Catholic Homily / Reflection
December 27, 2009

The Feast of the Holy Family stands in stark contrast to what the current craze of the TV “infotainment” world offers what one program calls the “six continents” – REALITY TV! At a time when shows portray what media practitioners and purveyors of entertainment refer to as “reality as it is,” when slogans like “no holds barred” refer to more than just a carefully choreographed wrestling match, shows like “Survivor” now appear so tame compared to the new shows that continue to titillate the curiosity of viewers, shows that veritably leave nothing more to the imagination of patrons.

In a “socially constructionist” inspired world, where reality is not so much what we perceive, as what we create or construct together, one wonders whether the usual excuse that purveyors limply say (we-just- create-shows-that-people-want-to-see kind of thinking), really holds water.

But this is beside the point of this reflection for today…

All I wanted to say is this… Everything we do in Church these days … All the feasts we uphold and struggle hard to celebrate… the very life and liturgy of the Church, her Creed, Code and Cult, to be a little more theological and technical, including the feast of the Holy Family, are all counter-cultural.

Countercultural, though, is not to be taken to mean strange, bizarre, unrealistic, and not doable. Let us focus our reflection on today’s feast, the Holy Family. Take the case of the First Reading, taken from Sirach. It is a reading from which God’s obvious sympathy and commitment to family life simply ooze out unmistakably. Without going into details that may sound politically incorrect in our times, there is no denying the fact that there are certain virtues like kindness, respect for parents, deference and filial obedience to parental authority that Sirach speaks about, that serve to weld the family together. In a culture and context in which 50 % of marriages statistically end up in divorce, where broken and “blended” families seem to be more the rule rather than the exception, where meaningful connectedness in the context of family seems to be hard to come by, Sirach’s divinely inspired words sound like life-giving and soothing waters in a dry and parched desert of family relatedness or the lack of it.

Add now to the mix the exhortations of Paul in his letter to the Colossians. He speaks of kindness, compassion, humility, gentleness, patience, forgiveness, and love. Again, these are virtues that stand in stark contrast to the “best” – or, more properly, the worst – of so-called “trash TV.” Reality, no matter how bad, no matter how depressing and disappointing, is best served with a generous dose of family values or virtues such as those mentioned by Paul. Reality, or that which we choose to create for ourselves, could use a little help from some old-fashioned talk about “virtue” or at least, what in ancient times, we called “good manners and right conduct.”

Contemporary culture, spearheaded by the Western world, prizing as it does egalitarian values and personal autonomy, is loathe to accept the equally cultural value prized by the Jews of the times of Jesus that refer to a certain level of “male privilege” over women and children. We have to be careful that we see the essential meaning of Scripture and sift it from what is human and culture bound, that is, differentiate what is specifically Christian from what is specifically cultural in the times of Paul, lest we run into problems that fundamentalist Bible-wielding (Sola Scriptura!) Christians are hard pressed to explain convincingly.

And this is exactly where the guidance of the living Church comes to our aid. This is exactly where the Feast of the Holy Family, presented and offered by Holy Mother Church in our times can be of help and guidance to us. Coming as it does in the heels of the Solemnity of Christmas, the feast teaches us one very important lesson that should jut out of all three readings today. Christ has come to renew all things. Christ has come as man to change the course of human history. His coming also means a change in the way we relate to one another as human beings, as members of communities and societies, and definitely as members of that basic unit of society called the family. His coming into our lives, and our accepting him as Lord and Savior, means to say that being subject to him and God’s will necessitates a transformation in the way we live our lives together, in the way we treat one another.

The virtues enumerated by Sirach, those listed down by Paul, habits of the heart and of the hand that Christian believers lived by definitely changed the lives of the early Christian families. From a totally hierarchical and somewhat culturally blind obedience to men as patriarchs who enjoyed the traditional “male privilege” and “absolute male power,” Christians learned to appreciate “co-responsibility,” mutual respect and love, solidarity, partnership in life and love, and mutual caring. In Christian families, it should no longer be a question of who holds the power, but one of who holds responsibility for, (not over) others.

Reality TV shows us what our “unredeemed” selves can be quite capable of creating. Today’s liturgy and celebration, which presents the family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph as ultimate model and example, show us what our “redeemed” selves are definitely capable of co-creating, together with others.

Yes, I am referring to a message I go back to, time and time again, without tiring, without giving up. That message is one of hope and courage. I urge individuals to go and re-connect with their families … physically, morally, psychologically, and most of all, spiritually. Today is a good day to forgive one another’s faults and foibles. Today is a perfect day to allow the Holy Family gather us into one common family of mankind, to help us find our roots in civil society, in the Church community, in the parochial community, in our neighborhood. Surely, there are things we can do together. (In the Philippines, the otherwise cynical and comfortable middle class, the ultra rich, and the teeming masses of the hoi polloi, the poor and ordinary powerless, many a time uneducated, citizens, can now find time to rally together behind the social teachings of the Church, and work together to attain what our seemingly hopeless political situation cannot seem to guarantee, let alone begin. Perhaps, now is not the time anymore to wrangle endlessly about who should be president or not, about who is intellectually challenged and who is not, about who should not be in the list of presidentiables and who should be… We have lost precious time and energy allowing too much politics to take control over our lives. It is high time we took up the challenges of the Holy Family of Nazareth, the words of Sirach and Paul, and did something together for a change, and make the country move forward, never mind who lives at Malacanan.)

The feast of the Holy Family teaches us not about privilege of power and prestige. It teaches us about virtue, about humility and selfless service. For all that these virtues ultimately refer to is Christian responsibility, not privilege.

I end with a prayer for the Philippines, now once again rapt more in agony than excitement, at the coming national elections …

Jesus, Mary and Joseph, come to the aid of our sorely divided and fragmented nation and people. As we prepare once more for our national elections, deep wounds of disunity and distrust still plague our common polity, our membership in the one body of Christ that is the Church. We are like little children fighting over inconsequential things. We remain divided in terms of those who have and those who have nothing; those who are educated, and those who are not; those who have connections, and those who can only rely on themselves; those who are very much Church-connected and those who are absolutely unchurched. Nowhere is this division into distinct camps so visible as in the phenomenon called national elections. Jesus, Mary and Joseph, assist our people. Mold us into one family united not by our likes and dislikes, but united by virtues of compassion, humility, mutual service, love and solidarity.

O Blessed and Holy Family of Nazareth, make our people revel, not on status and privilege, but on mutual responsibility for one another. Amen.