The Solemnity of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph
27 December 2015
The Cathedral Basilica of Our Lady of Peace
Dear brothers and sisters,
As we collected our prayers together at the beginning of this Holy Mass and presented them to God, we asked for the grace to “imitate” the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph “in practicing the virtues of family life and in the bonds of charity.” But if we are to imitate them, we have to understand what we call them; we have to know what it means to be holy.
To be holy is to be set apart from everyday items, to be dedicated for the service of God. This altar, for example, is holy because it has been consecrated for the exclusive service of God and is not used as we might use any other table. In this sense, each of us was made holy - each of us was set apart for the service of God - when we were baptized into the Death and Resurrection of Christ Jesus. It was at this moment that we became “the children of God” (I John 3:1). This initial holiness, though, must be fostered, strengthened, and deepened by keeping the commandments and remaining in him (cf. I John 3:24).
We often speak of the saints – the holy ones – as the blessed. So it is that when the Church uses the word “holy,” she sometimes has another meaning in mind, a secondary meaning, which we see expressed in the Psalm we sang a few moments ago. For this reason, we sang to God with the Psalmist, “Blessed are those who dwell in your house, O Lord,” and “Happy are they who dwell in your house” (Psalm 84:5). How can the same verse begin in two different ways? The Latin word beatus contains both meanings, because those who are blessed are also happy. We might then say that the Holy Family is the Happy Family.
We see this by looking at each of the members of the Holy Family. Certainly Mary knew herself to have been set apart for the service of God and she set herself apart when she said to the Archangel Gabriel, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38). Joseph, too, set himself apart for the service of God when, as the angel of the Lord told him, he took Mary into his home and raised Jesus as his son (cf. Matthew 1:24). Jesus, too, of course, knew himself to be set apart for the service of God and for this reason he remained behind in the Temple in Jerusalem (cf. Luke 2:43). The Holy Family was blessed because they sought their happiness in God.
If we take a moment to think deeply, each of us will recognize a yearning for happiness present within our hearts, a yearning that motivates, in one way or another, everything we do. We go in so many different directions looking for happiness and we spend great amounts of time, energy, and even money trying to find it, yet we continually fail. Why? It is, I daresay, because we keep looking for happiness within ourselves, within our own desires. This is very foolish, because we are not always very good about knowing our own desires.
Each of us has, at one point or another, called a group of friends and said, “Hey, let’s go do this; it’ll be great!” We get together, done whatever it is we thought would be a fun time, only to find it incredibly boring.
Each of us has surely become bored on a Saturday afternoon. What do we do when this happens? Because we get hungry when we are bored, we go into the kitchen. We open the refrigerator, peer around inside, pushing things from one side to the other, and, finding nothing to eat, we close the door and search the cabinets. Still finding nothing to eat, we return to the refrigerator in the hopes that something will have magically appeared (we’ve all done it). The problem, of course, is not that there is really no food in the house, but that though we know we are hungry, we do not know what we are hungry for. If we so often do not know what will bring us happiness in so mundane and ordinary a situation, we how can we possibly hope to find a lasting happiness on our own?
If we think about this more deeply yet, we will recognize that our desire for happiness, the fact that we go about looking for it, means that something within us is missing, that we lack something. We keep looking for happiness in the things of this world, in the things that pass away and fade; so it is that the happiness we find passes away and fades. However, we do not want a fading happiness; we want a happiness that never diminishes. Such a happiness can only be found in him who is eternal; it can only be found in God. This is why the Psalmist sings, “My soul yearns and pines for the courts of the Lord. My heart and my flesh cry out for the living God” (Psalm 84:3).
The family, then, must be a School of Happiness and, therefore, also a School of Holiness. Contrary to our usual way of thinking, holiness is not something beyond our grasp or something reserved for a few. No, holiness – true and lasting happiness – is possible for each one of us and our families are meant to help us find the way, but how can they do so?
A few years ago, Benedict XVI gave us three simple steps to holiness, what he called three essential aspects of holiness. The first essential, he said, “means never leaving a Sunday without an encounter with the Risen Christ in the Eucharist; this is not an additional burden but is light for the whole week.” Too often we think of Sunday as the last day of the weekend, rather than – as it is for Christians – the first day of the week that prepares us for the week ahead.
The second essential is “never beginning and never ending a day without at least a brief contact with God.” We cannot hope to “remain in him” if we do not follow his will for us and we cannot know his will for us without speaking with him each day and – more importantly – listening to him each day.
The third essential “means following the ‘signposts’ that God has communicated to us in the Ten Commandments, interpreted with Christ, which are merely the explanation of what love is in specific situations.” Jesus, if you will, expands the Ten Commandments broadening and fulfilling their meaning so that by keeping them we more perfectly imitate him.
If we go to Mass every Sunday and holyday, if we begin and end every day in prayer, and if we make every decision based on the Ten Commandments, and help each other to do so, we will indeed have holy and happy families. Holiness really is this simple, but that does not mean it is easy. God gives us our families so that we might help each other in the hard journey toward holiness so that together we might make the pilgrimage from our family home to the House of the Father.
In these remaining days of Christmas, let us look to the example of the Holy Family. Let us strive to set ourselves apart for the service of God and let us strive to help each other find the satisfaction of every desire of our hearts in the Father’s house. Amen.