Homily for the Feast of the Holy Family

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Today we remember that Jesus belonged to a family.

When we say, ‘the Word became flesh and lived among us’, we’re remembering he became a human being. We do this on Christmas Day especially.

Then again, he became a Jew. He was the son of a Jewish mother and was circumcised on the 8th day after his birth. We remember this on New Year’s Day, the 8th day after Christmas and the feast of his mother.

But today, this Sunday after Christmas, we remember especially he belonged to a family.

There’s no greater affirmation of the human race than having the Son of God belong to it. There’s no greater honour for Israel than Christ’s being a Jew. And there’s no greater endorsement of family life than that Jesus lived it too.

This is part of the great mystery we call the Incarnation, the downloading of God.

Let’s look at this family. There was his mother, Mary, all that a mother can be. There was Joseph, Mary’s husband, not Jesus’ biological father but a father to him in every other sense: who named him, initiated him into the worship of the synagogue, taught him his trade. There was Jesus, growing up like a sapling in the soil of their love. There was this trinity, if you like: Jesus, Mary and Joseph, three and one all at once. In a way, it’s the beginning of the Church: what would later expand with the twelve apostles and other first followers of Jesus, what would grow and grow from Pentecost on, the family of God. All that first exists in this fragile threesome: Jesus, Mary and Joseph. Christ the centre, growing in wisdom and grace; Mary the embodiment of the Church in her loving focus on him; Joseph the protector, the one who has to find a roof and bread for his beloved wife and child, who has to keep the life of grace safe among the Augustuses and Herods of this world, who has to do the external things that guard the treasure within. There, in these three, is the life of the Church in miniature – one and varied all at once.

And within this every Christian family finds its place. Every Christian family is ‘a domestic Church.’ In every Christian family, Christ is the hidden presence, wanting to grow in wisdom and grace, in husband and wife, children and parents, creating a unity with different relationships and roles.

Would we say that family’s a good thing? On balance, surely yes. It’s a given. We can’t really imagine life without it. It comes midway between ourselves as individuals and wider society, the big bad world, as it were. It’s where we first learn to relate to others, to give and take, to cope with hardship, to recognise duties. And then how formed we are by our families! Each of us is far more who and what we are thanks to our families than, say, thanks to our schooling, significant though that may be. And often the older we get the more we realise how we take after our parents.

We also know how wrong family life can go, how vulnerable it is. Major disagreements, the loss of a child or a teenager taking to drugs, alcohol, a serious illness, unemployment: how thrown our family can be by these things. And then, to put it mildly, there are so many misconceptions around about love and sex and marriage and freedom. It’s hard going for a family that wants to be Christian and follow the teaching of the Church. That’s why the Holy Father has called this Synod on Marriage and Family Life for next year. In fact, he has called a Synod in two parts, the first in 2014, the second in 2015. It’s not about changing any of the essentials we’ve been taught. Rather, it’s about finding together better ways of understanding and living this vocation. It’s about letting Christ into these areas of our life. And we need this. We need a new integrity.

And today we remember that Christ belonged to a family. We remember this family hardly had an easy time. It was pushed about by governments, was threatened with death, and yet was protected by angels. We remember he made marriage a sacrament: filling the relationship of man and woman and their vocation to be father and mother – filling these things with his Holy Spirit. We remember that God’s grace has a genius, as it were, for turning difficulties into opportunities, setbacks into unexpected progress, bad things into good. At the wedding in Cana, he changed water into wine. May it be so for all our families!

He’s already there, however hidden. He has already downloaded himself, as it were. He’s there in the wisdom of Scripture we’ve heard. Let’s connect to it by living it! He’s there in his grace. Let’s ask for it!

The Son of God became a Jew, with Jews as his first followers, and set the world on fire through them.

He became human, and now our humanity can radiate him.

He belonged to a family, and now our families can be full of him.  Let’s not underestimate the radiant beauty and saving power of a family with Christ at its heart!