03 January 2014

Homily - Feast of the Holy Family - 29 December 2013

The Feast of the Holy Family

Dear brothers and sisters,

“Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests” (Luke 2:14).  With these words the angels announced the Birth of the One spoken of by the prophets, of the One who is both Savior and Lord (cf. Luke 2:11).

In the sentimentality of our manger scenes, we sometimes forget or overlook the great wonder, the unimaginable condescension of the Son of God.  Of the Incarnation, of God taking human flesh, J.R.R. Tolkien, author of The Lord of the Rings, once said, “The Incarnation of God is an infinitely greater thing than anything I would dare to write.”

For the ancients, and even for we moderns, the thought that the all-powerful God would make Himself small for us was simply beyond them.  So it was that the Magi “prostrated themselves [before the Child] and did him homage” (Matthew 2:11).  It is the same reason that the shepherds made haste to look upon the tender power of God (cf. Luke 2:16).

The angels sang, “Glory!,” because, for mam, the Incarnation was simply inconceivable.  They sang of peace because the proper disposition before the power of God, whether displayed in its full majesty or concealed in humility, is a reverent fear.

The Psalmist today reminds us, “Blessed are those who fear the Lord, and walk in his ways” (cf. Psalm 128:1).  Some years back, Pope Benedict XVI beautifully described the gift of the fear of the Lord.  The Psalmist reminds us that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom and from this Benedict noted that the fear of the Lord “coincides with faith in God, with the sacred respect for his authority over life and the world.  Being ‘without the fear of the Lord,’” he said, “is equivalent to putting ourselves in his place, feeling ourselves to be master of good and evil, of life and death.”

King Herod seems to have lived without the fear of the Lord, which explains why he ordered the slaughter of the Holy Innocents.  He not relinquish his power or entrust his will even to one greater than himself.

If we have a proper fear of the Lord relinquishing our power and entrusting our will to the Lord becomes easy, because, as Benedict XVI reminds us, “he who fears God feels interiorly the security of a child in the arms of his mother (cf. Psalm 130:2): He who fears God is calm even in the midst of storms, because God, as Jesus has revealed to us, is a Father who is full of mercy and goodness.”

We sense this security in the life of Saint Joseph, who responds with courageous faith to all that the Lord asks of him.  Joseph is described as a just man; in Joseph we learn that the fear of the Lord is closely bound up with justice.  The just man, the Scriptures tells us, is he who keeps a relationship with God; “for him the law is simply Gospel, good news, because he reads it with a personal, loving openness to God and in this way learns to understand and live it from deep within.”[1]

When the angel thrice brings a message to Joseph in a dream, he does not panic or become anxious, but remains calm in the certainty of the Lord’s love.  Because he is secure in the proper fear of the Lord, Benedict XVI reminds us that Saint Joseph “is not afraid of anything, because he knows that he is in the hands of God, he knows that evil is irrational and does not have the last word.”  The one who fears the Lord knows “that Christ alone is the Lord of the world and life, the Incarnate Word of God, he knows that Christ loved us to the point of sacrificing himself, dying on the cross for our salvation.”

Saint Joseph knew the truth of what Pope Benedict XVI once expressed, that “faith is not meant to instill fear; rather it is meant – surely – to call us to accountability.  We are not meant to waste our lives, misuse them, or spend them selfishly.”[2]  Because he understood these words, because he understood the connection between faith, the fear of the Lord, and justice, Joseph fulfilled his duties with great devotion, humility, and love.

In all things, both Mary and Joseph anticipated the counsel of Saint Paul, which we have heard today: “Let the peace of Christ control your hearts, the peace into which you were also called into one body” (Colossians 3:15).  We must hear this counsel anew each day!

Within so many hearts today there is a tragic absence of peace.  One need only look to the growing number of addictions to which so many individuals and families have allowed themselves to become enslaved.  The Child of Bethlehem longs to free us from these!  How he longs to bestow the gift of his mercy and peace upon us!

We, too, must go to Bethlehem.  We, too, must gaze upon the Child, small and yet mighty.  We, too, must prostrate ourselves before him and contemplate his majesty, for within his tiny fingers is the strength, power, and grace to draw us out of the might waters that would engulf us, even as he did Saint Peter.

To see such power made small is indeed a sight worthy of the highest gratitude and praise.  It is a fearful thing to see such condescension, and at the same time a matter of great glory, for only one who is great can make himself so small.

As we look upon the Child, he looks out to us and stretches out his tiny arms, even as he stretched out his arms on the Cross, to embrace us, to receive our love, and to give us his gift of peace.  Because it is a free gift, it may be freely rejected; we can either lavish him with our love, or walk away from him.  This is the great risk of the Incarnation.  As he looks upon us, he asks, “Will you let my peace control your heart, will you walk in my ways?  Or will you seek to keep your heart your own, to be master of your own life and walk in your own ways?”  The one leads to peace, the other does not.

Just as the Hebrews were called out of Egypt, just as the Son was called out of Egypt, so are you and I called out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.  It is easy throughout salvation history, and in the lives of each one of us, the fulfillment of the words the Lord spoke through the prophet Hosea: “The more I called them, the more they went from me” (Hosea 11:2).

In Jesus, we see the One who “is truly the Son.  He is not going to run away from the Father.  He returns home, and he leads others home.  He is always on the path toward God, and thus he leads the way back from exile to the homeland, back to all that is authentic and true.  Jesus, the true Son, himself went into ‘exile’ in a very deep sense, in order to lead us all home from exile.”[3]  Will we follow him?  Will we walk in his ways?  Will we let his peace control our hearts?

Pope Francis continually reminds us that “God never tired of forgiving us; we are the ones who tire of seeking his mercy.”[4]  The world promises us peace by urging us to do whatever we want, with no thought to consequences or responsibilities, yet those who follow this path never find true and lasting peace. 

Jesus shows us another way, the way of obedience to the Father’s will.  On the night he was betrayed and gave his Body and Blood as our true food and drink, he said, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you.  Not as the world gives do I give it to you.  Do not let your hearts be trouble or afraid” (John 14:27).  When he appeared to the Eleven gathered in fear in the Upper Room, he again said to them, “Peace be with you” (John 20:19).

The first gift of the Risen Lord is the very same gift he bestowed when he was born at Bethlehem.  Remember the song of the angels: “…and peace to those on whom his favor rests.”  Those on whom his favor rests are those who “share the attitude of the Son – those who are conformed to Christ” in obedience to the Father.[5]

By turning to Mary who does not cry out in protest at the foot of the Cross of her Son, “we can learn what true com-passion is: quite unsentimentally assuming the sufferings of others as one’s own.”[6]  Together with her spouse, she teaches us obedience in faith, an obedience that rests in the arms of the Father and is filled with peace.

Let us today beg the Holy Family to teach us to be obedient to the Father’s will and to have a proper fear of the Lord borne from faith, so that we may yield to the love of the Child of Bethlehem.  By living in this way, may we be always filled with joy and peace that comes from the Gospel and proclaim with the angels, “Glory to God in the highest and peace to those on whom his favor rests!”  Amen.

[1] Joseph Ratzinger/Benedict XVI, Jesus of Nazareth: The Infancy Narratives, 39-40.
[2] Pope Benedict XVI, Homily, 12 September 2006.
[3] Joseph Ratzinger/Benedict XVI, The Infancy Narratives, 111-112.
[4] Pope Francis, Evangelii Gaudium, 3.
[5] Joseph Ratzinger/Benedict XVI, The Infancy Narratives, 75.
[6] Ibid., 87.

No comments:

Post a Comment