Feast of the Holy Family – December 26, 2021
St. Paul – Lyons, KS
1 Samuel 1:20-22, 24-28; Psalm 84; 1 John 3:1-2, 21-24; Luke 3:41-52
Not A Perfect Family
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 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, who we celebrate today, is exactly who we need to look at. Christ did not appear on the earth one day as a full-grown adult, preaching and teaching. 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, a brother in seminary!” And I always feel bad, because when people ask me this I start laughing (so does my mom). Because we are not a perfect family! But, even though we are not perfect, we are all committed to one thing: Family Life. And more specifically, we are committed to holiness through family life. We are not perfect, but we strove to live family life and to be a holy family.
The Witness of Christian Parents
Think about his: 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 said, “For your part, you must strive to bring them up in the [practice of the] faith, so that this divine life may be preserved from the contagion of sin, and may grow in them day by day.” In essence, you promised to be an example of the faith, to be a witness to your faith in Jesus Christ. They would learn the faith from you. Your witness 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 drawn 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? Do you go to Mass “because we have to”? Do you prioritize other things? Do you tell your kids, “Oh, we don’t have time to make it to Mass this week”? Or, “We’re too busy to go to Church”? Do sports take priority over the faith?
In essence: does the faith take priority in your life and give you life and meaning and joy, or is faith just that thing we’re supposed to do and “I’ll get around to it when I have time”? 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.
By Imitation, Not Propagation
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.
The Brungardt Household
I can tell you stories all day. But again, just from my own experience.
When I was growing up, and even to this day, my Dad would wake up at 4:30am. And as part of his morning routine, he would sit and pray for around an hour each and every morning. He would then wake all of us up for Mass—7:00am Mass. Then, in the evening, we would pray the rosary as a family—every night. Some of my earliest memories are falling asleep to the sound of my dad praying night prayer in the hall outside our room.
Sunday Mass for our family was a non-negotiable—and Sunday was a day of rest! Sunday’s were family days. I can only remember missing Sunday Mass one time in my entire life (I barfed in front of my mom, so she couldn’t say I was faking it). Another example: when we would go on vacation, the first thing he would do is find the church where we would go to Mass on Sunday. Even on vacation! I remember once we had to drive thirty minutes just to get to the church.
But because of this, we learned the importance of the faith! My parents made sure the boys were servers, the girls were part of the choir (my little sister was the pianist and the music director when she was only in high school, she’s the nun now). One of my sisters is still the music director at a parish in Wichita. I have a younger sister who is a Dominican sister, a younger brother in seminary, my older brother is a third order Dominican, other siblings married through the Church with families of their own.
What’s the point? “Look how great we are?” No! The point is that this didn’t happen by accident! My Dad and Mom made an incredibly conscious decision to take their duty as Christian parents seriously! When they promised to raise their children in the practice of the faith, they knew that this wasn’t going to happen by accident. It began with my parents living the faith. And we picked up on that. We picked up on how important it was. And we picked up on it, because their entire lives were centered on living the faith. Everything in our life, our daily schedule, our weekly schedule, our yearly schedule—all of it was determined by the faith.
Family of Faith
Today is a good challenge for parents. YOU—Mom, Dad—you are the leaders of the family, 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, and then helping their children live this. Are you leading your family in the faith? Do you know that it is your responsibility to lead your family in the faith? Because it is incredibly important that you do! (Even more so for fathers. People have done many studies about passing on the faith to their children, and the most important factor in passing on the faith is the role of the father! When dad doesn’t practice the faith, only 2% of the children regularly attend Mass in adulthood, 37% attend irregularly, and over 60% stop practicing their faith completely.)
And there is no better place to begin than Sundays: making Sunday holy, teaching your family and children that Sunday is holy, planning your whole Sunday around the Mass. And like I said: at the end of it you may not have a perfect family, or a normal family, but you may just end-up with a holy family.