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 Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph, 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



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.

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