Sunday, December 26, 2021



The opening words of today's second reading from First John give us to understand that in celebrating the Feast of the Holy Family we are celebrating not only Jesus, Mary and Joseph, but all of us who have been adopted into that hallowed trio. John writes, “Beloved, see what love the Father has bestowed on us that we may be called the children of God. And so we are.” And so we are! We are all the children of God's Holy Family.

According to the Gospel of Luke, Jesus, Mary and Joseph got settled into a regular family life only after they returned to the little village of Nazareth following the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple. There is no mention of Egypt in Luke. There, in Nazareth, Luke says, “The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favor of God was upon him.” Of Jesus as an older boy who had just been found by his parents in the Temple among the teachers, Luke says in today's Gospel that he returned with them to Nazareth and was obedient to his parents as “Jesus advanced in wisdom and age and favor before God and man.”

If the instrument of our redemption is the humanity of Jesus Christ, it was in the humdrum, concrete reality of family life and the social and religious life of first-century Palestine (Jewish and Pagan) that the human nature of Jesus—united as it is to the divine Person of the Word---that the human nature of Jesus took on our full humanity. We, of course, believe with the Church that Jesus is a divine person, but we also believe that the raw material of his perfect human nature blossomed into his perfect expression of a human personality through the agency of the nurturing, the love, example and instruction he received, not only from his Heavenly Father, but from his Mother Mary and foster father Joseph and from the religious community or family of Israel: for example, the relatives and friends Luke mentions in Chapters one and two.

We see in the gospels how even the greater human family, even the pagan human family, affected his development into the ONE who is perfectly divine and perfectly human, the ONE who would lay down his life for all of us, his brothers and sisters, his new family. My favorite example of this is the story of the pagan Syro-Phoenician woman who moves Jesus to heal her daughter despite his initial insistence that he is called by God to serve the children of Israel first, not pagan dogs. “But even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from the Master's table,” she replies. Jesus is brought by her remarkable faithfulness to her own family to see this woman and her child as his own family, as his own responsibility in love RIGHT NOW---having mercy, right now.

Each and every one of us is called to advance in wisdom and age and favor before God and our brothers and sisters. The part about advancing in “age” is easy! Christian family and religious community life, as also the dedicated life of single Christians to the service of others (who become like “family”), are all royal roads on the way to this advancement in wisdom that the Gospel of Luke mentions. The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches that “The Christian family is a communion of persons, a sign and image of the communion of the Father and the Son in the Holy Spirit.” For the word “family” you could read “community,” and you would have the statement: “The Christian community is a communion of persons, a sign and image of the communion of the Father and the Son in the Holy Spirit.” In the contemplative life, we can get caught in the pseudo-mystic's mistake of getting overly mystical and misty (foggy, perhaps) and becoming blind to the divine presence and action upon us in our brothers and sisters, our family in Christ. In the apostolic exhortation on Christian Family Life, The Joy of Love, Pope Francis wrote of all family life being a “shepherding” in mercy. Each of us, he says, “by our love and care, leaves a mark on the life of others.”  With Christian wisdom and insight, he says that “This is itself a way to worship God, who has sown so much good in others in the hope that we will make it grow.” 

Please let me share with you paragraph 323 of the Joy of Love by Pope Francis, “It is a profound spiritual experience to contemplate our loved ones with the eyes of God and to see Christ in them. This demands a freedom and openness which enable us to appreciate their dignity. We can be fully present to others only by giving fully of ourselves and forgetting all else. Our loved ones merit our complete attention. Jesus is our model in this, for whenever people approached to speak with him, he would meet their gaze, directly and lovingly. No one felt overlooked in his presence, since his words and gestures conveyed the question: 'What do you want me to do for you?' This is what we experience in the daily life of the family (or community). We are constantly reminded that each of those who live with us merits complete attention since he or she possesses infinite dignity as an object of the Father's immense love. This gives rise to a tenderness that can stir in the other the joy of being loved. Tenderness is expressed in a particular way by exercising loving care in treating the limitations of the other, especially when they are evident.” (unquote) Note the word “especially”--especially when those human limitations are evident. There go out the window all my excuses about how I treat people I find difficult! He sounds like St. Benedict.

We discover these truths taught by Pope Francis and Benedict not with some esoteric and eccentric loner behavior, but by the ordinary, obscure, and laborious work of life and love with our brothers and sisters: a life full of grace and the grind of service, not glamour. As St. Benedict writes, “To their fellow monks they show the pure love of brothers, to God-loving fear, to their abbot, unfeigned and humble love. Let them prefer nothing whatever to Christ and may he bring us all together to everlasting life.” Yes, all together as one family.

At our meals this week we have been hearing Fr. Michael Casey in his new book on community life expressing many similar thoughts---better than I ever could. Our meals together in the monastery are, as in any family, one of the great experiences of unity in community. Nourished together, we grow together. The sacred meal, the Sacred Banquet of the Eucharist in which we are about to participate is the best expression of our life together as God's family. The Church in her proclamation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ calls all people to it. The Eucharist is the source and the summit of the Christian life, and so of our family life and the unity we share in that other hallowed trio of persons: the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Jesus, Mary and Joseph, pray for us. Amen.

Photograph by Father Emmanuel. This morning's homily by Father Luke.