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They found Mary and Joseph and the baby in the manger

Homily on the Feast of the Holy Family at Blessed Trinity Parish

Homily Preached by Archbishop Thomas G. Wenski on the Feast of the Holy Family at Blessed Trinity Parish in Miami Springs, FL. Sunday December 30, 2012

Today, the Sunday after Christmas, we celebrate the Feast of the Holy Family. When the shepherds went to the stable of Bethlehem after hearing the angels’ announcement of glad tidings, they found Mary and Joseph – and the baby in the manger. This scene is represented in “crčches” in our homes and in our churches – and the scene invites us to contemplate and to meditate on what we see and the Mystery it reveals.

We see, then, that the first witnesses of Christ found themselves not only before the Infant Jesus but also before a small family – a mother, a father and the child. 

When God chose to reveal himself he did so within a family – and, in a real way, the family is an icon of God. God is love – and the love of a husband and wife who are created in his own image and likeness reflect this love of the Most Holy Trinity both in their coming together as one and it the fruit of their union – the children. 

The feast of the Holy Family, then, reminds us of the sacredness of the institution of the family itself. For the flourishing of human society, the family is not optional. John Paul II insisted as did the Church Fathers at the Second Vatican Council, the good of persons and of society is affected by the healthy state of the family. In other words, healthy families mean healthy people and healthy societies. It should be obvious that much of the dysfunction that occurs in people’s lives, or in the life of society has its roots in dysfunctions found in the breakup of the family today.

As I said, for the flourishing of human society, the family is not optional – even for God. When God chose to reveal himself he did so within a family. He didn’t need Joseph to make Jesus – for the Word became flesh in the Virgin Mary’s womb by the power of the Holy Spirit and not through any human agency. But God judged it necessary that Jesus be raised by Joseph who was married to his mother, Mary. Joseph, the most chaste spouse of the Virgin Mary, played an indispensable role in the life of Jesus as his foster father.  He was not an absent or an indifferent parent.  Indeed to him was entrusted the safety and well-being of both Mary and Jesus.  We see this in the episode of the flight into Egypt. We sense this in the account of the boy Jesus lost and then found teaching in the temple precincts of Jerusalem.  That Joseph played a crucial role in the life of Jesus before his public ministry can be inferred from the fact that to his countrymen Jesus was understood to be “the carpenter’s son.
Today, many have tried to “redefine” the family – and in doing so they downplay the importance of the male figure in the home or pretend that the respective roles of husband and wife, father and mother are somehow interchangeable.  Whether in an attempt to justify same sex couples or to promote the raising of children without the benefit of the committed relationship called marriage, many in our contemporary society promote a flawed anthropology - an incomplete understanding of the human person - that ignores the ways in which the presence of a father and a mother enhance the well-being of children.   

As research has conclusively proved, “children born out of wedlock or whose parents divorce are much more likely to experience poverty, abuse, and behavioral and emotional problems, have lower academic achievement and use drugs more often.  Single mothers are much more likely to be victims of domestic violence...”  For children whose parents remain married however the benefits are real:  they do better in school, they are healthier and less depressed with less developmental problems.

The family then – founded on the marriage of a man and a woman –is the path where children best can encounter and know God; it is a school of faith and of values; it is where the mutual self-giving and faithfulness of husband and wife provides a secure and protected home for children to best grow in virtue and to assume their own responsibilities as members of society and as citizens of a country.

Often, when I was a parish priest I would ask the men of the parish: what was the best way to show their children that they love them. I would get many answers. Some would say – to provide for them; others would insist – to educate them; some would say – give them good example or advice. All this, of course, is true. But, I would tell them that the best way to love their children was simply to love their children’s mother. And this love is best expressed in a permanent, faithful and fruitful relationship called marriage.

Today our families have been weakened by a contraceptive mentality and the acceptance of easy divorce.  Ideological understandings of the role of men and women in society have undermined the solidarity that should enable collaboration between husbands and wives and protect the dignity of both.   In the face of these threats, the Holy Family of Nazareth stands as an icon of what the family should be, and what the family can be when filled with grace.

In Joseph and Mary and the child Jesus, we see reflected what God’s plan for family looks like when unmarred by sin.  May the prayers and the example of Jesus’ parents strengthen parents today as they seek to raise their children according to God’s will.  God wanted the best for his Son so he provided that Mary be married to Joseph, for marriage alone secures the commitment of parents to one another and to their children.  It was true then, it is true today: every child needs a father; every child deserves a father – or a foster father like Joseph.

For this reason, the Church invites all families to look to the Holy Family of Nazareth as a model – for all parents and all children should strive to imitate the virtues found in that family; but also the Church invites all families to find in the Holy Family comfort and strength. Mary is a mother for us all – but she can be in a special way a mother to the motherless; and Joseph, the foster father of Jesus can also be a protector and guide to those who are fatherless.

Certainly the Holy Family knew hardship. They were homeless – for Christ was born in a stable; they were stateless refugees – for Joseph had to flee with Mary and baby into Egypt (and you can be sure that Joseph didn’t wait for a visa to cross the border legally). Like all families, the Holy Family shared both joys and sorrows. During this holy Christmas season, I pray that your families also share in that love that was always present in that Holy Family of Nazareth.

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