Homily for Dec. 26, Sunday in the Octave of Christmas: the Feast of the Holy Family
Today is not just the day after Christmas; it’s the Feast of the Holy Family, of Mary, Joseph, and Jesus together, as we see them in Bethlehem.
The Gospel reading shows us right away that the Holy Family was not exempt from difficulties. We already know that it started on the wrong foot, when Joseph found out that Mary was pregnant and suspected that she had been unfaithful. It took an angel’s message to help him understand that Jesus was the Son of God and not the child of infidelity. With that misunderstanding out of the way, Mary and Joseph had to travel to Bethlehem and couldn’t find a place to stay, so they had to spend the night – and give birth to Jesus – in a stable. Then, King Herod was afraid that Jesus will be a political rival and wanted to kill Him; once again, an angel had to intervene to save the day. Only after a time of living as refugees in Egypt were they able to settle in Nazareth again.
But all this hardship didn’t break up the Holy Family; it brought them closer together. They only survived because they were watching out for each other, and were willing to listen to and learn from God and each other. Joseph became a strong husband and father because he was humble, and was able to recognize and respect God’s plan in Mary’s pregnancy and in the messages of the angels. Mary was able to fulfill her role as a mother because she acknowledged God working through Joseph to guide and protect her from the dangers that threatened them. Both Mary and Joseph were united and motivated by their mission to raise Jesus, the Divine Child that God had given them. And Jesus, though the Son of God, Wisdom and Power incarnate, was also a trusting child who – as much as He was able – obeyed His parents and learned from them.
The Holy Family is the model for us to follow. The first and second readings highlight this mutual love, respect, attention, and forgiveness that Mary, Joseph and Jesus lived. They passed through rough times, but were faithful to the end. Family life is difficult even for the ideal family. Not everyone has the model traditional family; often our family histories are more convoluted and messy than we’d like, but we are responsible for doing our best to live up to God’s plan in our own lives, regardless of difficulties.
No matter how we got where we are today, what matters most is that we love and respect each other and are united in God’s grace through prayer and the sacraments. Misunderstandings are to be resolved not through conflict, but through patience, prayer and forgiveness. We need to watch out for each other, to listen to each other, and to respect how God works in our family members, whether in their authority as a parent, their loving insight as a spouse, or their frankness and dependence as a child. We need to give ourselves completely to each other, whether as spouses who need support and communication, as parents to our children with their need for attention, guidance, and legitimate self-determination, or as children to our parents who need our cooperation, respect and contribution to household upkeep.
Let us pray for all families, especially those who are struggling, and for all families who are separated because of work, military service, or discord. May the Holy Family help us all to be our own kind of holy families, united to God and each other.