Sunday, December 26, 2010

Homily for the Feast of the Holy Family

In preparing for today’s homily I was scanning over Pope John Paul II’s letter to families issued on February 2, 1994 on the occasion of the Year of the Family. It dawned on me while looking through this letter that most families in the parish have never read this, or a multitude of the letters issued over time by the various popes. I want to share a few of the highlights as the Holy Family is to be an example for our own families.

In the beginning of his letter, Pope John Paul mentions the various paths that leads a person throughout life. He then comments,

Among these many paths, the family is the first and the most important. It is a path common to all, yet one which is particular, unique and unrepeatable, just as every individual is unrepeatable; it is a path from which man cannot withdraw. Indeed, a person normally comes into the world within a family, and can be said to owe to the family the very fact of his existing as an individual. (John Paul II 345)

He continues,

The family has its origin in that same love with which the Creator embraces the created world, as was already expressed "in the beginning", in the Book of Genesis (1:1). In the Gospel Jesus offers a supreme confirmation: "God so loved the world that he gave his only Son" (Jn3:16). The only©begotten Son, of one substance with the Father, "God from God and Light from Light", entered into human history through the family: "For by his incarnation the Son of God united himself in a certain way with every man. He laboured with human hands... and loved with a human heart. Born of Mary the Virgin, he truly became one of us and, except for sin, was like us in every respect". (3) If in fact Christ "fully discloses man to himself", (4) he does so beginning with the family in which he chose to be born and to grow up. We know that the Redeemer spent most of his life in the obscurity of Nazareth, "obedient" (Lc 2,51) as the "Son of Man" to Mary his Mother, and to Joseph the carpenter. Is this filial "obedience" of Christ not already the first expression of that obedience to the Father "unto death" (Ph 2,8), whereby he redeemed the world?
The divine mystery of the Incarnation of the Word thus has an intimate connection with the human family. Not only with one family, that of Nazareth, but in some way with every family, analogously to what the Second Vatican Council says about the Son of God, who in the Incarnation "united himself in some sense with every man". (5) (John Paul II 345)

How important is the family to society?

The family has always been considered as the first and basic expression of man's social nature. Even today this way of looking at things remains unchanged. Nowadays, however, emphasis tends to be laid on how much the family, as the smallest and most basic human community, owes to the personal contribution of a man and a woman. The family is in fact a community of persons whose proper way of existing and living together is communion: communio personarum. Here too, while always acknowledging the absolute transcendence of the Creator with regard to his creatures, we can see the family's ultimate relationship to the divine "We". Only persons are capable of living "in communion". The family originates in a marital communion described by the Second Vatican Council as a "covenant", in which man and woman "give themselves to each other and accept each other". (11) (John Paul II 345)

Pope John Paul mentions a Civilization of Love.

Yet there is no true love without an awareness that God "is Love" and that man is the only creature on earth which God has called into existence "for its own sake". Created in the image and likeness of God, man cannot fully “find him- self" except through the sincere gift of self. Without such a concept of man, of the person and the "communion of persons" in the family, there can be no civilization of love; similarly, without the civilization of love it is impossible to have such a concept of person and of the communion of persons. The family constitutes the fundamental “cell" of society. But Christ--the "vine" from which the "branches" draw nourishment--is needed so that this cell will not be exposed to the threat of a kind of cultural uprooting which can come both from within and from without. Indeed, although there is on the one hand the "civilization of love", there continues to exist on the other hand the possibility of a destructive "anti-civilization", as so many present trends and situations confirm.
Who can deny that our age is one marked by a great crisis, which appears above all as a profound "crisis of truth"? A crisis of truth means, in the first place, a crisis of concepts. Do the words "love", "freedom", «sincere gift", and even "person" and "rights of the person", really convey their essential meaning? This is why the Encyclical on the “splendour of truth" (Veritatis Splendor) has proved so meaningful and important for the Church and for the world--especially in the West. Only if the truth about freedom and the communion of persons in marriage and in the family can regain its splendour, will the building of the civilization of love truly begin and will it then be possible to speak concretely--as the Council did--about "promoting the dignity of marriage and the family". (35) Why is the "splendour of truth" so important? First of all, by way of contrast: the development of contemporary civilization is linked to a scientific and technological progress which is often achieved in a one-sided way, and thus appears purely positivistic. Positivism, as we know, results in agnosticism in theory and utilitarianism in practice and in ethics. In our own day, history is in a way repeating itself. Utilitarianism is a civilization of production and of use, a civilization of "things" and not of "persons", a civilization in which persons are used in the same way as things are used. In the context of a civilization of use, woman can become an object for man, children a hindrance to parents, the family an institution obstructing the freedom of its members. To be convinced that this is the case, one need only look at certain sexual education programmes introduced into the schools, often notwithstanding the disagreement and even the protests of many parents; or pro- abortion tendencies which vainly try to hide behind the so- called “right to choose" ("pro-choice") on the part of both spouses, and in particular on the part of the woman. These are only two examples; many more could be mentioned.
It is evident that in this sort of a cultural situation the family cannot fail to feel threatened, since it is endangered at its very foundations. Everything contrary to the civilization of love is contrary to the whole truth about man and becomes a threat to him: it does not allow him to find himself and to feel secure, as spouse, parent, or child. So-called "safe sex", which is touted by the "civilization of technology", is actually, in view of the overall requirements of the person, radically not safe, indeed it is extremely dangerous. It endangers both the person and the family. And what is this danger? It is the loss of the truth about one's own self and about the family, together with the risk of a loss of freedom and consequently of a loss of love itself. "You will know the truth", Jesus says, "and the truth will make you free" (Jn 8,32): the truth, and only the truth, will prepare you for a love which can be called “fairest love" (cf. Sir 24,24, Vulg.).
The contemporary family, like families in every age, is searching for “fairest love". A love which is not "fairest", but reduced only to the satisfaction of concupiscence (cf. 1 Jn 2,16), or to a man's and a woman's mutual "use" of each other, makes persons slaves to their weaknesses. Do not certain modern "cultural agendas" lead to this enslavement? There are agendas which "play" on man's weaknesses, and thus make him increasingly weak and defenceless.
The civilization of love evokes joy: joy, among other things, for the fact that a man has come into the world (cf. Jn 16,21), and consequently because spouses have become parents. The civilization of love means “rejoicing in the right" (cf. 1Co 13,6). But a civilization inspired by a consumerist, anti-birth mentality is not and cannot ever be a civilization of love. If the family is so important for the civilization of love, it is because of the particular closeness and intensity of the bonds which come to be between persons and generations within the family. However, the family remains vulnerable and can easily fall prey to dangers which weaken it or actually destroy its unity and stability. (John Paul II 345)

I guess the real question that comes up is how does one create this “civilization of love”? This civilization of love is based upon our giving of ourselves within the family. We need to get beyond the utilitarian aspects of which Pope John Paul speaks. The late holy father further points out in his letter that we need to hold on to the basic principles of married life. A marriage is between one man and one woman. A marriage is a total giving of self, including one’s fertility, to the other.

The family is a community of persons and the smallest social unit. As such it is an institution fundamental to the life of every society.
What does the family as an institution expect from society? First of all, it expects a recognition of its identity and an acceptance of its status as a subject in society. This "social subjectivity" is bound up with the proper identity of marriage and the family. Marriage, which undergirds the institution of the family, is constituted by the covenant whereby "a man and a woman establish between themselves a partnership of their whole life", and which "of its own very nature is ordered to the well-being of the spouses and to the procreation and upbringing of children". (40) Only such a union can be recognized and ratified as a "marriage" in society. Other interpersonal unions which do not fulfil the above conditions cannot be recognized, despite certain growing trends which represent a serious threat to the future of the family and of society itself.
No human society can run the risk of permissiveness in fundamental issues regarding the nature of marriage and the family! Such moral permissiveness cannot fail to damage the authentic requirements of peace and communion among people. It is thus quite understandable why the Church vigorously defends the identity of the family and encourages responsible individuals and institutions, especially political leaders and international organizations, not to yield to the temptation of a superficial and false modernity. (John Paul II 345)

I wish I could keep going on with more about the family, but I realize that families with little ones find it difficult to sit through long homilies. I’d like to sum this up with a few points.

The family is the basic building block of our society. We need to hold on to the true nature of family life.

We can all look to the faithfulness of the holy family of Nazereth as an example for our own families. While Joseph did not understand all that the angel proclaimed, he trusted. While we may not always understand all the God proclaims through the Church concerning families and family life, we need to trust her and her God given wisdom.

On this feast of the Holy Family, may each of you be blessed within your families both here and in heaven.
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