Catholic Homily/Sunday Gospel Reflections

Feast of the Holy Family

December 28, 2008

Our reflections on the family reach a high point today as the liturgy focuses on the Holy Family. Two families are offered to us for reflection by the readings today: that of Abraham and Sarah and that of Joseph, Mary and Jesus.

The first reading starts out with a reminder from Yahweh to Abram: “Fear not, Abram! I am your shield; I will make your reward very great.” Initial unbelief was Abram’s response. But “Abram put faith in the Lord, who credited it to him as an act of righteousness.” The second reading from the letter to the Hebrews rightly extols the faith of Abraham and echoes the fulfillment of the promise made to Abraham about his “descendants becoming as numerous as the stars and as countless as the sands on the seashore.”

The Gospel recounts the Holy Family making a trip to the temple to present the child Jesus as prescribed by the Law. Joseph, Mary and Jesus wended their way dutifully to the temple to do their pilgrimage of faith according to the practice of the times.

These two families are shown to us as families on the move, families on the go, embarking on a journey of faith born out of obedience to the will of the God they believed in. Abram obeyed Yahweh to go and become the father of his chosen people. Joseph, Mary and Jesus obeyed what was prescribed by the Mosaic Law. Being poor they offered two turtledoves or two pigeons again, as prescribed accordingly.

There is a very real possibility about many of us missing the point of today’s feast by allowing ourselves to idealize the holy family and put all three on a pedestal, as it were.

Today is a good day to dismantle such idealized images we may have about the holy family! I would like to start with a curious question for your reflection. Did the holy family ever experience what we now call family crisis? Was there any dysfunction in that little family at Nazareth? To be sure, there is precious little we really know and can really know about the so-called “hidden life” of Jesus. There are no historical accounts we can consult that would show “snapshots” (or MPEG files!) of the holy family enmeshed in crisis situations that would make them lose their porcelain, picture-perfect composure as often presented in holy images, stampitas, and paintings from a bygone era! All such renditions and portraits would invariably present them in very pious poses that would show them always in their best elements!

But I would like you to consider the following for a short while…just look at the sacrifice they offered…two turtledoves…something they could hardly afford. That alone must have cost them a lot, not counting the running cost of a lengthy journey from Nazareth to Jerusalem. The fact that they joined a caravan, as can be gleaned from a separate story told about the young boy who, at a certain point in the journey, parted ways with them and then was found to be in the temple with the wise old men. Joining a caravan was meant for mutual protection, mutual security, something the poor definitely ought to be doing in order to get strength from numbers, a get-up that normally could be afforded only by the very rich!

Consider, too, the answer given by the 12 year old boy to a worried mother who asks him: “Son, why have you done this to us?” Jesus’ answer, even for ancient standards must have sounded very painful to a parent’s ears: “Why did you have to look for me? Did you not know I must be about my Father’s business?” I challenge every mother and every father here in this church… isn’t this something you would most likely feel sore about? And isn’t this something potentially crisis-inducing?… a 12-year old son of yours not only talking back, but also speaking about things you have absolutely no idea about?

From these two alone, your idealized picture of the holy family in a state of unsullied perfection already is bound to crumble! But consider this some more. When Jesus and his mother attended that famous wedding at Cana and the distressed newlyweds who were probably casting furtive and worried glances at the fast-diminishing wine in jars and Mary, feeling for the worried couple, tried her best to save the newlyweds from a potentially embarrassing situation, ended up getting very much embarrassed herself. I ask every mother here in this assembly… what would you have felt when, at a situation when you wanted to be very much of help, and the only person you could confidently ask is your son, and your son snaps at you with an answer like: “Woman, what is it to me and to you? My hour has not yet come!” Just how would you, as a mother, have felt in such a situation? There goes our idealized, over-romanticized image of the holy family!

And there’s more! What about the feeling of Joseph, an accomplished carpenter, at the sight of his son, not following his footsteps, and at a certain time, began to be walking about all over Galilee, calling disciples, and talking about them becoming fishers instead of becoming carpenters? Just how would you as a father who had woven countless dreams for your son, and finding out your son is interested about doing something else, perhaps starting a ragtag band of followers who preached, taught and did marvels like their master? Had Joseph been alive then in Jesus’ public life, what would he have felt?

And then, there is this other incident when Mary must have felt greatly embarrassed. When Mary sent a messenger to tell him: “Your mother and your relatives are looking for you,” Jesus brusquely replied: “Who are my mother and my brothers?” If you were in Mary’s place, what would you have felt?

As human families, we all go through such daily rounds of dysfunctionality in various forms. We all pass through difficult moments when verbal abuse seems to be the easiest way out of an impasse. We often are tempted to just resolve things through violence, verbal, emotional or physical. Where there is movement, there is friction, and where there are people, there is bound to be relational problems. It is all part of our human existence.

And that is precisely why the Church presents the holy family as model for all families. The holy family had their own share of difficult moments, their own share of disappointments and hurts. Abraham did not find moving to Ur a breeze, given his old age and his attachments to the land of his birth. It was not easy for Joseph, in his old age, too, to be taking care of a fledgling family and facing so many threats and challenges early on in the life of Jesus. The high and the mighty of the time, like Herod, already felt threatened by this seemingly insignificant boy born in marvelous circumstances! It was not easy to obey something one did not fully understand. But Joseph and Mary obeyed, despite all that lack of sure understanding!

Our families now are besieged on all fronts by immense challenges. They are being swayed to and fro by so many conflicting movements that all claim the family’s allegiance all at the same time. As families journey on through their civil and social lives, their values are sorely tested by the appealing values of consumerism, materialism and hedonism.

This is where the holy family of Nazareth comes in as a shining example and model. They stayed in the right course, as they journeyed on, because they followed the path of faith, and the obedience of faith. They obeyed at times against all reason. They just followed in faith.

Families, I suggest you take if from Joseph, Mary and Jesus… far from God, you run the risk of committing mistakes, even losing your way altogether. With God and His Church, you can never go far wrong. All it takes is a little humility, obedience, and a lot of faith in God, who can neither deceive, nor be deceived.


I'd like to offer this story on my application that brings the prayer on iPhone.
I believe that prayer is Christian and Catholic from spreading. You wonder why you can publish the news and if you can spread it to your friends on the blog.


fr. Paolo Padrini

Sacred texts: Vatican embraces iTunes prayer book
5 days ago
VATICAN CITY (AP) — The Vatican is endorsing new technology that brings the book of daily prayers used by priests straight onto iPhones.
The Vatican's Pontifical Council for Social Communications is embracing the iBreviary, an iTunes application created by a technologically savvy Italian priest, the Rev. Paolo Padrini, and an Italian Web designer.
The application includes the Breviary prayer book — in Italian, English, Spanish, French and Latin and, in the near future, Portuguese and German. Another section includes the prayers of the daily Mass, and a third contains various other prayers.
After a free trial period in which the iBreviary was downloaded approximately 10,000 times in Italy, an official version was released earlier this month, Padrini said.
The application costs euro0.79 ($1.10), while upgrades will be free. Padrini's proceeds are going to charity.
Monsignor Paul Tighe, secretary of the Vatican's Pontifical Council for Social Communications, praised the new application Monday, saying the Church "is learning to use the new technologies primarily as a tool or as a mean of evangelizing, as a way of being able to share its own message with the world."
Pope Benedict XVI, a classical music lover who was reportedly given an iPod in 2006, has sought to reach out to young people through new media. During last summer's World Youth Day in Sydney, Australia, he sent out mobile phone text messages citing scripture to thousands of registered pilgrims — signed with the tagline "BXVI."