Holy Family Sunday: Protecting our families from danger

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Holy Family Sunday, Year A: Dec. 26, 2010
Sir 3:2-6, 12-14; Ps 128:1-5; Col 3:12-17; Matt 2:13-15, 19-23

At Christmas we celebrate the truth that the Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father, took on our human nature in the Incarnation and was born a baby in Bethlehem some 2000 years ago. Our Lord Jesus became like us in all things but sin. And that includes growing up in a family. And so each year, within this Christmas Octave, usually on Sunday, we celebrate the feast of the Holy Family: celebrating that fact, celebrating that family, with Mary as Jesus’ mother and Joseph as his foster father. And so we take time to meditate upon this aspect of the great mystery of the Incarnation—and also to see how we may model our own families upon the Holy Family.

In 1964, Pope Paul VI visited the Holy Land. And when he was in Nazareth, he said that there we find “a kind of school where we may begin to discover what Christ’s life was like and even to understand his Gospel.”

As many of you know, I had the privilege of visiting the Holy Land for the first time just a couple months ago. And when our group was in Nazareth, we visited the Basilica of the Annunciation, and then right there on the same property the Church of St. Joseph. It was there that we celebrate Mass and that we had time to sit and pray and reflect. There were many depictions of the Holy Family there within the church, whether in painting or in sculpture. And it was quite moving for me to reflect on the fact that Jesus, Mary, and Joseph had lived together as a loving family for so many years, right there: perhaps directly underneath the church, or, if not, surely very close by, there on the grounds.

Now sometimes we might hear people say: poor St. Joseph! If anything ever went wrong in the Holy Family—well, we know it wasn’t the Son of God, and we know it wasn’t the Blessed Virgin conceived without sin—it had to be his fault! Every time; there wasn’t anyone left! And we might be tempted to think: Was he even needed in such a family? But he was. He was needed. Like any child, Jesus needed to grow up with a mother and a father—in a family where he was loved, honored, and taught how to advance in wisdom and age and favor before God and man, as St. Luke puts it. Jesus needed St. Joseph, as well as Mary.

We hear in passages of Scripture how Joseph served that family. And in the Gospel reading that we hear today, we hear about how St. Joseph protected his family from danger. Now, in their case, this danger was King Herod seeking to kill Jesus. To protect his family from this danger, Joseph took strong and clear action. He moved them first to Egypt and then to Nazareth—actions that it seems he did not have in mind beforehand; but which he saw, especially through the Lord’s leading, were necessary in order to protect his wife and foster son. And so he took strong and clear action to protect them from danger.

And this is something that is very important for all fathers and mothers in all times and places, including our time and place. The dangers that face your family are probably not a king sending soldiers to kill your children; but that does not mean that the dangers you face are any less real or less serious. And so it is essential that you also take strong and clear action to protect your family from any dangers that threaten it.

Now what might this look like? It involves different steps at different stages of life.

So let’s start young. Now, those who are children or teenagers or young adults not yet married might think: I don’t have a family; there are no dangers to protect them from yet. But this is not the case. In the years that you are still growing, and before you are married and have a family, you can indeed protect that future family from dangers. How? By keeping yourself chaste and pure; pure and clean, in mind and heart and body. For you do not want to wound yourself. You want to stay as whole and strong as possible so that one day, when you are married and when you have children, you can be the best possible husband and father, wife and mother, in order to serve and protect them at that time. And so you protect that family from danger by protecting yourself now.

Now you also—even at a young age, before getting married—should be taking time to learn more about the Church’s teaching about marriage and family. You should be taking advantage of an opportunity you can. For at the point that you actually become engaged, you will have very little time left. And so these younger years are a great opportunity. Anytime you see a class offered in the parish, or perhaps offered in the diocese, or you see a book that presents the Church’s teaching—in the midst of a culture that is so confused—take advantage of that.

And parents, take time to train up your children and your teenagers in this now. You don’t want to lose this time for what Pope John Paul II called the “remote preparation” for marriage—as important as it is at such a young age.

Now, when you do reach the time for that “immediate preparation” for marriage, during the time of engagement: any engaged couples should make sure to take full advantage of anything the Church offers you at that time. Do not let the events of the wedding rush you forward. For we know, as we look around, that there is such wreckage in marriages that end in bitter disagreement or unfaithfulness or other such problems. You don’t want to be rushed into having you or your fiancé/e falling into the same problems. And so you can protect your marriage and family against those dangers through taking advantage of all the preparation that the Church will offer you.

During your engagement and into your marriage, it is important to keep yourself sexually pure, and to resist temptations to things like abortion, or contraception, or in vitro fertilization. For, however common these may be in our culture, the Church wisely teaches that these are things that harm a marriage relationship and a family. And so these too are dangers to protect yourself and your family against.

And then, when you have children: if anything, the protection that you need to exercise goes up. For today more than ever your children will be subject to all manner of dangers, coming in all forms and at all times—in ways that were never true before. There will be dangers coming at them through the television, in movies, in the Internet, and in all the forms of hand-held devices that communicate with others or access what is available electronically. Parents, you need to be vigilant; to make sure you know what your children are taking in; and to protect them from anything that would be harmful to them. Parents, you also need to be careful of how they might be influenced by their friends, or what they might be learning in school. Those dangers may not look like a king sending soldiers to kill them, but they are just as real.

Now St. Joseph, facing the danger of the king, could do nothing but flee. But was we living in a democratic society and have a vote, we have a responsibility to use that vote, to use our influence as citizens, to protect our families and the families around us. And so when we have a chance to vote on laws, and to elect representatives, when the issues at stake include the legalization or the promotion of things like abortion, no-fault divorce, or the redefinition of marriage, we need to vote and to speak and to take action to protect our own families and other families—since we have that opportunity that St. Joseph did not have in his time and place.

When we act to protect our families against dangers—throughout all these stages and in all these ways—then the family can live out its calling. Family life is not simple; it is not easy; but it is nevertheless a crucible in which so many virtues can be cultivated, and so many beautiful personal qualities can grow. Things like we heard about in our readings today: like honor, obedience, reverence, care, and kindness; compassion, humility, gentleness, patience, forgiveness, gratitude, love, and peace.

All of these are ways in which Jesus grew as a boy and a young man, living in the Holy Family with Mary and St. Joseph; and we too can grow in this way in our own families. Pope Paul VI said during his visit to Nazareth:

May [the Holy Family] show us the family’s holy and enduring character and exemplifying its basic function in society: a community of love and sharing, beautiful for the problems it poses and the rewards it brings; in sum, the perfect setting for rearing children—and for this there is no substitute.

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Published in: on December 26, 2010 at 2:36 pm  Leave a Comment  
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