The Holy Family, Year A

We have two beautiful homilies by Father Hanly for The Feast of the Holy Family, Year A: the wonderful “The Holy Family” and a shortened version “Learning How To Love.”

Two Homilies:

The Holy Family

The Holy Family

In this wonderful homily for the Feast of the Holy Family, Year A, Father Hanly reveals all we need to learn from the Holy Family.

Readings for the Feast of the Holy Family, Year A

  • First Reading: Sirach 3:2-6, 12-14
  • Responsorial Psalm: Psalms 128:1-2, 3, 4-5
  • Second Reading: Colossians 3:12-21
  • Gospel: Matthew 2:13-15, 19-23

Recording

Transcript

The Feast of the Holy Family is not one of the most ancient of feast days, but it was felt that this would be a very important time, just after the birth of the Messiah, and the child being born in Bethlehem, to have a special feast day for the Holy Family. And so we have now, today, celebrating that feast day.

The Holy Family, of course, is Joseph and Mary and the child Jesus. And I can’t resist telling this story. You’ve heard it about a hundred times, but it’s a great introduction to the Holy Family.

We idealise the Holy Family.

When I was about ten years old or eleven, we were driving home in our beat-up old Chevy at the time, from the Feast of the Holy Family, and my mother was very quiet.

And one of the reasons why was she didn’t like the pastor, because he seemed to talk a lot about money and a lot about sin and severity and things along that line.

Anyhow, he had delivered of himself this day a wonderful homily on the Holy Family. And he underlined it by telling all the women of the parish that they should be imitators of Mary, the Virgin Mary, and how wonderful she was, etc, and if the women in the parish would live up to that ideal, it would make the parish a wonderful place.

And he was going on. And finally, my father and I were smiling at each other, because we knew my mother couldn’t stand to hear this sort of stuff, especially since he wasn’t her favourite priest.

Anyhow, we started teasing her. I said to my father, “Wasn’t that a wonderful sermon that Father gave?”

And he said, “Yes, it was very good and very telling right now.’

And I said, “Yes, it must be wonderful for Jesus to have a mother like the Blessed Mother.”

And my mother is driving away. And, finally, she’d had enough of it and she stopped us.

She said, “If I had St Joseph as a husband and I had Jesus Christ as a son, I might be doing a better job than I’m doing now.”

And we all laughed.

We tend to idealise biblical figures, making them maybe greater than they were. And this is a sad kind of thing to do, because the idea of Jesus, the idea of God becoming man, sending His Son as a helpless little child, someone who needed just love and affection and caring, this was God intended that we might understand the great value that every human being has.

He wasn’t sending the child like a crying baby in need of love and care and food and all the things that babies demand. He wasn’t doing this to give us an example of what a wonderful child should be like as he grew to be older.

He was saying as human beings you under rate yourself. You don’t realise that this child who grows up to be the Saviour, would lay his life down for the least, the only human being, because God can only make wonderful and great things. And that is what He wanted to tell us.

The great sin that we all commit is undervaluing our dignity, what we really are. So that when we say we are children of God, it means that we share God’s life, God’s love, the dignity that goes with being children of God. And there’s nothing that we can do to spoil that.

Then why does the child come?

To teach us, yes, but to teach us, not so much the Ten Commandments, the rules and regulations; he is to teach us how to live, by living for us.

And the first thing he teaches, and the most important thing that he teaches, is that God takes on humanity, becomes one with us, forever linked, the Son of God and human beings, and brings us into a true one family, so that now, in a sure way, we say our Father, because the Father is God and God loves us as a father loves his children.

We sometimes think that, if I asked you in the catechism class, what is the responsibility for a family in today’s world, you would probably give many scholarly replies and perhaps most of them would be true.

But the other thing about God is He’s not interested in our thought patterns. He’s interested in the narration of our lives, what we do and how we go about this very difficult job of living up to what we really are, which is the children of God.

And so it’s all narration. Jesus never explains anything. He lives it. And living it, we understand how we must not understand with our minds, but live it in our hearts and live it in our lives.

And the first lesson he teaches us is that we basically are in need, just like a little child. We’re in need of love. We’re in need of people. We are in need of God most of all.

And this is the first lesson and the most wonderful lesson of Christmas.

Blessed are the poor, Jesus would say. What he means is, blessed are those who know their need for God, know their need for each other.

And so to drive people away, in word or act, is to do a terrible thing, because these are the people that will heal you and save you.

Because God’s love is not poured out into the clouds that you run down and catch it like rain. God’s love only comes to us through other people, only comes to us through the love that they can and are able to show us.

This is a wonderful lesson. It is not something to be learned. It is something to be practised.

Mother Theresa, the wonderful Mother Theresa, she never taught that the family was a place where everyone loves each other as they love themselves. She was a very realistic lady and she would say a family is not loving each other as you love yourselves; the family is learning how to love the way God loves us and the way He gives us His love that we might reach out to each other.

And the first lesson of learning how to love is what do you do with failure. Because failure is part of learning. In fact, it’s the only part.

People who know everything and have never failed, know nothing, because it is only out of the pain of failure that we learn the important things in life.

And so God says to us, the first thing that you owe each other is forgiveness, forgiveness.

Jesus came to teach us, not how to be above everyone else, but how to forgive, how to show compassion, how to lift those who fell and have fallen and lift them up at their most discouraging time by recognising that we, too, are failures and fail very often and fail very much.

And so the great gift is forgiveness. God comes and says, “All is forgiven.”

Mother Theresa said this, she said, “There is no failure in life. The only failure in life is when you fall, you refuse to get up again.”

And this is what Jesus has come to show us. How we can live in a world that is full of forgiveness and kindness and helpfulness and reaching out to the weakest of us, knowing, as St Francis of Assisi said, “I am the weakest of all men. I am the most needy of all men. I am the most shameful of all men.”

And they would say, “Francis, you’re exaggerating, you’re insane.”

And he would say, “I only see you from the outside and you are all wonderful. But I see myself on the inside and there I know how much I need your patience, your kindness, your forgiveness, your caring. And I am glad that God is so good that He gives us His kindness and caring through you who I live and breathe and have my days with.”

When we think of the Holy Family, we shouldn’t think of perfect people, we shouldn’t think of people who are called to be above everybody.

We need to think of people that through the …  

As one of my priest friends who died very young, and it was very sad, but his favourite expression was this and you should remember it.

When they asked him about love, he said, “In the chaos of learning to love, we are all redeemed.”

And so, today, we rejoice in our weakness and we go forth with the good news.

And what is that good news?

That God forgives, God heals and He is with us. And this is what we base our civilisations on. And this is what we base our true learning on.

Not to learn all that you can find on the computer, but to learn what it means to go through life, learning how to love as Jesus learned to love, by healing and caring, forgiving and, most of all, for being grateful to God, for He gives this, not only to us, but He gives this to every child born of a human being.

We are created with all that we need to make our life full of joy, full of happiness. But the way, of course, is the way Jesus has told us. It is basically forgiveness.

Do you remember this little child grew up?

He was rejected. He was rejected by his own larger family. He was rejected by the Romans, the power of that time. He was rejected by the officials of his own religion. He was rejected by everyone except for a handful of people.

And as he was on the cross and everyone was screaming at him to finally show himself, he really was bringing salvation to the world. And he opened his mouth and he said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

And that is when Jesus becomes the Messiah, not in some heroic fashion, surrounded by angels, but someone who is brought to the last level of belief in a Father who loves him and belief in people who will learn how to love. And in the midst of the chaos, he says the words of great learning, “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

And that is the triumph that we carry with us, that no matter what happens, one thing is certain, God has become man and the first act of God as man is to forgive his brothers and sisters.

And this Christmas, when we go home to our little families, our little neighbourhood, let us remember that to forgive is divine.

Because Jesus, born on Christmas Day, grew to manhood and has given us the great lesson of life: You must sacrifice yourself in order to learn how to love each other.

And once we learn that, it must be learned again and again and again, we touch God, healing, salvation and live the promise of Christmas.


Learning How To Love

Learning How To Love

In this short homily for the Feast of the Holy Family, Year A, Father Hanly tells us that family is a place to learn how to love.

Readings for the Feast of the Holy Family, Year A

  • First Reading: Sirach 3:2-6, 12-14
  • Responsorial Psalm: Psalms 128:1-2, 3, 4-5
  • Second Reading: Colossians 3:12-21
  • Gospel: Matthew 2:13-15, 19-23

Written Homily

When we think of the Holy Family, we shouldn’t think of perfect people. There’s no such thing as perfect people.

Mother Theresa, the wonderful Mother Theresa, never taught that the family was a place where everyone “loves thy neighbour as thy self.” She was a very down to earth and realistic lady. She would say a family is a place to learn how to love, love the way God loves. He gives us His love so that we might, in turn, reach out to each other with God’s love.

And the first lesson in learning how to love, is learning how to deal with failure, because failure is an integral part of the learning process. In fact, it’s the only way to learn. Those who think they know everything and have never known failure, know nothing, for it is only from out of the pain of failure that we learn the important and deeper lessons of life.

And so God says to us that we owe each other forgiveness. Yes, forgiveness. Jesus came into this world to teach us how to forgive, how to show compassion, how to lift up those who have fallen, and, especially to lift them up at the time of their greatest misfortune and need, remembering always that we too have failed and continue to fail very often.

There is a saying in the Scriptures that the righteous man, the good man, falls seven times a day. God sends His only Son to us, to be with us and stay with us that we might know that God’s forgiveness once given is never taken back. Do not be afraid.

Jesus was rejected by his own, rejected by the religious and secular authorities, and officials of his day, rejected by the Romans, the power elite, rejected by just about everyone, except for a handful of faithful friends, most of whom were poor.

Jesus was mocked by the soldiers, crowned with thorns and nailed to the cross with crowds screaming at him to show himself to be the Messiah.

He was, in fact, bringing healing and salvation not only to them but to the whole world, as he looked up to his Father in heaven and spoke from the midst of his agony these words: ‘Father, forgive them, they know not what they do.’

It is then that Jesus becomes our Messiah, not in some grandiose fashion, or surrounded by angels, but when brought to the edge of despair Jesus holds fast to his love for his Father and his belief in the future generations who will follow and learn how to love as he loves and love one another.

And in the midst of the chaos, Jesus has spoken the words from the cross that are to change the whole world: “Father, forgive them.”

Mother Theresa once said, ‘There is only one failure in life and that is: when we fall, we refuse to get up again.’

Jesus reminds us that we are needy, just like little children. We’re in need of love. We’re in need of people. We’re in need of God most of all, and this is the most wonderful lesson of a wonderful Christmas: God has made his home with us, now and forever.

Blessed are the poor, Jesus would say. And blessed are those who know their need for God, and know their need for each other. And it is a terrible thing for us to close our doors on those whom we can help. To do so is to close our hearts on those who can heal us and save us and even turn our lives around, for God works wonders with his love through people who open wide their doors.

This is a wonderful lesson to learn on Holy Family Sunday. Mary and Joseph are always strangers at the door, looking for shelter and a place to give birth to the Child who is the Son of God.

One of my favourite priest friends, who has gone home to God, when they asked him about love, said this: ‘It is in the chaos of learning to love that we are redeemed.’

FAQ for Homily for Holy Family, Year A

When is Holy Family, Year A, in 2025?28th December 2025
What is the next homily by Father Hanly in this Liturgical Cycle?
Solemnity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Year A
What is the title of Father Hanly’s homily for Holy Family, Year A?"The Holy Family" and "Learning How To Love"
Who was Father Hanly?Father Denis J. Hanly was a Maryknoll Missionary
How can we find other homilies by Father Hanly?By Liturgical Calendar or by topic or by title

Information about Father Hanly’s homilies for Holy Family, Year A

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If you would like to use our transcripts of either of these sermons (updated 2020), please contact us for permission.

Father Hanly's sermon for Holy Family, Year A, "The Holy Family" was delivered on 26th December 2010. Father Hanly's sermon for Holy Family, Year A, "Learning How To Love" was delivered on 29th December 2013. It is sometimes hard to accurately transcribe Father Hanly's reflections, so please let us know if you think we have made a mistake in any of our transcripts, and let us have your suggestions.

We hope that Father Hanly’s homilies, always kind, always wise, always full of love, will restore you to peace and harmony through a new understanding of what is important in this world. We believe these homilies are inspiring for everyone, not only for Roman Catholics or other Christians.

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