The following is a reprint of the Homily given by Deacon Rusty Baldwin, on the feast of the Holy Family, Jan. 28, 2014.
Holy Family Sunday (2014)
“No one is without a family in the world…”
Deacon Rusty Baldwin – Emmanuel Catholic Church, Dayton OH
Merry Christmas! It’s most appropriate to wish you a very Merry Christmas for Christmas doesn’t end on Dec 25… The Church has deemed that the joy of the feast of Christmas can’t be contained in a single day so we have the Octave of Christmas, the Mass of Christ has been extended to 8 days to celebrate and rejoice that Our Lord has come to us! The so-called 12 days Christmas takes us from evening of Dec. 24th to the Epiphany of Our Lord when the Magi came and worshiped at the feet of Jesus. But even that doesn’t end the Christmas season! In fact, the season of Christmas runs through the Baptism of Our Lord, the 11th of Jan.
And today, Holy Family Sunday, falls within the Octave of Christmas. It is officially known as The Feast of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph. And so naturally I’ll be talking about the Holy Family but also about what it means to be a holy family.
Now, there is so much that could be said about the Holy Family – I mean, think of it, 3 saints living together under one roof! And not just any saints, but 3 saints from the same family. A family the likes of which the world had never seen before and will never see again! But when it comes to the Holy Family, in one sense, I feel a particular closeness to and have a certain sympathy for St. Joseph. Sympathy, why in the world is that? Well it’s been said that the only thing harder than becoming a saint is living with one! And Joseph, though a saint himself, lived with Jesus who it just so happened was also God, the second person of the Holy Trinity, and with the BVM, also a saint of course, who just so happened to be the Mother of God, to say nothing of her being immaculately conceived.
But my sympathy for St. Joseph is not because he shared a home with Jesus and Mary, that would literally be heaven on earth would it not? It’s because of what I imagine a day in the life of St. Joseph must have been like being the only one in the house who suffered from the stain of original sin like you and me, meaning he also had to strive to overcome his imperfections and human weaknesses on a daily basis just like you and me, but with a twist. He lived with two people who were free of any imperfections and didn’t succumb to any human weaknesses.
And given Saint Joseph’s all too human condition, it would not be unreasonable, nor irreverent to assume that he, on occasion, did succumb to human weakness. Nothing big, mind you, after all St. Joseph is a saint! But let’s consider a particular hypothetical scenario. Suppose it was between meals and St. Joseph was hungry. He saw the fig jar sitting there in the kitchen (they didn’t have cookie jars in Nazareth), in it were figs that Mary kept there for guests and only for guests. Now St. Joseph knew this but decided to have a fig anyway – the last fig as it turns out. And of course a guest does come over and Mary, being the consummate hostess (she always kept her house immaculate) goes to get them a fig only now there aren’t any. Now, is Mary going look over at Jesus reprovingly? No. Is Jesus going to look at Mary reprovingly? No. Is the guest going to look at either Jesus or Mary? No, because everyone knows Joseph took the fig! Who else could it have been when everyone else in the house was literally perfect? I mean, St. Joseph’s situation is not unlike being an only child – it doesn’t take too much detective work to figure out who got out the toys and didn’t put them away. So in that sense, I have some sympathy for St. Joseph.
And in some ways, it’s somewhat hard to relate to the Holy Family isn’t it? For one thing, there aren’t any families out there like them – they are singularly unique in all of history. Furthermore, as parents I think we can all raise our hands and confess we’re no St. Joseph or Mary; and our kids probably aren’t anything like Jesus; or perhaps we don’t have kids; or perhaps there are other differences I’m sure we could think of. But the Church didn’t put Holy Family Sunday on the calendar so we would feel inadequate, but rather so that we could see how a faith-filled family responds to life – real life. For I would submit to you that despite the fact that there are differences between our families and the Holy Family, the differences are not as great as we may think… The Holy Family underwent both the joys and challenges that come with raising a family in the world. But the Holy Family also underwent intense persecution, not only from the government who literally was trying to kill their infant son, but they also endured ridicule and gossip about the circumstances of Mary’s pregnancy, they endured unfounded rumors and spiteful comments because they believed – they believed what God told them through the Archangel Gabriel. They moved several times, sometimes on a moment’s notice, leaving all their possessions behind, and it may well be, we are not entirely sure, that St. Joseph died early in Jesus’ life meaning Jesus may have grown up in a home without a father from a relatively young age. And then Mary, now a widow, had her only son taken from her by an unjust and corrupt court system who was more than willing sacrifice an innocent man to pacify an elite religious ruling class who envied and despised him. So maybe the Holy Family isn’t so different from ours after all. They faced tragedy like our families do, Jesus may well have grown up without a father like some of our children grow up without a father, a mother, or maybe even both, and they lived everyday life with its joys as well as its troubles like our families do. What the Holy Family shows us, one of the many things they show us, is how saints support each other in the midst of the joys and the tragedies of life.
But you know, despite many of us being Catholics our entire lives, despite all we know about our faith, many of us still have a completely “wonky” view of what a saint is; of how we become saint; and what it really takes for our family to become a holy family. (By the way, wonky is a one of those technical theological terms…) I mean, some think a saint is someone who is completely detached from the real world, they attend 3 Masses a day, saint’s kids are almost perfect, their younger children willingly come to those three daily Masses and sit quietly with their hands in their lap. The kids of a saint NEVER have to go to the restroom during Mass. Their older kids and the spouse of this heroic saint of our imagination all skip lunch every day and attend noon Mass together as a family. They never get angry, frustrated or bored with each other and when the kids are not studying (they are all straight-A honors students, of course) or eagerly doing their chores, they are going around the neighborhood collecting food and clothing to donate to St. Vincent de Paul. Not only that, but the whole family (kids included) decided to spend one hour a night for the next 3 years studying Greek and Latin together so they could read and discuss the Great Books curriculum in the original languages! That’s not reality. That’s not the family you grew up in, nor is it the family you live in now and it never will be. So let’s stop bemoaning the fact that our family is not one that only exists in our overzealous imaginations. Let’s stop imagining what a holy family is and be open to what our faith tells us a holy family really is.
You see, God put us in the family we are in not because it was holy already, but so that we, as a member of that family could be part of making it a holy family by becoming holy ourselves. St. Joseph was a member of the Holy Family because that’s what was best for Jesus and Mary AND for Saint Joseph. God knew Mary and Jesus needed a man of integrity and courage like St. Joseph. But St. Joseph wasn’t born a saint. It was what the Holy Family went through that made St. Joseph the saint we venerate today – the patron saint of the Universal Church. And you know what? That same principle applies to you and me. YOU LIVE IN the family that can help you become holy, and that you can help make a holy family… But we have to cooperate with God’s grace – and this cooperation does not mean the road will be easy. But it is within the family that we have a unique opportunity to minister to each other, to live out the grace of our baptism, to exercise the priesthood of the baptized that we all share. And, yes, it may well call for heroic sacrifice. The Catechism of the Catholic Church puts it this way:
It is [in the family] … that the father …, the mother, [the] children, and all members of the family exercise the priesthood of the baptized in a privileged way … [It is in the family that] one learns endurance and the joy of work, [learns] fraternal love, [learns] generous – even repeated – forgiveness, and above all [learns what] … the offering of one’s life [means].
Notice that the Catechism used the word learns – it’s not something we are born with. It takes effort and doesn’t necessarily come to us naturally. And the Church also realizes that we live in a fallen world and it is families that too often suffer the effects of this brokenness. And as members of the Church we have a solemn duty to reach out in love to those in difficult situations. Again from the Catechism:
Those who because of particular circumstances – often not of their own choosing – [are separated from their families; these] … are especially close to Jesus’ heart and therefore deserve the special affection … of the Church. The doors of homes, … and of the great family which is the Church must be open to all of them.”
But sadly, in our world today, there are also those who would try to make the family something optional, or even turn it into something it is not, a mere human construct that can be “re-imagined” or manipulated to be whatever they want it to be. But we know as Christians that the family was ordained by God as the place where parents are entrusted with His children. Precious souls that are both begotten for Him and that we as their parents are to prepare for an eternity with Him. The family, therefore, precedes and supersedes any mere human institution both in its divine origins and its divine purpose. But since this runs counter to the world, we should not be surprised that the family as God intended it, like Jesus, has become a “sign of contradiction” – something the world doesn’t understand, something that stands in opposition to the wisdom of the age, in opposition to the prince of this world, and it is not an exaggeration to say that the family today has demonic forces arrayed against it. But we also know without a doubt that He who is in us is greater than he who is in the world.
Let me conclude with a final quote about families from the Catechism that is especially important in a world where so many families suffer from broken relationships or find themselves in heart-breaking circumstances.
“No one is without a family in this world.” Let me repeat that, “No one is without a family in this world.” The Church is a home and family for everyone, [and most] especially [for] those who ‘labor and are heavy laden.’
“No one is without a family in this world.” God Bless!