Feast of the Holy Family
Happy Holy Family! We’re given this feast during the octave of Christmas as a reminder of the heart of the Church. The Holy Father has written fairly extensively about the gift of the domestic Church, the family, and how the preservation and protection of the domestic Church is one of the most crucial things that the Church can do because if the family collapses, the collapse of the Church will not be far behind. The family is described as the first place where children meet Jesus; where they experience the love and the mercy of the Father, where they experience the power of the Holy Spirit, where they learn of the Gospel as they not only hear it taught by their parents, but they see it lived out in their lives. The family is a wondrous gift and it’s a gift whose survival is crucial to the life of Church, which is one of the reasons why it’s the dead center target for what the evil one is doing.
Destroying the family has been on the forefront of spiritual warfare against Christians for some time. Sometimes the attacks are obvious. The destruction of the family as God conceived the family, with a husband and a wife and children. Sometimes the attacks are less subtle: ‘Let us destroy the family by so bombarding the family with different good things to do, that the cohesion of family life is dismembered, because now all the individual members of the family are so busy doing so many good things, their relationships with each other deteriorate’.
Even things that look noble and good, when the good begins to crowd out the necessary, then we know we’re in trouble. One of the reasons why the Church continues to invite people to follow the Commandment and honor this day in particular, is that it would be a day for the family, a day when families would join together in worship and then would spend the day in love with each other, enjoying each other, doing those things to build up their relationship to experience Jesus’ presence, to simply enjoy the gift of life and friendship and relationship that they have with each other.
The world is doing everything in its power to efface the Sunday, to make it just a normal day. Well, Jesus does not rewrite the Commandments every time the world gets a bad idea. Jesus invites us to recognize that part of honoring the Sabbath is specifically to protect and enhance family life. To get so busy doing so many good things that we don’t have time for the people in our life is a constant temptation. To become too busy for Jesus Himself is, of course, the greatest temptation. When you’re too busy to pray, you’re just too busy. If our relationship with Jesus is beginning to slide because we don’t spend time with Him, it’s a fairly safe bet that our relationship with family will not be too far behind. And sometimes the attacks are so subtle and come cloaked with such nobility that it’s very hard to resist.
My family growing up was pretty Christian. We went to Church every Sunday, we had family devotionals; we’d get together and pray together as a family during the week. Mom and Dad were both deacons in their Protestant congregation, they both taught Sunday school. We were really actively involved. Then dad got involved in a particular legal case. This case became a gargantuan, monumental, all-consuming case that lasted for thirteen years, went to the Court of Appeals many times, the Supreme Court several times. It basically consumed his life; he would be gone for months at a time.
It involved a mining company in
I didn’t mind about not going to Church at that point because I was already an agnostic. It was just one other little hassle I didn’t have to deal with, now I could justify my sleeping in on Sunday mornings. I’d long since already been kicked out of Sunday school because I asked all these impertinent questions, like how can this be true? But the sad thing was to watch as my parents, who really loved each other, grew more and more distant, and everything just collapsed. For seemingly such a good reason: saving this company, saving the lives, the jobs of all these people that they were close to. They just didn’t see any way out of it.
Well the simple way out of it is to stop and say, “Family’s first—family comes first.” When you don’t learn that lesson, then you let even other noble and good things get in the way, and everything else goes down.
Eventually things collapsed and my parents had their first what we came to call “pick your parents party”, i.e. they called all the kids into the living room and said, “Okay we’re finally going to split so now you have to choose which parent you want to live with.” The first time they did it, it was pretty traumatic. I remember at that point, I came back from school (I was a sophomore in college), and I knew Jesus by then, of course. And as the firstborn son, Dad asked me to comment on the situation, and I said, “Well you know, the family that prays together stays together. You stopped praying. It blew apart. Go figure.”
And my brother-in-law then turned to me, he’d been married to my twin for about a year, and they had absolutely no relationship with Jesus, and then he just kind of laughs and he says, “Well then I guess there’s not much hope for our marriage either, is there?” They went seven years, they surprised me; I gave them five. To watch as people fall in love and watch their marriages get ripped apart is a hard thing. But without leaning on Jesus and putting the Kingdom first it’s a virtually inevitable thing.
Statistically today, half the marriages that are entered into will collapse. And a good chunk of those that don’t collapse will become armed camps, where financial and other situations keep them from collapsing but it’s not a marriage, it’s a nightmare. It’s hard enough to have a good marriage when people are deeply committed to Jesus and work on it. The Church gives us this feast today to say to us, “Follow the example of the Holy Family. Put Jesus at the absolute center of your life.”
But in the Divine priority, especially for the parents, relationship with Jesus comes non-negotiably first, relationship with the spouse comes second, relationship with the kids comes third, and the rest of the world comes fourth.
I remember having a fight with one of my former pastors, because I had a guy in the parish who I was giving spiritual direction to. And he was a super talented guy and very actively involved in a lot of things, and it was hurting his family relationships, and especially his relationship with his wife. And my counsel to him was: “Spend more time at home, spend more time with your kids, and pray as a family”. I didn’t know that the pastor had been grooming him to take over the parish council. So he came to me and without identifying what the responsibility was he said, “What do you think about me taking on this significant task?” And he kind of obliquely described all the requirements and I said, “I think it’s a terrible idea. You go home and you pray, and if you get a golden telegram, hand delivered by St. Michael and counter-signed by the Blessed Virgin, then take that job.” And so he went home and waited for the telegram, and then went and told the pastor that I had told him that he couldn’t be on the parish council. So the pastor calls me into his office, “Do you know how long I’ve been working on that guy?” - “Oh well!” But I explained the situation, the pastor goes, “Oh, good call.”
It seems like a simple thing to put family first, and maybe it was a simple thing when families lived on farms ten miles apart from any other distraction. But it ain’t the case anymore. Jesus has to be first. But to be the Holy Family means to spend time loving each other, not just in proximity. Family night is not six people in the same room watching TV. What do we do to actually engage, to spend time with each other, to learn who each other is, to explore and enjoy the richness of the gifts we’ve been given by Jesus? Wonderful gifts. For parents to take time to enjoy their kids is a wondrously fulfilling gift, but a gift that runs great risk of being robbed today.
Jesus invites us to take the lesson of this feast and put
the family first; to let Him rule. When I was in the seminary in
Farming families had to rely on God. God is the One who gives the growth; God is the One who brings the rain; God is the One Who etc. etc. And while we criticized them as being from Podunk, and other similar locations, we envied their serenity, we envied the relationships they had with their families. It was a lot harder in the midst of a frenetic urban structure to keep the priorities intact. But the guarantee from Jesus is that there’s always the grace to do it if we choose to cooperate.
This feast is given to us as a reminder of that, and as an invitation to let the Holy Family reign in our family. Let the wondrous intercession of Mary and Joseph touch us, and model putting Jesus absolutely first. Let us learn from their example to take advantage of their intercession today. And if we’ve made decisions up to this point that have clearly put the family somewhere else on the priority list, today is a good day to repent and put the family back where Jesus intends it.