Sunday, December 31, 2017


Cathedral of the Assumption
12:00 pm Mass
December 31, 2017

Husbands  love  your  wives. He stores  up  riches
who  reveres  his   mother.  Whoever  honors   his
father  atones for  sins.  Parents  do  not  nag  your
children. Children, take care of your parents when
they are old.

Christmas is a special time to reconnect and recommit as a family. The Saturday before Christmas, all six of my brothers and sisters and four brother-in-laws got together for a home Mass and dinner – no gift giving. We have been doing it for many years. Because of some health issues in the group, this year we added the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick. As a single person with no family of my own, it is my way of connecting to a sense of family. Like always, we had a great time laughing and talking and telling the same old stories from growing up years. Several of them pointed out how lucky we are just to be able to get together. Some families we know cannot even get together because of divorces, hard feelings and old grudges. If they do get together, the getting together is strained and uncomfortable.

As a person who is still a member of a family, but who does not have a family of his own, I pay attention to families. I take notice. The thing that I see most is that having a family brings both joy and pain. Those who try it have my deepest admiration. Not having a family of my own, I realize that I miss out on both the joy and the pain.

Several times, as I flip though the channels, I have been compelled to stop and watch one of those live birth experiences that you see once in a while. I am not ashamed to admit that I usually get choked up and watery-eyed when I watch new parents at the moment of birth. While I am proud that it can move me so much, I am very aware that what those new parents are experiencing is a thousand times more intense. It is a joy that I will never know.

When I was on vacation on a beach in Mexico a few years ago, I was amazed at how many young couples were in the hotel with one, two and three young babies and toddlers in single, double and even triple strollers. Weighted down with diaper bags and stuffed animals, they struggled to keep their brood together. Totally relaxed, with a margarita in hand, I was secretly relieved, if not a bit guilty, that a vacation like their’s is something I will never know……at least I hope not!

A few years ago, about 10:00 at night I realized that I had not eaten supper. The closest fast food restaurant to my house is a White Castle about two blocks away. I ordered three hamburgers and a diet coke and sat down to watch a fascinating show that only happens late at night in a White Castle.  No sooner than I sat down than a distressed young mother with a toddler came in and asked the women behind the counter to call the police. Her “boy friend” had locked them out of the car and was threatening them in the parking lot. She paced back and forth, one minute trying to appease her whining child who needed to go to bed and the other minute peeking out the window to see if he was still out there. Sadly, like many abused women are wont to do, she went back to him before the police got there. A few minutes later, a wild-looking young woman, probably bi-polar, came in and ordered some cheese fries and ate them standing in the middle of the floor, spilling some of them and stepping on them, while muttering to herself. Before she finished, an older woman, her distressed mother came in telling her that she had been combing the neighborhood looking for her to take her home. She apologized to all of us and finally coaxed her into the car and left. As I left that night, I realized once again how many things some families have to deal with. Anyone who is trying to hold a family together has by deepest admiration.

Today is the Feast of the Holy Family. It is not the easiest feast to preach about.  In a world where family life is a painful experience for so many, I have always shied away from those romanticized and idealized sermons that I grew up with. They certainly did not describe my experience. Because my family was not like the “Holy Family” they talked about, I always left church feeling defective as a family. My religion teachers of the past were so driven to hold up the “holy family” as a model for all families that they may have read the stories in the bible about the “holy family” with rose colored glasses, ending up with a religious version of a 1950s TV family. Because their reading of the stories was so idealized, by the 1960’s, people began to reject it and even laugh at it as totally unrealistic and impossible.

A few years ago, I came to realize that maybe the real “holy family” is more like today’s families than we have traditionally become accustomed to think.  The facts show that the “holy family” was not that sugary little family that we use to hear about.

We only have a few stories about Jesus’ childhood and the family from Nazareth, and none of them would be what you would call nice and sweet.

(1) The family started out with an out-of-wedlock pregnancy.  Mary and Joseph were engaged, but not yet married when Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit. Joseph came within a hair of divorcing Mary, but backed off because of a message from God in a dream. (2) When it came town for Jesus to be born, Mary and Joseph were called out of town for a census. Away from home, Mary and Joseph end up having to deliver their baby in a barn, right there in a stall. (3) When Mary and Joseph presented Jesus in the temple for his circumcision, they were so poor that they had to make an offering to the temple of two common old pigeons, instead of the traditional, more expensive, doves. (4) No sooner than they settled down in Nazareth than a maniac king tried his best to kill all the Jewish children he could get his hands on. To protect Jesus from that fate, Mary, Joseph crossed the border, becoming refugees in a foreign country, until the coast was clear back home. (5) When Jesus was twelve years old, he got lost on a trip to the big city, Jerusalem. His panic-striken parents spent a few hellish days till they found him. (6) On one occasion, hearing some of the things he was preaching, his family came to do an intervention on him because they really thought he had lost his mind. (7) A symbol of all sorrowing mothers, Mary finally had to witness her son, stripped and beaten, being executed as a common criminal.

No, this holy family was no “goody-two shoes” family that I had idealized as a child. This family had problems, big problems, but they managed to remain faithful to each other and to God through it all. I think this family has a better chance of being a model if we simply accept the fact that they were like us in so many ways. 

This feast does offer an opportunity to say a few words about family life. The problems are easy to list, the solutions are not so easy to come by. The most obvious fact facing us is that families have changed. There is no use pretending they haven’t or wishing they hadn’t. They have! Instead of pretending or wishing, we need to develop new ways to help and support modern families, including single parent families, blended families, adoptive families and the many other varieties of new families.

Families and couples cannot take anything for granted. The forces against family life are hard at work. Families must be intentional about being family if they have any hope at all to work against the forces that are trying to pull them apart.  To let things slide in marriages or families is to invite disaster. Families need all the support the community and church can give.

The readings today give us an impressive list of “family values,” values that can guide and strengthen even modern families in all their marvelous varieties: honoring your father and mother, taking care of them in their old age, heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, obedience, patience, forgiveness, peace, thankfulness and love, to name a few.  Family is not something that we can take for granted. It is something that must be wanted and worked for. Whatever family you have been given or whatever substitute family you have pieced together, may the Holy Family bless you abundantly in 2018!   

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