29 December 2019

Homily - The Feast of the Holy Family - 29 December 2019

The Feast of the Holy Family (A)

Dear brothers and sisters,

Last Sunday we had the opportunity to reflect on the life and example of Saint Joseph. In particular, we noted how his silent reflection was borne from his desire to listen intently toward the will of God and to carry out the Lord’s will. We saw in Saint Joseph that “silence does not express an inner emptiness but, on the contrary, the fullness of the faith he bears in his heart and which guides his every thought and action.”[1]

It was the fullness of his faith that allowed Saint Joseph to heed the angel’s warnings to “rise, take the Child and his mother” and go (Matthew 2:13, 20). He did so without questions or arguments or hesitations; why? Because “whoever listens, whoever obeys, has nothing else to do than this: get up. Get up, and set off, and the path is that of obedience, through which salvation passes.”[2]

When Saint Joseph got up and fled, first to Egypt and then to Nazareth, he left everything behind without a second thought: “his work, his house, and his friends. But none of this amounts to anything for him. His happiness consists only in protecting the child and his mother with no thought for himself.”[3] In this, Saint Joseph knew what Frodo Baggins also knew: “It must often be so, Sam, when things are in danger: someone has to give them up, lose them, so that others may keep them.”[4] Saint Joseph gave up so much in life, but gained so much more in protecting the Divine Infant and his Mother.

We might say that Saint Joseph is an embodiment of selfless love because, at great personal risk, the foster father of Jesus “entrusted himself always to God’s will, and put it into practice.”[5] Here, we learn that

the faith of Joseph, in fact, did not end when he gave his assent, but, on the contrary, from there began a journey in which only faith would have guided it, a path in which, at every step, he would be called to trust anew. And that is the wealth and beauty of life.[6]

So it is with our faith, as well; it is not enough to make an initial assent of trust in God, but with each step of life it must be renewed. This is why the Psalmist sings, “Blessed is everyone who fears the Lord, who walks in his ways” (Psalm 128:1)!

Reflecting on the fullness of Saint Joseph’s faith, the Church has bestowed upon him, among other titles, those of “Chaste Guardian of the Virgin” and “Diligent Protector of Christ.” Whereas last week we saw his obedient silence, today we see his outstanding courage, a desirable attribute that enabled him to be, as Pope Francis describes him, “the guardian who tirelessly protects his family.”[7]

Perhaps curiously, it is precisely in the courageous silence of Saint Joseph that we learn a great secret of family life, namely, that love “reaches its fulfillment when each family member seeks not his or her own joy, but the joy of the other. Dedication to the good of the other is the condition for the happiness that comes from God.”[8] Indeed, it might be said that Saint Joseph “forgets himself in order to seek the good of the child and his mother, these precious people to whom God has entrusted him. His entire life is characterized by that care.”[9]

In recent decades especially, many people, both men and women, have not looked seriously to Saint Joseph for guidance in their families. Having fallen for the lie that life is about myself, too many people have not imitated Saint Joseph’s forgetfulness of self. Today in family life, we must admit with much sorrow that

we often lose sight of that attitude when affection degenerates into masked self-interest. Then discord reigns rather than harmony as interests and feelings are questioned and doubted: nothing is ever right, no one in the family is ever happy since self-centeredness can never be satisfied.[10]

The Chaste Guardian of the Virgin and Diligent Protector of Christ understood this well; consequently, he was both blessed and favored (cf. Psalm 128:2).

If we wish to recover and strengthen the beauty of family life within our society, then we must each look to Saint Joseph as a clear indicator of the path laid out before us. We must be chaste guardians and diligent protectors of one other to help us all grow daily in holiness and follow his example of selfless and loving courage. We must remember that life is not meant to be about me, myself, and I and that life is not meant to be convenient all of the time; for most of humanity, very little in life was, is, or will be convenient. In fact, if we are honest, love always requires inconvenience because love always entails sacrifice. We can learn all of this from Saint Joseph. May he, the Chaste Guardian of the Virgin and the Diligent Protector of Christ, teach us to do the same for each other; may he obtain for us the grace of courageous silence so that we might also forget ourselves and care selflessly for those entrusted to us. Amen.

[1] Pope Benedict XVI, Angelus Address, 18 December 2005.
[2] Archbishop Pierbattista Pizzaballa, O.F.M., Homily, 29 December 2019.
[3] Albert Vanhoye, S.J., Daily Bread of the Word: Reflections on the Weekday Lectionary Readings (Chicago: Liturgical Training Publications, 2019), 29.
[4] J.R.R. Tolkien, The Return of the King: Being the Third Part of The Lord of the Rings (New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1994), 1006.
[5] Pope Francis, Admirabile signum, 7.
[6] Archbishop Pierbattista Pizzaballa, Homily, 29 December 2019.
[7] Pope Francis, Admirabile signum, 7.
[8] Albert Vanhoye, S.J., Daily Bread of the Word, 28.
[9] Ibid.
[10] Ibid., 29.

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