Friday, December 30, 2005

Homily for the Feast of the Holy Family

The second reading for the Feast of the Holy Family is from St. Paul's Letter to the Colossians. (Col.3,13-21) In it he describes the type of love we are all called to show to one another, but especially within the family. It also gives the reason why we are called to this type of love and that is because we are God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved. By baptism we became adopted sons and daughters of God, we became heirs to eternal happiness. We became part of a family, each member of which God loves just as much as he loves us. God loves each one of us as his unique precious and unrepeatable creation. I know that God loves me unconditionally and should I ever separate myself from him by committing a mortal sin he is always willing to forgive me if I am truly sorry , willing to do penance and really make an effort at changing my life.

Because we are God’s chosen ones then, holy and beloved, we are called to imitate his love by clothing ourselves with heartfelt mercy, with kindness, humility, meekness and patience. We are to bear with one another, forgive whatever grievances we have against one another. We are to forgive as the Lord has forgiven us. Over all these virtues we are to put on love which binds the rest together and makes them perfect.

The love that St. Paul talks about is not the type of love as it commonly thought of in our society. It’s common to hear about people falling in love and also about people falling out of love. It’s common to hear about married couples splitting apart and families breaking apart because the love was gone. This type of love is based in emotions. Two people with strong emotional attractions to each other are said to be in love.

But the Christian is called to a higher love, a spiritual love that is more properly called “agape.” This type of love takes into account the eternal destiny of the other and seeks that person’s good as if it were his own self. St. Paul defines this agape love more in 1 Corinthians 13: “Love is patient, love is kind. Love is not jealous, it does not put on airs. It is not snobbish. Love is never rude, it is not self seeking, it is not prone to anger, neither does it brood over injuries. Love does not rejoice in what is wrong but rejoices with the truth. There is no limit to love’s forbearance, to its trust, to its hope, its power to endure.”

When St. Paul tells husbands to love their wives, it is this type of agape love. A love which is forgetful of self and seeks the good of the other. The type of love that St. Joseph had for Mary and Jesus. Even though he was not the physical father of Jesus, he loved him as his own. Joseph protected Jesus and Mary by taking a long and difficult journey into Egypt when Herod was looking to kill Jesus. He took him back to Nazareth, taught him the carpenter’s trade and showed his love for his family by living a life of quiet self sacrifice for their behalf.

It is also in this context that we have to understand the phrase “wives be submissive to your husbands.” This phrase is so widely misunderstood in our times. First we must recognize in the Roman culture at the time that wives and children were regarded as property. The Christian religion elevated the status of women and children. St. Joseph’s love and care for his family was in this sense very counter- cultural. St. Paul also says elsewhere that in God there is no Greek or Jew, no male or female, meaning that each and every human being is made in God’s image with the ability to know God. We ought to love each human being no matter what race or gender they are. All are of equal in dignity in the sight of God.

But despite what many people think today, we are not all called to fulfill the same roles. The father of a family is called in a special way to represent the fatherhood of God in his family. The father is called to love his family as Christ loved the Church. This is a very tall order when we consider that Christ died for the sake of the Church. As head of the family it certainly does not give the right to oppress any other family members or to make decisions arbitrarily without consulting his wife. This would be an abuse of the authority given to him. But in any relationship there must be one who must take leadership and make final decisions. And this falls to the father as the head of the family.

Christ subordinated his will to the Father. But Christ is equal to the Father. Therefore his subordination, his obedience, is not a sign of weakness. Jesus came to make all things new especially relationships. Outside of Christ’s love is just a passing feeling not capable of providing the tough solid foundation of order for all life. But in Christ, love and order meet. A new order appears, the order of love. Order is no longer loveless and love is no longer orderless.

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