Homily for Holy Family

Readings: 1 Sam. 1.20-28; Ps. 84; 1 Jn. 3.1-24; Lk. 2.41-52

The first reading and the gospel present similar contexts and messages: two families, at times of annual religious celebrations, experienced a dedication to God, one of the child and the other by the child.

In the first reading, whose time period is 1050BC, the man Elkanah and his two wives were to make an annual pilgrimage to the shrine at Shiloh. The preferred wife Hannah had been childless. The rival wife kept ridiculing Hannah's barrenness. Finally, Hannah conceives and gives birth to the boy Samuel. The first-born Samuel is to be dedicated to God, and is left at the shrine to be raised there. Eventually Samuel became chief political leader just before David became Israel's first king about 1000BC. According to custom, Hannah nursed the child until he reached 3 years of age. Hannah wanted to hold on to her child as long as possible. When she did bring her son to Shiloh, she apologized for having waited so long, and adds, "Now I, in turn, give him to the Lord; as long as he lives, he shall be dedicated to the Lord."

In the gospel, Jesus, Mary and Joseph had gone to the temple at Jerusalem for the annual feast of Passover. At its conclusion, they headed north for the 65 mile journey to Nazareth. After the first day, they looked for their child in the midst of the caravan. They could not find him. Where was he? Jesus had remained at Jerusalem. He had gone to the temple to discuss with the teachers God's revelations to the Jewish people. When his parents found him, he explained his absence, "Did you not know that I must be in my Father's house?"

The Holy Family serves as a model for our families. Jesus, Mary and Joseph sought to know and to follow God's will. They did not always understand what God asked of them. They questioned what God asked of them, but they trusted even though they did not understand everything. Jesus even begged in the Garden of Gethsemane, "If this cup can pass from me, then let it do so, but not my will but your will be done." The Opening Prayer in today's liturgy reads: "Father, help us to live as the holy family, united in respect and love. Bring us the joy and peace of your eternal home."

Friends, remember that the Holy Family is not exactly like our families. None of our families have ever been referred to as the holy family. In Christ's Holy Family two of the three persons never sinned. The child was the God made man. His mother had said "yes" to the angel who asked her to be the virgin mother of God. Her husband spoke with angels on at least three occasions, and never had relations with his wife. Because I don't understand everything about God's will in my life, I am encouraged when I read that Mary and Joseph obviously did not understand everything about their son who says to them, "Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I had to be about my Father's business?" Also, the Holy Family's home was not without suffering; for very good and many reasons Mary is called the mother of sorrows.

This Holy Family is not like our ordinary Emmitsburg families. We come from and currently enjoy wonderful families. But no family is perfect. We try to be holy, but none of us is sinless; each of us remains a work in process. We try to know and do God's will, but that goal oftentimes seems mysterious. Even when the Scriptures and the Church clearly declare God's will, even then it becomes difficult to follow God's will. Our weaknesses in prayer, patience, forgiveness, and self-sacrifice hold us back from performing God's will. Families, thank God for the good blessings which God has sent your way. Ask God for the grace to face and embrace your realities, to respect each other, to communicate kindly with each other, to help each other.

A funny story from a semi-normal family, namely, my family. One Christmas season, when my mother was in the hospital, delivering twins on Dec. 23, my dad was in charge of the other seven children at home. I remember well that the Christmas tree in the living room fell over many times, or more accurately was pulled by one of us children. I can still see in my mind's eye the Christmas balls shattering as they hit the ground. We O'Malley children were very honest, most of the times. We quickly admitted that the tree mysteriously had fallen over; usually we blamed one of our younger siblings who had not yet learned how to speak; in my home, it was almost always "someone's else's" fault. My dad responded with annoyance the first time the tree fell over, but with each successive collapse, he laughed more and more. That same Christmas, I remember my dad cooking a large turkey. We children stood around the stove watching him. When he opened the oven door to slide out the turkey, he lost his grip, dropped the turkey, which then slid across the kitchen floor. The seven children, ages 2-10, all laughed. My dad knew we were laughing with him, not at him. Trust and respect, love and laughter go hand in hand.

Families, let's respect each person in the family. Let's love and forgive each person as Jesus has forgiven us. Keep your sense of humor. Keep your family on the path of holiness. Happy Holy Family Sunday.




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