Feast of the Holy Family – December 30, 2018
Saint Margaret Mary – Wichita, KS
1 Samuel 1:20-22, 24-28; Psalm 84; 1 John 3:1-2, 21-24; Luke 3:41-52
Growing-up, my family had a motto; a very simple, but very powerful motto: Vita Familia, Family Life. It was not Vita Mea, My Life, or Vita Deleria, the Crazy Life. No, simply: Vita Familia, Family Life. When decisions had to be made, when priorities were set, what always came first was the family: what was best for the family. And growing up, most of us kids thought our parents were crazy! They worked so hard to keep us together, to keep our family together. And we often thought, “You know, if they would just let us do whatever we wanted, their lives would be so much easier.” But they never gave up.
It was in my family that I first came to encounter Jesus Christ. People thought my parents were crazy—I mean, they did have ten kids after all, they were kind of asking for it. But people thought my parents were crazy! We thought they were crazy. But the older we got, the more we began to realize that everything they were doing flowed from one simple thing. Everything they did flowed from their faith, from their relationship with the Lord. Just as Jesus Christ first came to be known on this earth within a family, so too, my siblings and I first came to know the Lord through our family.
The Holy Family, whom we celebrate today, is exactly what we need to look at. Christ did not appear on the earth one day. No, like every other person, he was born into a family. And not a normal family! Not a family with normal parents, or parents with a normal marriage, or with normal cousins. No, Jesus was not born into a normal family, or a perfect family, but a holy family, a sacred family!
People often ask me, “Fr. Michael, why is your family so perfect? I mean, after all, you’re a priest and you have a sister who is a religious sister.” And I always feel bad, because when people ask me this, I start laughing. Because we are not a perfect family! But, even though we were not perfect, we were all committed to one thing: Family Life; and more specifically, we were committed to holiness through family life.
Think about this: when you brought your children to be baptized, you made a vow. In front of family and friends, in front of the priest, in front God himself, you promised to raise the child in the faith. The priest reminded you, “You must make it your constant care to bring him up in the practice of the faith. See that the divine life which God gives to him is kept safe from the poison of sin, to grow always stronger in his heart.” In essence, you promised to be an example of the faith, to be a witness to your faith in Jesus Christ. And this is the key!
It is a simple question: to what are you giving witness? Do you give a witness to the joy that you find in your faith and in your relationship with Jesus Christ? Does your family look at you and see that you draw life from your faith? Do they see they you draw strength and sustenance from the Eucharist? Do they see you in humility confessing your sins and trying to amend your life?
Or, do you give witness to something else? Do you do all of this because you are superstitious? Do you follow the rules because of fear or coercion? Are you just trying to get by? Do you only go to the Church because of the benefits you get? Do you go to mass “because I have to”?
The real question is: are you giving witness to a faith that gives you life and joy, or are you giving witness to a faith that is a slavery to rules? People are very, very perceptive. Your children are the most perceptive! You cannot expect them to want to live the faith if all they see in you is a life of slavery to rules and superstitious looking behavior. This does not convince anyone, especially not your children. No, only a witness of the new life and joy can do this.
We pass on the faith by proposing it, by living it out with each other day by day, by living the newness of life that it brings. We pass on the faith by living it with each other in community. In the parish, yes. But first and foremost, we live it in the family. Christ was born into a family. If we want to pass on the faith, we must live the faith with those to whom we want to pass it on.
Think of it this way: when the gym tries to convince you to join, what does it do? It offers you a free thirty-day trial! When Netflix tries to convince you to sign-up, what do they do? They offer you a free thirty-day trial! When car dealers try to convince you to buy a car, what do they do? Offer you a free ninety days with your money back guaranteed! Why? Because it is not enough for them to tell you how great the gym is, or Netflix, or the car. No! They offer this to us because they know once we begin to live it, when we begin to see how these things fit into our lives, then, then we are convinced of their worth! Once we begin to live with them, we can’t imagine life without them.
This is why the family is so important! In the family, we start to live the faith, we live the faith with others, in community, just as the faith is meant to be lived. In a family that is centered on the faith, in a family that draws life from the faith, that lives the faith not as a bunch of rules but as their source of life—in this family, the faith becomes something we can’t imagine life without.
YOU—Moms, Dads—you must change first, you must follow Christ first. A Christian family starts with two Christian disciples indissolubly joining their lives together in marriage, two disciples committing to help one another live this, to help their children live this. And you may not have a perfect family, or a normal family, but you may just end-up with a holy family.