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December 31, 2017 - How do I Know Whether My Family is Holy?

The Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph

Scripture Readings

In preparing this homily for the Feast of the Holy Family, I have been thinking… What is the meaning of a “holy family?” How do we define a “holy family?” Are there criteria? In other words, “What makes a family, holy?” If there is even one person in the family who is not living an exemplary Christian life, would that family still be a holy family? If there are arguments, misunderstandings, addictions, broken relationships, deep hurts… could that family still be a holy family? 

I have to admit that my homily for the Feast of the Holy Family has been influenced by my experiences this week. I have three stories of three different families… and then some practical implications. 

Here is my first story. The day after Christmas, I got a call from Hospice for anointing. These were people I had never met before. I entered the room to find a woman in her mid-seventies lying sedated. Next to him sat her husband of forty-three years. The man stood up as soon as I got there. His hands were shaking. I shook his hands and introduced myself. Before he could say a word, he broke down sobbing. I held him tight and let him sob. When he had recovered, he said, “Thank you for coming! We do not belong to any parish, but I wanted a priest here because it would be something she would want.” And then he continued, “We were not sure if a priest would come. My wife had a very short first marriage. It was a very difficult one. In those days, she simply could not go back to church.” The husband told me later in the conversations that they have been married for forty-three years and have no children. He said that they both considered themselves Catholics but they did not return to Church, especially after they got married. I did not ask them about the possibility of annulment. I know numerous couples for whom the annulment expense and process was beyond them. Numerous times in the conversation the husband said to me, “I know this [the sacraments] is what she would want.” I heard him. I anointed the woman, gave her absolution, blessed her body, pronounced the words of farewell and assured him that his wife would be with God in eternity. If only you could have seen the relief on this man’s face. I have a question for you. Do you think that this couple’s family, even though they lived away from the Church all their married life, was a holy family? 

Here is my second story. Thursday after Christmas day, I had another call from hospice. This time it was from one of the parishioners at St. Helen. Here was another man by his wife’s death-bed. I know this couple to be the kindest, gentlest, and loving couples. They had  been married for forty-five years. The man’s first wife died very young and he had four children from that marriage. He married his present wife, a non-Catholic, who remained non-Catholic all through their marriage unto her death. Together they had 2 daughters. The gentleman was heart-broken to see his beloved wife in the state she was in. He broke down numerous times during the conversation. Because his wife was not Catholic, he was not asking me for the sacrament. He merely wanted me to be there and pray with them. Even though his wife was not Catholic, I administered the sacraments to her, perhaps the first time and certainly the last time. I blessed her body and pronounced the words of farewell. Do you think this family a  holy family? 

Finally, my third story. I buried 85 year old Mary Williams just this Friday. Her story broke my heart. After a very difficult first marriage, she put her four children and anything that would fit in a Chevy Nova and drove from California to Dayton. She did not remarry, but for some reason, her priest told her then, that she could not come back to Church. Single handily, not only did she raise her four children, but adopted triplets and give them a new lease in life. She sent them all the Catholic schools. She never joined our parish, but whenever she did go to church, it would be at IC. As her children put it, she never stopped being a Catholic. At her funeral, her children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren could not have been more proud of her. Do you think that this family was a holy family? 

What can the Feast of the Holy Family teach us? 

  1. A holy family does not mean a perfect family. The holy family of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph was a little different than our families because two of the three people were sinless, and Joseph was an extraordinarily righteous man. They were exceptional people! We, on the other hand, struggle with imperfections! Can our families still be holy? Sure and we must strive to he holy! However, please remember, that a holy family does not always mean a perfect family. The fact that the Feast of the Holy Family falls within the Christmas season is significant. Christ did not come into a perfect world. Christ came into an imperfect world and made our world holy by his presence. This holds true also for our families. What makes a family holy is the fact that of all the ways that Christ could have come into the world, he came into a family. This is what makes families holy. Our holiness comes from the fact that God is present in our homes and our families, embracing our imperfections and our feeble attempts at holiness. Holiness is not primarily about our attempts at holiness. Holiness comes because because God chose to present in our homes. If you have invited God to be present in your family, you should consider your family to be a holy family - no matter what the imperfections!
  1. Families come on all shapes and sizes. I meet so many families that fit our traditional concept of families - husband, wife, well-behaved children, a cute pet, good education, stable, healthy and happy! If you are one of these families, thank God for that! May you always find yourself blessed. Just like the family of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, you are a beacon of light in the world. However, there are so many families that struggle… financial burdens, illnesses, tragedies, addictions, divorces, single-parents, grandparents with custody of multiple grandchildren, live-in couples, non-traditional families…. What do we say to struggling families? If the gospels are any indication, it is precisely here that Christ makes himself present. In the gospels Christ was were the struggles were! If you and your family is struggling, please know that Christ is close by. Sometimes, the church may not always be close by. But Christ is close by. Holiness in not beyond your reach. 
  1. Meanwhile, here is Paul’s advice to Christians families. In these words may be find our own way to holiness. Paul says, “Put on, as God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, bearing with one another and forgiving one another, if one has a grievance against another; as the Lord has forgiven you, so must you also do. And over all these put on love, that is, the bond of perfection” (Col 3:12-14). These virtues describe Christ himself. Even as Christ embraces our imperfections, the call the become Christ-like never ceases. The holiness of our families lies equally lies in trying daily to be like Christ, like the holy family. 

Today at this Eucharist, let us bring our families just as they are before God. May God bless our families and make them holy. 

- Fr. Satish Joseph