Homily for Holy Family 2008
I pray that Christmas was a blessing for you families as it was for mine. Christmas Mass and family celebrations were wonderful events for me. Some of my family went down to the beach on Boxing Day. It was great to see all the families at the beach gathering for Christmas celebrations. Holidays are great times for families. Yet you know that behind the happy faces there are many stories of pain and sorrow. There are many who have experienced marriage break up and divorce, illness and death, loss of employment. There are many stories.
Both Christmas celebration and the wounds in people's lives reiterate how important our families are to us and to our whole way of life. The feast of the Holy Family we celebrate today does not romanticise families. The family of Nazareth, no less than ours, knew their times of trouble and fear. A sword of suffering would overshadow that family.
That importance of family is reflected in the reading about Abraham and Sarah who were childless (Genesis 15:1-6). In one sense the story from Genesis is a very romantic view of family. God promises them an heir of Abram's own flesh and blood. In that ancient culture to have children was the greatest blessing. To have none was a curse. One's life and livelihood depended on having children to support one in old age, to pass on the sheep and cattle as well as pass on the stories of the nomadic life. For the purposes of the book of Genesis this promise of an heir was also evidence of God's faithfulness to those he loved. Children were a kind of immortality and a sign of that covenant. (This is highlighted in the reading from Hebrews (11:68-19) where Abraham is prepared to give it all up when God asked him.)
But that is really idealistic. Human nature and human frailty being what it is, the realisation eventually came that God's faithfulness must go far beyond simply having an heir of flesh and blood for one family line.
That realisation is revealed in the story of the Gospel we hear from Luke today. If Mary and Joseph had any hopes that they would have a simple family life together with their son Jesus, the prophecies of Simeon and Anna would have put a quick end to that idea.
Jesus would be one who would establish a family that did not depend on human flesh and blood and its frailties. It would be a relationship based on a faith that was thicker even than blood. It would be a family relationship with God that could claim much more from us than our own best efforts could manage. This new family would be the foundation and sustenance of our own human families of flesh and blood.
For us who have been baptised into the family of the Trinity through Jesus it is all the more important that in our celebrations of the Christmas Season we to take time to tell one another that we do indeed love one another. They are words that we should never leave unsaid no matter how much we may think our children or parents or spouse know it already. It is too late once we are dead. Jesus said it often, Love one another as I have loved you. The Eucharist is one such word of love from Jesus to us. Let us listen to it with silent and grateful hearts this weekend.