Saturday, December 29, 2012

Jesus' formula for a holy family

HOMILY FOR THE SOLEMNITY OF THE HOLY FAMILY OF JESUS, MARY AND JOSEPH, December 30, 2012:
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A young boy greeted his father as he returned from work one day with a question: “Dad, how much do you make an hour?” The father was surprised and said: “Son, not even your mother knows that. Please don’t bother me now.” “But Dad, just tell me please! How much do you make an hour?” the boy insisted. The father finally gave in and replied: “Twenty dollars.” “Okay, Dad,” the boy continued, “Could you loan me ten dollars?” The father a bit irritated now with the said, “Why on earth do you need ten dollars?”  The boy replied, “Well, I already have $10.  If you loan me another $10, I’ll have enough to buy an hour of your time.”  

Today’s feast of the Holy Family and our Gospel has a message for this man and for all of us – we need to invest more of our time in our family life.  Today’s passage from Luke shows us Jesus at the age of 12 (boy He has grown a lot in the days since Christmas hasn’t he?).  At 12 in Jewish culture and law, Jesus would be considered an adult and so He was required to keep the law and make the annual pilgrimages to Jerusalem like any other Jewish man. In our passage, Jesus has been in the Temple talking about Scriptures, but without informing his parents, who cannot find him for two days.

What is most interesting about this passage, I think, is the way it ends.  “Then He went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them.”  Remember, Jesus is already considered an adult.  But, we also know that He won’t begin His public ministry for another 18 years.  Why the delay?  Why did He go back to Nazareth instead of starting His public ministry?  It certainly wasn’t for a lack of capability.  Our own passage today tells us that “all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers.” So, He was ready and able to begin.

The reality is that we have to acknowledge that Jesus’ life in Nazareth until the age of 30 was as much a part of his earthly mission as His three years of public life. Our passage tells us that during these 18 years “Jesus advanced in wisdom and age and favor before God and man.”  So, let’s do the math – for every one year of His public life, Jesus spent 10 years in family life.  Just think about what this tells us about the importance and priority that Jesus gave to family life.

We all have two parts of our lives – our private or family life and our public or professional one. Now, these two parts of our lives should be in harmony but more often than not they are in tension.  Jesus gives us a clear example that even in His own life He gave priority to His family life.  A big part of what ails families in our world today is that we too often try to resolve the tension in the wrong direction – giving that priority to our professional life, leaving our family life to suffer. Rose Sands writes about the unhappy man who thought the only way he could prove his love for his family was to work hard. She writes, “To prove his love for his wife, he swam the deepest river, crossed the widest desert and climbed the highest mountain. She divorced him because he was never home.”

I am coming to the increasing recognition that we have begun to build our families backwards.  As a priest, I have countless conversations with engaged couples who build a family in this order – live together first, buy a house second, get married third.  Right from the beginning of their relationship, they’ve got things out of order.  They then delay having children for 5 to 10 years so that they can travel, buy a bigger house, nice cars, accumulate the things they need and want.  Why?  So that they can provide well for our children.  We all know this reality today.

I don’t question the motives of such people – providing for a family is a noble motive.  But what we try and do is skip to the last page of the book, “And they lived happily ever after.”  We’ve forgotten where the book begins and all of the interesting parts in between.  Successful families can’t be purchased.  A nice house, nice cars, good schools, and all of the toys don’t equal a good and holy family. 

A Sunday school teacher was speaking on the importance of the family and things that money cannot buy. “Money can’t buy laughter and it can’t buy love” he told them. To illustrate his point he said, “What would you do if I offered you $1,000 to NOT love your mother and father?” The whole class fell silent. Finally a small voice spoke, “I’d take it to not love my big sister.”

My friends, our world doesn’t need more successful families.  But, it desperately needs more loving, caring, involved families.  A good and solid and holy family might mean a smaller house, one less car, more sharing, but most importantly it will mean more time together.  Let’s pledge in the year ahead to try the Jesus Family Formula – one to ten.  For every minute spent out of family life, let’s try 10 minutes with our family. Imagine what that would do for your family.

I often think in the life of my own family.  When I was about 10 years old, during the recession in the 70s, my father was out of work for two years.  Certainly a disaster on a materialistic scale.  But, our family always looks back on that time as a golden age for us.  As children, we didn’t know that we were in financial trouble, we didn’t care that things suddenly had generic labels and not name-brands.  What we knew was that Dad was home every day and that was wonderful.  During this time, I recall one Christmas where my parents had struggled to be able to buy Christmas presents.  But, just days before Christmas, another family nearby had experienced a hardship and would have no presents for their children.  And so even in our tough time, it was decided that our presents would go to that family.  It wasn’t a sad moment for anyone in our family.  It was the most joyful Christmas I can remember.  Just as with Jesus who was formed by his experience of family life, I look back and see those years as some of the most formative in my life.

The celebration today of the holy family of Joseph, Mary and Jesus reminds and challenges us to value our family life more than everything else.  Our family, along with the Holy Family, are the best gifts any of us could receive this year or any year.  We are all called to have holy families of our own.  Nothing could be more important than what Jesus came to do – save the world – and He teaches us by the example that even He made family life the priority.  So too, must we.

May Jesus bless and strengthen our families and may the Lord give you peace.

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