Sunday, December 29, 2013
Holy because of the way they loved
HOMILY FOR THE SOLEMNITY OF THE HOLY FAMILY OF JESUS, MARY AND JOSEPH, December 29, 2013:
“Wives, be subordinate to your husbands, as is proper in the Lord.” How many wives poked and prodded their husbands as that was read? How many husbands twisted uncomfortably in their seats? This is perhaps the most dangerous passage in all of Scripture to preach on. But, I feel a little dangerous today, so let’s give it a try.
I don’t know how many of you saw the movie, My Big, Fat, Greek Wedding? But, it is a really wonderful and funny movie about a large ethnic family focusing on their awkward daughter who pursues her dreams, falls in love and marries. But, there is a scene early on that puts our reading from Colossians in perspective. After years of working in the family restaurant, the daughter decides she wants to go to college. She musters up the courage and asks permission of her father, who immediately turns her down. Crying on her mother’s shoulder the mother responds, “Don’t worry, I will talk to your father.” Feeling the hopelessness of the situation the daughter responds, “He won’t change his mind. He is stubborn. ‘The man is the head of the household.’” The mother strokes her daughter’s hair and smiles, “Yes, the man is the head of the household, but the woman? She is the neck. And I can turn that head any way I want.”
The problem with this phrase from Colossians, “Wives be submissive to your husbands,” is that we tend to isolate that passage out and not look at the rest of the reading. Alone, this passage is troubling, but seen in the bigger picture, we find not a chauvinistic household, but one that is balanced; not one where husbands lord authority over wives, but one where everyone is submissive to the other. On this Feast of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph, Paul is giving us the key to holiness in our own families. The key to this letter of Paul is not the point he makes about wives, but the lesson he gives to us all a few lines earlier, “Put on, as God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, bearing with one another and forgiving one another, if one has a grievance against another; as the Lord has forgiven you, so must you also do. And over all these put on love, that is, the bond of perfection.”
This is a tough time for the family in our world. Families are struggling. Family life in many places is falling apart. Just look at the images that we get of families from the media today. Families are not portrayed as places of love, respect and safety; rather they are battle grounds. Television families often feature children who regularly outsmart their parents, or parents who are preoccupied with their own interests and neglect their children. These are not holy families.
Our opening prayer today said, “grant that we may imitate” the Holy Family. That seems like a tall order for us today, but it is one that we can achieve if we have the desire to live in holy families. And that is the challenge – throw out what the world tells you a family should be; and put on Christ and what God wants a family to be; one where love, respect, compassion, and humility prevail. Be subject to one another.
Yes, the Holy Family is a tough act to follow. The dad was a saint, the mom was the Mother of God; and the son was God Himself. But, that is not what made Jesus, Mary and Joseph a holy family. What made them holy was the way they loved. They were subject to one another. Joseph was faithful to Mary even though the child she carried was not his own. Mary was faithful to Jesus even to the foot of the cross. And one of the things that most concerned Jesus as he hung on the cross was to make sure that John would be there to care for his mother after he was gone. God brought the Holy Family together, but love and concern for one another kept them together and made them holy. They became holy as a family in the way that they loved each other.
The challenge of holiness for families today is to put the family first – before career, before wealth, before everything. Families need the support, understanding and love of every person in them. There is a great freedom that comes from family life. But, never let the freedom you enjoy in your own home become an excuse for failing to extend to the members of your family all of the love, respect, attention and compassion they deserve. Reserve your deepest kindness and love for your own family. Honor all of the members of your household; compete in holiness so that you may grow in your love of each other and the love of God.
Make St. Paul’s words your family’s mission statement: “Put on…heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, bearing with one another and forgiving one another, if one has a grievance against another; as the Lord has forgiven you, so must you also do. And over all these put on love, that is, the bond of perfection.”
May God make your family a holy family; and may God give you peace.