The Holy Family - held together by Love through all their problems

Homily for the Sunday in the Octave of Christmas

by Fr. Tommy Lane

The Holy Family of Nazareth, Jesus, Mary and Joseph are put before us by the Church this weekend as a model for our families. We call them “The Holy Family” but that does not mean that they did not have problems. Just as every family has to face problems and overcome them, or to put it another way, has to carry a cross, so also The Holy Family had to carry crosses. Their many crosses come to mind as we read the Scriptures.

  • We can easily imagine how misunderstood both Mary and Joseph must have been when Mary conceived Jesus through the Holy Spirit. Their story would never be believed.

  • Even Mary herself had it very rough early in the pregnancy when Joseph was planning to divorce her before the angel intervened in a dream.

  • When the time for Jesus’ delivery came it took place in an animals’ shelter since Bethlehem was already so crowded.

  • Then the family had to flee to Egypt as refugees because Jesus’ life was in danger due to Herod, in much the same way as refugees from war-torn countries are now entering many western countries.

  • Mary and Joseph suffered the awful experience of losing Jesus for three days when he was twelve years old and the only satisfaction they got from him was that he had to be about his Father’s business.

  • We do not hear of Joseph any more so we presume that before Jesus began his public ministry in Galilee Joseph had died - The Holy Family suffering the greatest pain of all families, the pain of bereavement and separation through death.

  • Jesus’ public ministry must have taken its toll on Mary. Simeon had predicted in the Temple that a sword of sorrow would pierce Mary’s soul. We can imagine one such occasion as we read in Mark 3:21 that when Jesus returned to Nazareth one day his relatives came to take him by force convinced that he was out of his mind. Not a very pleasant experience for any family, no matter how holy.

  • There was also the pain caused by the rhyme made up about Jesus: “Behold a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax-collectors and sinners” (Luke 7:34).

  • And there was the growing hostility to Jesus by the Jewish authorities that must have caused huge pain to both Mary and Jesus, especially as it became increasingly obvious that Jesus would have to pay for his mission by dying.

  • The saddest moment of all came when Mary watched her son die on the cross.

What kept The Holy Family together and sane throughout all of these trials and crosses? The answer is ‘Love for each other and God’. Jesus’ love for Mary and Mary’s love for Jesus, and the love of both of them for God the Father. We can see Jesus’ love for his mother when he was dying on the cross and was worried about leaving her behind so he asked his close friend and disciple John to look after her, saying to Mary, ‘Woman behold your son’, and to John ‘behold your mother’ (John 19:26-27). What holds our families together also in times of difficulty is love and forgiveness. It is love which triumphs in the end, even if for a while love may have to take the form of some honest talking. When discipline needs to be given, if it is not given in love it is reduced to abuse. If ever our families fail in any way, it is because of a lack of love on someone’s part. Whenever our families are successful, it is because they are places of love.

I believe that the greatest threat facing families now is simply that we don’t spend enough time together. We are so busy working, or socializing, or watching TV that we have less and less time for each other. What a pity. There is a story about a solicitor who lived a considerable distance from her elderly father. Months had passed since they had been together and when her father called to ask when she might visit, the daughter detailed a list of reasons that prevented her from taking the time to see him, e.g., court schedule, meetings, new clients, research, etc., etc. At the end of the recitation, the father asked, “When I die, do you intend to come to my funeral?” The daughter’s response was immediate, “Dad, I can’t believe you’d ask that! Of course, I’ll come!” To which the father replied, “Good. Forget the funeral and come; I need you more now than I will then.” As I said, I believe one of the greatest threats facing families now is simply that we do not spend enough time together. Spending time together with the family is a way of showing our family that we love them. When we love our family we want to sacrifice ourselves by spending time with them, and all the more so when we realize that by not spending time with them we are depriving them of our love and hurting them.

Just as the holy family survived all its crises through love for each other and faith in God, let us pray during this Mass that our families will conquer all difficulties through love for each other and faith in God.

(I found the story in the second last paragraph above in A World of Stories for Preachers and Teachers: And All Who Love Stories That Move and Challenge by William J. Bausch (page 335) and published by Twenty-Third Publications, PO Box 180, Mystic, CT 06355, USA © 1988 and used here with permission.)

Copyright © Fr. Tommy Lane 2013

This homily was delivered when I was engaged in parish ministry in Ireland before joining the faculty of Mount St. Mary’s Seminary, Emmitsburg, Maryland.

More homilies for the Sunday in the Octave of Christmas - The Holy Family

God’s Plan for the Family - a Reflection of God’s Love

The Holy Family persevered through trials just as our families

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