Homily for the Feast of the Holy Family, Sunday 27 December 2015
He then went down with them and came to Nazareth and lived under their authority (Lk 2:51).
The life of Jesus with our Blessed Lady and St. Joseph at Nazareth is a mystery the Church wants us to ponder, enter into, learn from, wonder at. St. Luke draws a veil of silence over almost all the details of this life, but he and the other Evangelists actually tell us all we need to know about it. Once established in Nazareth, the life of this little family would have been apparently ordinary, commonplace, circumscribed; neither quite destitute, nor well off; not distinguished exteriorly from the life of more or less any other family of that time and place. Yet everything about this family was also utterly extraordinary. Here the Incarnate God willingly accepted the authority of his parents. He was guided by them, taught by them, obedient to them. Here the Immaculate Virgin Mother of God lived as an ordinary housewife. She nursed her baby, served her husband, and made a home out of whatever circumstances she found herself in. Here St. Joseph lived out his responsibility for his family’s welfare. He protected them, toiled for them, exercised his God-given authority over them; all the while practising perfect chastity, gentleness and uprightness, in a way far surpassing the achievement of his forefather King David.
This Family was holy, because it was touched by God, centred on God; directed entirely towards God. As for the relationships of the three members of the holy Family with one another: in all their life, they never withdrew for a single moment from a perfect communion of love. This also is a mystery for us to ponder. How could we ever sufficiently speak of the love of Jesus for his holy Mother, or of her love for him? How could we ever plumb the depth of love they both had for St. Joseph, or his love for them? These things are beyond our experience: so pure was their love, so completely filled with the fire of the Holy Spirit; so entirely unimpeded, unspoiled, uncompromised by sin, or by any imprudence, or by any failure of constancy, or of generosity. Yet if these things are beyond our reach, we must also boldly say that the love of the Holy Family was perfectly natural and human, in the best, most wholesome sense, and in that respect only better, deeper, richer than what we all well understand and know.
There are two things in particular I’m prompted to say on this feast of the Holy Family. The first is that marriage and family life are good, in the order of nature. The second is that marriage and family life are, or can be, a pathway to holiness, in the order of grace.
The goodness of marriage and family life nowadays needs to be defended more than ever, because modern secularism no longer understands this truth, and would even seem to be committed to its destruction. For a culture that values individual liberty, and especially sexual liberty, above everything else, marriage can easily seem to be merely a burden, a trap, a prison. But people will always naturally desire marriage: so our culture offers the false substitute of temporary marriage, or trial marriage, or marriage between people who are actually unable to marry one another. And since these things are a contradiction in terms, the attempt is made to re-define the meaning of the words marriage, and family, and parents, and children. But all that is tyranny, and collusion in a lie, and it produces many victims, above all, though certainly not only, among children.
That is all bad enough. But unfortunately, as we know, some people nowadays think it’s necessary for the Catholic Church to capitulate before secular modernity; to accommodate her teaching to the values and customs of our disintegrating society; no longer to hold up holiness as an attainable ideal; no longer to speak about the binding obligation of the natural and moral law, especially as regards chastity and fidelity. But actually the Catholic Church has no authority to change her teaching. Were she to attempt to do so, she would be unfaithful not only to her Lord, but also to her people, and to all people, to whom it’s her mission to preach healing, saving, life-giving, truth.
We hold that marriage and family life need no external justification. They are self-justifying goods. Actually, so long as the world lasts a bit longer, I think marriage and family life will eventually reassert themselves in the public sphere, as they must. You can’t keep a good thing down indefinitely: especially not in the name of an ideology which is incoherent, and demonstrably disastrous for society, and for human flourishing and happiness.
On the Feast of the Holy Family, we think not only of the goodness of marriage as such, but especially of how God in Christ has blessed it, raising it to the level of a sacrament, and making it a pathway of holiness.
The way of holiness within marriage is certainly not merely easy or obvious. Married people can’t spend the time formally devoted to prayer each day which a monk has. They don’t normally have such ready access to the Sacraments either, or to daily Mass, or to the silence and regularity of the cloister, or to the freedom from worry about temporal things enjoyed by most Religious. Nevertheless, they are given multiple opportunities to practice patience, and forgiveness, and mutual service, and to offer one another unconditional fidelity, and unconditional love; and through that to become canonisable Saints.
What, we might ask, is the task of the monk in face of the many needs of families in our day? Surely above all it’s to call down God’s mercy and grace on all families. Especially today we pray for all families we know, and all families in difficulties: for broken families, refugee families, bereaved families, suffering families.
And today we ask Jesus, Mary and Joseph to teach us, who are only ordinary, how to be truly holy.
We ask Our Lady and St. Joseph to teach us how to receive Jesus, how to love him, honour him, live constantly in his company; how to nurture his life within us.
We ask Jesus and St. Joseph too to show us how to venerate Mary, how to refer everything to her, how to follow her example, how to take her as our model and advocate and mother in all things.
And we ask Jesus and Mary to help us understand the importance and value of St. Joseph; how to appreciate, honour, follow, be guided by him. May St. Joseph then lead us all to union with Jesus and Mary, for our good, and the good of all the holy Church.