In this wonderful homily for the Feast of the Holy Family, Year C, Father talks about the importance of the family.
Readings for Mass
First Reading: Sirach 3:2-6, 12-14
Responsorial Psalm: Psalms 128:1-2, 3, 4-5
Second Reading: Colossians 3:12-21
Gospel: Luke 2:41-52
Recording of Gospel
Recording of Homily
Transcript of Homily
I think it was Bernard Shaw, the Irish writer and playwright, who once said that youth is such a wonderful time, it’s too bad it’s wasted on young people. Nobody’s smiling. But it’s true, we probably don’t appreciate what we have. The youth in its very fleeting days complain about it and think all kinds of things that are not always positive but negative, and yet, in it all, when we look back, we think, “It was a very good time.”
The same, I think, can be said about families. You know, when you’re in a family and you’re growing up in a family, sometimes you feel that you’d like to escape. Apparently Jesus had a bit of that feeling when he stayed in Jerusalem without his parents knowing it, and they went home and had to come back searching three days before they found him in the temple.
But I’m sure you’ve had the feeling. At least I had when I was a child. I was always going to run away from home. I was going to run away from home, even though my father was a lovely man, and my mother was a very hard working and lovely lady, and my sisters were not so bad either, my older and my younger sister. But there was something. I kept saying, “I’ve got to get out of here.” But I promised myself I would not run away from home until I got all my Christmas presents. And then there was enough in the Christmas presents to keep me there for a while.
The family is very special. The family is not appreciated. The family is probably thought about in great nostalgic feelings around Christmas time. Some of the memories can be very joyful, when you’re a little child and Christmas was dazzling with magic. And some… it can be very sad if your parents have passed away, or if someone you love and is very dear in the family has gone home to God, or some other kind of crisis has affected the family, trying to labour through difficult times, making difficult decisions, and frightened, perhaps, of the future.
But when those days pass and we get old, as I get old, I think back and say, “Well, it was a very good time,” even though there was the Great Depression, there were wars and rumours of wars, and crisis, and the world seemed to be falling apart every other Tuesday. Still, in all, when you look back, you say into your family, no matter how humble it was, how far away it was, “It was a very good time.”
It always used to amuse me that…I was assigned to Wah Fu Chuen, the housing estate, many years ago. I was there for about ten to twelve years. And, as you know, in those days it was one room per family. Seven, ten, it doesn’t matter how many, you just had that one room and that was the only thing they gave you was a room.
And it was very hard. People were working maybe twelve hours, twenty hours, or fifteen hours a day. Everybody seemed to be working hard. And yet when I go back there and talk to the young people who are now married and have children and I say to them, “What was the happiest time of your life?” Do you know what they say? “Wah Fu Chuen, in the old days.”
Why is that? Well, because the secret is that when God decided to become a human being, he decided to come as a member of a family. When we look at Christmas, we’re looking at a little child, a helpless child who needs his mummy and he needs his father and he needs all kinds of things.
And this is God. This is God Himself. This is God the creator of the world. This is God who could change the whole world in an inkling if he so willed it. But instead what he decided to do was to become a little helpless child and live as an ordinary human being, growing up, making the journeys to Jerusalem and home, twelve years old and being amazed at the temple, and being comfortable enough there to stay there, knowing that his Father was very special in this place.
And we say to ourselves, why God did this. And then I think people understand that at the root of a family is love. And God came to show us that this is the way you learn to love. You learn to place yourself in the hands of others. You learn to know your need for God, know your need for each other, know your need for the people that populate your neighbourhood, those that are all around you. You need them and the great hunger in your heart to feel love will only come from them.
God is not popping love out of the sky like rain. You will find Him, though, in a family, because the birth of the Saviour in a family consecrates the family. It makes the family very important.
You say, “Oh no, the community is very important.” No, the community is very important to organise things like schools and stuff like that. But a community has no heart, a community has no soul.
But, if you’re looking for love, it will begin in the family. And any love that the community might have, has been born in your hearts as you came into the world as a little child, were held very closely, with great care, by your mother and your father and the people around you.
That is the heart of Christmas. Jesus wants us to know that when we think that we are really someone useless, not as talented as we’d like to be, maybe we’ll never be famous like the celebrities, maybe we’ll never even be rich like everybody else seems to be rich, we know that deep down inside, we are what we are, made holy and sacred. God Himself has given us life and He has done it in the only way that it should be done. He gives us life in a family that we might understand that if we are to find God we must not look up in the clouds, we must look into the family.
And this is what Jesus teaches us. You’re my brothers and sisters. We are one family, one family under God. And so this is how we become a community. But you must bring with it a weakness and a need for others, and a need for sharing and a need for caring.
And where are you going to find the object of that? In all the others who are searching the world for a reason, a purpose, a meaning, a significance, something that makes us ourselves, not because we deserve it, not because we have to have it, not because God is so happy to give it to us.
It is His free love, because we deserve it. For God does not make garbage. God only makes wonderful loving human beings. And when He makes them He never leaves them. And when He never leaves them, He is with them. And when He is with them in times of difficulty, in times of pain, in times of sorrow, He is also there in times of celebration, in times of greatness, in times when the world seems like a wonderful, fine and lovely place to be.
But you will also find Him, ultimately, on the cross. And the cross is God saying, “You must love and learn to love. And when you fail, rise again, and try again to love.” Because, ultimately, when Jesus is on the cross, everything is taken away from him. What he says to his Father is: “Into your hands I commend my spirit.” And to God Himself he says, “And you must forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”
And, suddenly, there is the ultimate triumph of love, the little baby in Bethlehem who now comes forth as the Saviour of the world.
So let us rejoice on this Holy Family Sunday and look again at all the members of our family. You know, the family is the only place that they have to take you back no matter where you’ve gone and what you’ve done. And this is because God has chosen the most sacred institution, which is the family.
We must honour it, we must support it, we must learn to forgive in it, we must learn how to love in it. We must learn how to care for the things that really matter.
And this is what Jesus has given us. The little child, the helpless child, almost hopeless little child, of Bethlehem is offering us the whole world.
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This homily was delivered on 27th December 2009.
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