The Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph – December 27, 2020
St. Mary – Derby, KS
Genesis 15:1-6; 21:1-3; Psalm 105:1-6, 8-9; Hebrews 11:8, 11-12, 17-19; Luke 2:22-40
(1) Vita Familia
Growing-up, my family had a motto; a very simple, but very powerful motto (and since we’re nerds, it was in Latin): 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.
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 what they attempted to give to us was what they had already received. They tried to give us what had been given to them by their own life of faith, from their relationship with the Lord.
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! Looking at things on paper, looking at my family (and lots of families) from afar, yeah, it’s easy to conclude, “That is a great family.” But the way that we often “measure” a “good family” is misleading.
If I were to go around the Church and ask you what the family is supposed “to do” or what the family is supposed “to be,” we would get some great answers, I’m sure. Some of you probably know the “right answers”: the family is the fundamental unit of society, the building block of society; the family is the domestic church; the family is a school of love and virtue. And these are all true and good. But what does that mean? For instance, “the domestic church”? Does that just mean we should pray with our family? Because when we think of the “Church” we think that it’s the place where we pray, where we talk about God. So the “domestic church” the “family church” would mean talking about God and praying.
(2) Abraham, Joseph, and the “Practice of the Faith”
Think about this: when we bring children to be baptized, the parents make a vow. In front of family and friends, in front of the priest, in front God himself, parents promise to raise the child in “the practice of the faith.” The priest reminds 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, to let them be in a relationship of faith to you. And this is the key!
The real question when it comes to being a family and raising children in the practice of the faith is not, “Are you praying with your kids? Are you teaching them the rules of the Church? Are you making sure they know the right answers.” Yes, but no. The question is: in your life of faith, are you “parented,” are you generated by your faith, does your faith give you life? And do you parent and generate your children based on this faith?
The relationship of Abraham with the Lord is what I’m talking about. We always hear about the faith of Abraham, how he is our “Father in Faith,” and on and on about his faith—our first and second reading couldn’t stop talking about it. But Abraham didn’t have a church to go to, he didn’t have the Catechism and all these “rules” to follow. He didn’t know what the rosary was, he didn’t have Mass. It’s the same thing for Joseph. Joseph didn’t know what the rosary was or have the Mass. Abraham and Joseph had faith in the same God we have faith in, they practiced faith in the same God to whom we are supposed to practice the faith. What did the “practice of the faith” look like for them?
The “faith” they lived was not one of subservient fear, or following rules, or fulfilling the “laws.” The faith they practiced was one of allowing the Lord to parent them, to generate them, to give them life. And because of that, Abraham was given the power to parent and generate life, even though he was an old man; Joseph was given the power to parent and generate life, even though he wasn’t married and never had children of his own with Mary.
The “practice of the faith” isn’t about doing something so that the Lord likes you. The “practice of the faith” is allowing the Father, the Lord—allowing the Father to parent you, to generate you, to give you life. “Faith” is knowing that the Father is going to take care of you, know what you need, provide for you, even when the circumstances look like he isn’t in control at all.
(3) Our Practice of the Faith in the Family
But as we look at our own experience of family and parenthood—when we think about this, we see a breakdown. The fatherhood that Abraham and Joseph experienced with the Lord: well that is probably a little different than the experience we’ve had with our parents, and probably different than the experience your kids have with you. The Lord acts only with our best interest in mind, he is completely faithful to us no matter what we do or think or say, and he affords us an unconditional positive regard (he doesn’t judge us or expect something from us, he doesn’t need us to do something for him).
But how many of us can say that about our experience with our parents, how many of your kids would say that about you? How many of us can say that we felt that our parents were always acting with our best interest in mind? How many of us felt that we could trust that our parents would be completely faithful to us no matter what we did or thought or said? How many of us felt that our parents would give us an unconditional positive regard? That they didn’t need something from us in order to love us and want to be around us?
What’s the opposite of the “practice of the faith.” If the practice of the faith is allowing the Father to take care of you, to be able to trust that he is acting with our best interest in mind, feeling that he doesn’t need anything from us, that he is generating us and giving us life—if that’s the practice of the faith, what is the opposite? Well, it’s searching for someone else to do that for you. We turn to our peers, we turn to video games, we turn to shady stuff online, we turn to groups that affirm us and support us. We try to parent ourselves, to take care of ourselves, to generate ourselves, to give ourselves life.
The family is the domestic church because the family is where children should be able to first experience their parents acting with their best interest in mind, experience unconditional fidelity, experience people who don’t need anything from them. They should experience a growing freedom, a growing sense of personal responsibility and personal awareness.
Being a parent, a father, a mother—it’s not getting pregnant and having a kid. Being a family is not just people who live in the same house and are related by blood or by law. The family, the domestic church, is the place where the practice of the faith is first experienced.
(4) Family Life Is a Life of Faith
Remember, the question is: in your life of faith, are you “parented,” are you generated by your faith, does your faith give you life? And do you parent and generate your children based on this faith?
We do this imperfectly, we know. But the answer is given to us. We don’t have to go find the perfect parenting book. We don’t have to figure it out ourselves. The answer is given. Jesus Christ is born into our world. We begin by allowing the Lord, Jesus Christ, to be the one that generates us, that gives us life.
Again, Joseph is a powerful example for us. Even in his very dysfunctional family, even when the circumstances of his life made it seem like everything was going wrong, he lived the practice of the faith. He lived with the Lord as the one who would “parent” him, give him life. Living the practice of the faith comes first.