Following is the homily delivered by Bishop Rhoades on the Feast of the Holy Family, Dec. 31, 2017:
On this first Sunday after Christmas, while we are still immersed in the joyful climate of the celebration of the Nativity, the Church calls us to contemplate the Holy Family of Nazareth. Today is the Feast of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph. In the opening prayer of Mass today, we ask God, who gave us the shining example of the Holy Family, to grant that we may imitate Jesus, Mary and Joseph in practicing the virtues of family life and in the bonds of charity. This is a great prayer. Every family can look to the Holy Family for strength and inspiration. We also can and should ask the Holy Family often to help us and our families to grow in faith and to live in love.
What can we learn from the Holy Family? In the Gospel today, we heard St. Luke’s account of the Presentation of the Child Jesus in the Temple 40 days after Jesus’ birth. Why did Mary and Joseph make that trip to the temple in Jerusalem? They did so in religious obedience to the Law of Moses. The Law required that the first-born son be presented to the Lord. Luke tells us four times in the Gospel today that Mary and Joseph wanted to do what was required by the Law of the Lord. It wasn’t just that they had to do it. They wanted to do it. One can feel and perceive that they have joy in fulfilling the precepts of their faith. They had joy in living according to the Law of the Lord! I think this is the first lesson we can learn from the Holy Family. It is a lesson of faith.
In the family life of Mary and Joseph, God is truly at the center — Jesus is at the center. The life of the Holy Family breathed with faith, the faith that gave the family the energy which allowed them to face difficult challenges, like the difficult ordeal of the flight into Egypt. This is an important lesson for Christian families throughout history and for us today. We are called to build families where God is at the center, families that breathe with faith, that have joy in living according to the Law of the Lord. How many families can testify that it is because of their faith that they have been able to endure challenges and difficult ordeals! It is faith that gives families the energy they need to persevere amid the difficulties of life. This faith is evident when a family prays together regularly and when it is not just an obligation, but a joy, to follow the Law of the Lord: for example, to attend and worship together at Mass every Sunday and Holy Day. The Holy Family teaches us the joy of faith and the joy of obeying the precepts of the Lord.
Another great lesson we can learn from the Holy Family, of course, is love. We contemplate today the human warmth of the Holy Family, the love of Mary and Joseph for each other and for their son, as well as Jesus’ love for his parents. This loving harmony is a model for every family. But it can be difficult sometimes. Families may experience discord at times: disagreements, fights, divisions. The light from the Holy Family can encourage such families to practice mercy and forgiveness, so that harmony will be restored. Of course, this requires what I already mentioned. It requires faith, the faith that motivates us to forgive those who trespass against us. There will never be peace in a family, just like there will never be peace in the world, without forgiveness and mercy.
I wish to highlight one other important lesson from the Gospel today. It’s about the elderly. Simeon and Anna were both elderly people. They were moved by the Holy Spirit to approach the Holy Family in the temple. They recognized the child Jesus as the Messiah. The priest Simeon blessed Mary and Joseph and praised God for their child, whom Simeon recognized as “a light for revelation to the Gentiles and the glory of the people of Israel.” The Holy Spirit inspired Simeon to say these amazing words about Jesus. The 84-year-old Anna, a woman of deep faith who prayed night and day in the temple, was also moved by the Holy Spirit to recognize the identity of Jesus. The Gospel says that “she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were awaiting the redemption of Jerusalem.”
Reflecting on Simeon and Anna, it is good to think about the elderly in our families and in the family of the Church. How much we can learn from the faith of our elderly brothers and sisters! I think of grandparents — how important their presence is in our families! We need their wisdom, their wealth of experience, which helps us to progress and to address the challenges of life.
Pope Francis, like his predecessors, speaks often about being attentive to the role of the elderly in our families. He notes the role of grandparents in helping to pass on the faith and the important values of our faith. I invite you to think about these words of Pope Francis: “Listening to the elderly tell their stories is good for children and young people; it makes them feel connected to the living history of their families, their neighborhoods and their country. A family that fails to respect and cherish its grandparents, who are its living memory, is already in decline, whereas a family that remembers has a future. A society that has no room for the elderly or discards them because they create problems, has a deadly virus; it is torn from its roots.” This feast of the Holy Family in which the Gospel features the holy elders Simeon and Anna reminds us of the gratitude and appreciation we should have for the elderly members of the Church and of our families.
I invite you today to entrust your families to the prayers of the Holy Family of Nazareth, the true model of a Christian home, an icon of faith and love. And let us remember in a special way in our prayers all families that are in difficulty, including broken families and so many refugee families in the world today. Let us turn with trust to Jesus, Mary, and Joseph in whom we contemplate the beauty of faith and love, God’s plan for every family! May the Holy Family of Nazareth hear our prayers for our families and all families!
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