Reflections for the Feast of Holy Family
Homily starter anecdote: Grandparents are a treasure: Pope Francis said that as a child, he heard a story of a family with a mother, father, many children and a grandfather. The grandfather, suffering from Parkinson’s illness, would drop food on the dining table, and smear it all over his face when he ate. His son considered it disgusting. Hence, one day he bought a and set it off to the side of the dining hall so the grandfather could eat, make a mess and not disturb the rest of the family. One day, the Pope said, the grandfather’s son came home and found one of his sons playing with a “What are you making?” he asked his son. “A table,” the son replies. “Why?” the father asks. “It’s for you, Dad, when you get old like grandpa, I am going to give you this table.” Ever since that day, the grandpa was given a prominent seat at the dining table and all the help he needed in eating by his son and daughter-in-law. “This story has done me such good throughout my life,” said the Pope, who celebrated his birthday on December 17. “Grandparents are a ,” he said. “Often old age isn’t pretty, right? There is sickness and all that, but the wisdom our grandparents have is something we must welcome as an inheritance.” A society or community that does not value, respect and care for its elderly members “doesn’t have a future because it has no memory, it’s lost its memory,” Pope Francis added. (http://www.catholicherald.co.uk/news/2013/11/19/grandparents-are-a-treasure-says-pope-francis/)
Introduction: On the last Sunday of the year, we celebrate the Feast of the Holy Family. We are here to offer all the members of our own families on the altar for God’s blessing.
Scripture lessons summarized: The first reading is a commentary on the fourth commandment: "Honor your father and your mother." Ben Sirach has many good things to say about living properly according to the Torah. Sirach reminds children of their duty to honor their parents – even when it becomes difficult. He also mentions the five-fold reward which God promises to those who honor their father and mother. The first reward is “riches,” and the second is long life: “Whoever reveres his father will live a long life.” Forgiveness of sins and God’s prompt answer to prayers are the fourth and fifth rewards. He reminds children that God blesses them if they obey revere and show compassion to their father. Paul, in the letter to the Colossians, advises us that we should put on love and remain thankful in our relationships with one another. Paul’s advice is part of the "Household Code" – the rules for members of the Christian family. Though its details date to Paul’s time, the underlying message of being careful with one another – attentive, gentle, and merciful – is timeless. Paul teaches that children should learn and practice noble qualities -- like compassion, kindness, forgiveness, and sharing -- in the warmth of the family. In a truly holy family all members are respected, cherished, nurtured, and supported, united in the bond of love. Today’s Gospel describes how Joseph presented Mary and the Child Jesus in the Temple for the ritual of the mother's purification and the Child's "presentation."
Rights and duties of parents and children: Although more emphasis is given in the first two readings on the obligation of children to their parents, there is a profound lesson here for parents too. "Like father like son" is an old saying, and very often true. If the parents fail to do what is right and just in the sight of God, they can hardly complain if their children turn out disobedient to God and to them. The young learn more from example than from precept. If parents give their children the example of a life of obedience to the laws of God and their country, the children will in turn carry out their duties to God, to their parents and to their fellowman.
Exegesis: The context: Today’s Gospel describes the presentation of the Baby Jesus in the Temple. The Feast of the Presentation of Jesus (celebrated formally on February 2), is a combined feast, commemorating the Jewish practice of the purification of the mother after childbirth and the presentation of the Child in the Temple. It is known as the “Hypanthe” feast or Feast of the Purification of Mary (by the offering two pigeons in the Temple), the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord (by prayers and a sacrifice offered in the Temple to redeem or buy the firstborn male child back from the Lord), the Feast of Candlemas (because candles are blessed for liturgical and personal use) and the Feast of Encounter (because the New Testament, represented by the Baby Jesus, encountered the Old Testament, represented by Simeon and Anna).
Purification and redemption ceremonies: The Gospel describes how Joseph, as the head of the Holy Family of Nazareth, presented Mary and the Baby Jesus in the Temple of God for the mother’s purification and the Child’s “redemption.” The Mosaic Law (Numbers 18:15) taught that since every Jewish firstborn male child belonged to Yahweh, the parents had to “buy back” (redeem), the child by offering a lamb or turtledoves as a sacrifice in the Temple. In addition (Leviticus 12:2-8), every mother had to be purified after childbirth by prayers and an offering made to God in the Temple. Joseph kept these laws as an act of obedience to God.
The encounter with Simeon and Anna: By the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, the old, pious and Spirit-filled Simeon and Anna had been waiting in the Temple for the revelation of God’s salvation. Simeon recognized Jesus as the Lord’s anointed one, and in his prayer of blessing he prophesied that Jesus was meant to be the glory of Israel and the light of revelation to the Gentiles. While he blessed Mary, he warned her that her child would be “a sign of contradiction,” and that she would be “pierced with a sword.” Simeon was prophesying both the universal salvation that would be proclaimed by Jesus and the necessity of suffering in the mission of the Messiah.
Influence of the Holy Family on Jesus: We know that the family of Jesus was steeped in Scripture. Mary’s prayer, the Magnificat, is rich in Old Testament quotations. We know that Jesus’ family had a deep life of piety that included pilgrimages and prayer to the angels. Both Mary and Joseph received the guidance of Heaven’s messengers. From Jesus’ adulthood, we can also glimpse the prayer life He learned from His parents. He prayed the morning offering of pious Jews (Mk 12:29-30). He prayed spontaneously. He took time to pray alone. Yet, He also prayed with His friends. Jesus fasted and marked the holy days. All these habits He probably acquired from His home life in Nazareth. We know that work was important to Jesus’ family. In adulthood, Jesus was called not just “Joseph’s son,” but “the carpenter’s son.” Joseph was skilled in a trade that was highly regarded in his day, and he trained Jesus in the same craft. We can conclude from Jesus’ preaching that Mary was industrious and frugal in keeping a house. It was likely from her example that Jesus drew many of His favorite stories: a woman finding just the right cloth to patch a piece of clothing, a woman setting aside leaven for tomorrow’s baking, a widow searching her house for a lost coin. Hard work, struggling to pay the bills, taking long road trips, praying simple devotions — all of this we learn from the real Gospels. (mikeaquilina.com).
Life Messages: 1) We need to learn lessons from the Holy Family: By celebrating the Sunday following Christmas as the Feast of the Holy Family, the Church encourages us to look to the Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph for inspiration, example and encouragement. They were a model family in which both parents worked hard, helped each other, understood and accepted each other, and took good care of their Child so that He might grow up not only in human knowledge but also as a Child of God. Jesus brought holiness to the family of Joseph and Mary as Jesus brings us holiness by embracing us in His family. The Catechism of the Catholic Church gives the following advice to the parents: "Parents have the first responsibility for the education of their children. They bear witness to this responsibility first by creating a home where tenderness, forgiveness, respect, fidelity, and disinterested service are the rule. The home is well-suited for education in the virtues. This requires an apprenticeship in self-denial, sound judgment, and self-mastery - the preconditions of all true freedom. Parents should teach their children to subordinate the 'material and instinctual dimensions to interior and spiritual ones.'" The CCC adds: “Parents have a grave responsibility to give good example to their children.” (CCC #2223).
2) Marriage: a Sacrament of holiness. The Feast of the Holy Family reminds us that, as the basic unit of the universal Church, each family is called to holiness. In fact, Jesus Christ has instituted two Sacraments in His Church to make society holy – the Sacrament of priesthood and the Sacrament of marriage. Through the Sacrament of priesthood, Jesus sanctifies the priest as well as his parish. Similarly, by the Sacrament of marriage, Jesus sanctifies not only the spouses but also the entire family. The husband and wife attain holiness when they discharge their duties faithfully, trusting in God, and drawing on the presence and power of the Holy Spirit through personal and family prayer, meditative reading of the Bible, and devout participation in Holy Mass. Families become holy when Christ Jesus is present in them. Jesus becomes truly present in the parish Church through the Sacrifice of the Holy Mass. Similarly, Jesus becomes truly present in a family when all the members live in the Christian spirit of sacrifice. This happens when there is mutual understanding, mutual support and mutual respect. There must be proper care and respect given by children to their parents and grandparents, even after they have grown up and left home.
3) We need to make the family a confessional rather than a courtroom. A senior Judge of the Supreme Court recently congratulated the bride and groom in a marriage with a pertinent piece of advice: “See that you never convert your family into a courtroom; instead let it be a confessional. If the husband and wife start arguing like attorneys in an attempt to justify their behavior, their family becomes a court of law and nobody wins. On the other hand, if the husband and the wife -- as in a confessional -- are ready to admit their faults and try to correct them, the family becomes a Heavenly one.” Thus, we can avoid the dangers we watch in dysfunctional families as presented on TV in the shows like Married with Children, The Simpson’s, Everyone Loves Raymond and Malcolm in the Middle.
4) Every Holy Mass in which we participate is our presentation. Although we were officially presented to God on the day of our Baptism, we present ourselves and our dear ones on the altar before God our Father through our Savior Jesus Christ at every Holy Mass. Hence, we need to live our daily lives with the awareness both that we are dedicated people consecrated to God and that we are obliged and empowered by His grace to lead holy lives.
5) Let us extend the boundaries of our family: The homeless man or woman today in the streets of big cities, fighting the cold and the snow, is part of our family. The drug addict in a den, or living in fear and aloneness this day, is member of our family. The sick person, dying, alone, dirty and maybe even obnoxious, is a member of our family. The person sitting in the prison cell for whatever reason is also a child of God, and as such, according to St. John, is a member of our family. All these, as well as the cherished intimate members of our family, are “family valuables,” and, as such, are worthy of safekeeping and reverence.
On the Feast of the only perfect Family that ever lived on this earth, all parents might examine themselves and see how well they are fulfilling the grave responsibility which God has placed on them. As they heard during their marriage ceremony: "children are a gift from God to you." Children serve as the joy of their parents’ young years and the help and comfort of their old age, but above and beyond that, they are a gift for which their parents are accountable before God, as they must, in the end, return these, His children, to Him. Let us pray for the grace of caring for one another in our own families, for each member of the parish family, and for all families of the universal Church. May God bless all our families in the New Year. (Fr. Antony Kadavil).