him.
It has been many years since that day and as the years went on there was a growing realization that this feast is a window to God’s plan for us to grow in wisdom and grace as Jesus did in those years in Nazareth.
It begins with a desire to share your life with someone else in a self-sacrificing love. It begins with man and a woman falling in love and desiring to share your life with them, the highs and lows, the joys and sorrows, all things revealed and shared. No thoughts or emotion are withheld from each other, all thoughts, emotions, fears, longings, dreams, and desires are shared and revealed. From our openness with each other as husband and wife we should begin to grasp that is exactly what God desires us to experience that same intimacy with him.
What we often fail to grasp is how God desires a deeper intimacy with us and desires to heal all we lacked from our family’s inability to love us as we needed to be loved. His desire is to turn our sorrow into joy, our fear into boldness, and our longings to be satisfied by his changing our hearts. The truth is we think we know what God desires most from us. On that day listening to that homily, I thought I had to somehow become holy which was not possible for I did not know how to become holy. I could become religious but not holy for holiness is an interior change while being religious is an exterior change.
It is amazing looking back because I failed to grasp something I did not know was part of God’s plan all along for each of us. That understanding took more than a decade for me to understand and open myself to receive. It is simple when you think about it, but it is a spiritual truth we see in the scriptures and in the Holy Family. It all begins by a surrender of self to God. Yes, Mary was specifically prepared from her conception for her role in salvation history, but when the time came, she had to say yes to God’s plan for her. God specifically chose Joseph to be the spouse of Mary. Joseph was shocked by the news of her pregnancy decided to quietly divorce her to protect her from the law. But God spoke to him, and he surrendered to God’s plan.
Jesus, we know submitted to God’s plan for our redemption and came to earth completely dependent on Mary and Joseph for his survival. If you think about it Joseph and Mary, like any other parents taught Jesus how to eat, drink, dress himself, play ball, comb his hair, read, write, and lessons of life. Parents are the first teachers of their children in the faith and God’s plan for families is we are to be the first teachers of our children. We provide a foundation of what they know about God’s love and mercy. We may make sure they go to PSR or to Catholic schools, but our role is to do more than that we are to continue to teach our children by our example and by our words.
Our homes should be a refuge from the world’s influences which are teaching our children a different lesson and it is not one of loving God and neighbor.
Families are God’s plan for us to learn how to give of ourselves by how to pay attention to the needs of other rather than ourselves. Families are where we learn to depend on God and to pray, even to listen beyond the noise and chaos of family life to promptings of God as he guides us. The model the church intended to have us grasp is the family life, not the holiness of either Mary of Joseph. It is our interaction with each other in our daily living which has a bigger impact on our children than anything else we do.
Let me speak for a minute to the fathers and grandfathers. Joseph was a key figure in those early years of Christ’s life in Egypt and Nazareth. We all know and easily see Mary’s primary virtue was her absolute faith and trust in God. Joseph’s virtue was also his faith and trust in God, although like a typical man it came later than it should have. Joseph’s first impulse was to divorce Mary. All that changed when he had his moment of annunciation as the angel spoke to him in a dream. We also know Joseph was a man of great integrity because he was unwilling to expose Mary to shame and punishment due for her for conceiving a child.
As men we tend to leave the spiritual lives our children up to our wives and I know I certainly did. We fail to grasp the importance of our role in their spiritual and their emotional development. We fail to realize it is how we show them our love we are teaching them about God’s love. By our own interpretations and adherence to the laws, ethics, moral codes we should live by we are teaching them it is ok to bend the rules just do not get caught. By our lack of prayer, reading scripture, avoiding opportunities for spiritual growth because we are men after all, we are designed to be warriors, protectors and strong. Somehow, we leave a key element of our role in the family to our wives. for more earthly things. By our spiritual absence we are teaching our children other things are more important than following God’s plan for our happiness.
The simple truth is, Joseph would have had led the family in prayer three times a day. He would have brought Jesus with him to study the Torah and talked with him about things God wanted us to know about our role as people he has called his own. He and Jesus would have interacted in the carpentry shop, in the home and they would have talked about the call of God to follow him.
The truth is family life is designed to be the foundation of a life of joy, peace, and a certain knowledge that God is always with us and desires to open our hearts to be embraced as his children, It is the place where we encounter love, forgiveness and a desire to discover our own gifts and talents given to us by God. That my brothers and sisters is the work of a family united in its desire to discover God’s heart.