The following homily was given by Arlington Bishop Paul S. Loverde at the Mass celebrating the Feast of the Holy Family on December 26, 2004, at the Cathedral of St. Thomas More in Arlington.
Of all the holidays and seasons during the year, the one by far which is connected with family is Christmas. Christmas and family go together! It is not surprising then, in fact, it is very appropriate that the Sunday after Christmas focuses in the liturgy on family by celebrating the Feast of the Holy Family.
It is not easy to talk about family especially in the United States. Family life is no longer what it was years ago. The divorce rate in the United States is high; 1 out of 3, for sure, and often, 1 out of 2 marriages break up. The result is families where parents are remarried, and that very much affects family life. One-parent families are no longer rare. Even in families where there are the two original parents much has changed: more activity, more demands, more stress.
With all this in the background, we are being invited — in fact, challenged — by God's Word today to reflect on how we are to live as Christian families.
The Scripture readings just proclaimed in our hearing and today's Opening Prayer offer us some solid advice for our reflection. In the Opening Prayer of today's Mass, we asked: "Father, help us to live as the Holy Family, united in respect and love." Today's Scripture readings reinforce what it means to live "united in respect and love." The Book of Sirach, from which today's first reading is taken, teaches us that those who love God honor their parents, by respecting them and being concerned for them, even and especially in their old age. In today's second reading, taken from St. Paul's Letter to the Colossians, we are reminded of what respect and love mean in the concrete. The virtues which St. Paul lists each reveal an aspect of genuine respect and love: heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience, forbearance and forgiveness. Today's account from St. Matthew's Gospel describes how St. Joseph respected the special mission given to him to watch over and protect Mary and Jesus, even in times of unexpected difficulty and stress.
Yes, we are being instructed to weave into our family relationships both respect and love. "Respect" implies "the way we look at others," a kind of attitude. So then, do we realize that each person is unique, possessing both strengths and weaknesses? Do we accept others with their individual habits and characteristics, affirming what is good and seeking to encourage improvement in what needs to be changed? Do we try to understand another's viewpoint, realizing that understanding is not identical to agreement? Can we disagree with someone's ideas while still respecting that person? All this is so important in our relationships, especially within the family.
Moving beyond the immediate family, do we respect life from its beginning at conception to its end at natural death? Do we see the fundamental evil in abortion because it involves the direct killing of innocent defenseless pre-born life? Do we respect life and seek to enrich its quality for ourselves and others? In this connection, do we realize how harmful to life is the taking of drugs, the abuse of alcohol, the viewing of pornography?
Yes, as family members, we are to live "united in respect and love." As we seek to do that, we must keep before us the image of the Holy Family. However, that image must be realistic, not idyllic. The Gospels reveal that the life of the Holy Family was not without difficulty, hardship and stress. Neither is ours. In today's Gospel account, we see how the Holy Family's life was unexpectedly and unjustly turned upside down by the cruel motives of King Herod. To live in exile in a foreign country was certainly not easy, nor was the return trip, either. In these events, we are meant to realize that even for the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph, life was difficult. Yet they remained faithful to God's will and saw in these events His loving plan for them. They respected His will and trusted in His love. We can do no less as we journey through life, encountering the unexpected and the unjust even as they did.
Finally, on this Feast of the Holy Family, we also recall that "the Church is nothing other then ‘the family of God'" (Catechism of the Catholic Church, § 1655). Within the family of the Church, we are likewise to live "united in respect and love." This means that within our parishes and within this local Church or diocese, we seek to support one another in prayer and to offer assistance where needed. This implies that we obey the directions of the official Church when there is no option and respect options when these are given to us. This also means that we listen carefully to the Magisterium of the Church, seeking to understand the reasons for each teaching and giving our obedience of faith in the end.
Yes, both in the domestic Church, the family and in the wider Church made present within each parish and this diocese, we are to "live united in respect and love." So, each day, within the family circle, in this parish, in our diocese, let us ask the Holy Family: "Jesus, Mary and Joseph, show us the way to live, ‘united in respect and love.' Amen!"