Several months ago I made a trip to Chicago as part of a Paulist board investigating whether Chicago Theological Union would be a good location for the formation of Paulist seminarians. It certainly would be, but that is not why I bring this up. Rather, while I was there chatting with several of the theology professors I discovered a curious fact which I had not known. It is this: In Catholic Social teaching the basic unit is the family. The basic, fundamental unit of society is the family. Isn’t that amazing?
Being an American, and something of an individualist to boot, I had always assumed that the basic unit of society was the individual. The single, solitary, person. But it makes perfect sense, given Catholicism’s emphasis on the interconnectedness of all things and the communal nature of reality, that the basic unit of society, and hence of rights, is the family.
Fascinating! I mention this of course because today we celebrate the Feast of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph. Even though our society doesn’t always fully recognize it, families are so very important. So today we want to recognize and emphasize that importance. Like the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph, every Christian family is called to be a holy family, which is to say a family where Jesus is truly present and active.
These days the Church seems to be taking the family more seriously. We have just had an extraordinary synod of bishops on the family. It met in Rome in October, and if you followed the news stories about it you will remember that extraordinary things were said about families at that synod. Especially about families that experience divorce and remarriage, and families that have gay and lesbian members, and even same sex couple families. It was truly an extraordinary synod.
And that is not all. It will be followed this coming October by another “ordinary” synod of bishops, again on the subject of the family, and I would not be surprised if that synod too is extraordinary.
Then next September Pope Francis is coming to the United States, to Philadelphia. Why? To get a good Philly cheesesteak sandwich? No. He is coming to attend the 8th World Meeting of FAMILIES! Maybe a family from our parish will go to Philadelphia to meet the Pope?
So the Church is paying a lot of attention to families, and addressing many of the pressures, problems and social developments that affect families. There are many different forms of families today: traditional families, empty nester families, single parent families, blended families, same-sex families, and many other permutations. Families face pressures from economic stress, changing gender roles, migration, war and refugee issues, from unrealistic and too many expectations, and many other issues. Families need help.
In the face of all these pressures and challenges, all families are called to be holy families. What made the first Holy Family genuinely holy was the presence of Jesus. So today, it is the presence of Jesus in any family that makes it holy. In any family where there is genuine compassion, care, respect, support, forgiveness, understanding and love, that is a holy family. Even if that a family does not fit a perfect ideal, it is still a holy family. And any family that is torn by dissention, jealousy, mean-spiritedness, power-plays and hard heartedness, even if they had their wedding in the Vatican with three octogenarian cardinals and are prominent in their local parish, that is not a holy family.
Families are very, very important. They either greatly help us to grow, or they can block and hinder us. We don’t choose our families. We have to play the hand we are dealt. I was very fortunate and grew up in a stable, warm, supportive and loving family. It should be like that for everyone. But in my business I also see that far too many families are not at all ideal, and some are downright destructive and evil.
While the Church recognizes the great importance of families and supports families as best it can, Jesus also radically relativizes the importance of the family of birth. In the third chapter of St. Mark’s Gospel a rather curious thing happens when Jesus is preaching in a packed house. Jesus’ Mother and brothers show up wanting to see Him, waiting outside. The crowd in the house tells Jesus that “Your mother and brothers and sisters are outside asking for you.” Jesus “looking at those who sat around him said ‘Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.’”
Jesus radically changes the whole meaning of family. In addition to the human families we are born into, we are also invited into a new family, indeed into a familial relationship with Jesus. His followers, His disciples, form a new family as Jesus’ mother and brothers and sisters. All of us are invited into that special, familial relationship with Jesus. This – right here - is the Holy Family, because this is where Jesus is proclaimed, listened to, sought after, and where in faith Jesus is to be found.
Our call, to every one of us, is to be that Holy Family of Jesus, just like Mary and Joseph were so long ago and so far away.
By our Baptism we have been reborn into that other, much larger, and much much holier family, the family of Jesus. [Today at this Mass we welcome into that holy family SAT 5 = Henry Alan Hodges and Cole Bruce Johnson. SUN 7:30 None
SUN 9:00 = Torin Joseph Michaels
SUN 11:30 = Tatyana Miranda Anatalio SUN 5:30 = ?]
Today as we celebrate the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph, we are also celebrating our call to be a holy family, a place where Jesus can truly be found. Happy Feast Day!