December 26, 2021
Deacon Bill Sheffield
Prince of Peace Catholic Community, Houston, Texas
See video of this homily
GOSPEL READING STARTS AT 21:21
HOMILY STARTS AT 23:25
Gospel – Luke 2:41-52
Each year Jesus’ parents went to Jerusalem for the feast
and when he was twelve years old,
they went up according to festival custom.
After they had completed its days, as they were returning,
the boy Jesus remained behind in Jerusalem,
but his parents did not know it.
Thinking that he was in the caravan,
they journeyed for a day
and looked for him among their relatives and acquaintances,
but not finding him,
they returned to Jerusalem to look for him.
After three days they found him in the temple,
sitting in the midst of the teachers,
listening to them and asking them questions,
and all who heard him were astounded
at his understanding and his answers.
When his parents saw him,
they were astonished,
and his mother said to him,
“Son, why have you done this to us?
Your father and I have been looking for you with great anxiety.”
And he said to them,
“Why were you looking for me?
Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?”
But they did not understand what he said to them.
He went down with them and came to Nazareth,
and was obedient to them;
and his mother kept all these things in her heart.
And Jesus advanced in wisdom and age and favor
before God and man.
This time of year, we all tend to gather with our families. And for most of this time we try to spend together, it centers around a meal, or exchanging gifts. I hope that all of you had a peace-filled Christmas with your family and friends.
Now, if your family is anything like mine, I have in-laws through my children. And everything seems to be rushed. They have time restrictions and so, they have to get in and get out. I have an older cousin over in Louisiana that missed her calling in life. She should have been a stand-up comic because she always has a unique way of looking at life’s trials. She said that when her family comes for Christmas, she’s figured out a way to cut straight to the chase. And that was she thought that she would order a meal for all of her children and her grandchildren from a local restaurant and put all their packages with their meal on the front porch with their name on it. She said that way they were so eager to come and eat, open their presents and leave, she could skip the part of having to wash dishes and cleaning the house afterward.
So, I’m sure that some families actually get to spend some time together. And it seems that when we do, we often spend that time remembering how we celebrated Christmas in our own past. Many of those memories have influenced traditions that we still celebrate within our family. For example, I ask you, what Mass do you traditionally come to as a family for Christmas? Is it the Saturday evening Mass for children, Midnight Mass, or Christmas Day? And when do you open your presents? Is it traditionally Christmas Eve, or after Mass on Christmas Day? And what is your traditional Christmas meal? Is it turkey and dressing, ham, tamales, whatever it may be? We often do things traditionally as we were exposed to growing up.
So, today’s feast day, The Holy Family Feast Day, and the readings that we heard about being a holy family isn’t simply about being excessively religious.
You know, two weeks ago, Deacon Bill Barnes said in his homily that we often judge people’s holiness by how often they come to Mass. But I think being a holy family is more a matter of valuing the memories, the families and the traditions that make us who we are.
You know, I often share with couples who are preparing for marriage that their biggest difficulty is melding the two separate, distinct family traditions into a new family. And that often causes severe disagreements. It is not an easy thing to do, as you know when you became married, or if you are preparing to be married now.
But the most important thing I think about is a family comes together when we live the Christian values. And those values are what we hear in today’s readings. We are called to honor our parents, for example, as we heard in that first reading from Sirach. And we’re called to compassion and kindness, humility, gentleness, patience, forgiving one another for our shortcomings, as we heard in that second reading from Colossians.
Now we learned, and our children will learn through their observation and imitation of how we live our lives and how our parents live their lives. And that, my Brothers and Sisters can be a bit humbling, if you think about it. Because we often expect our children to be different than what we are. How do we truly live our lives?
Today’s gospel opens with a telling detail. The Holy Family, as we heard, goes to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover. It’s the Jewish feast that recalls Israel’s identity as the Family of God’s People. And Mary and Joseph were consciously forming Jesus in the traditions and memories of the family of Israel.
Now, we, too, belong to a larger family. We are the children of God because, as we heard, we are God’s chosen ones. So, by being chosen by God, that makes us part of this larger family. And that’s not an abstract thing – it’s very concrete. Being part of that larger family is expressed in our own nuclear families, and it’s there that we learn to build our identities from the traditions and the values that are passed on from generation to generation.
The model that the Holy Family give us is one of fidelity to traditions and obedience to who they were. The Holy Family teaches us that holiness means that we are gathered here together in God’s house. Because it is here that we learn the traditions, and we form the memories that make us who we are as members of God’s larger family.
Now, Jesus, Mary and Joseph teach us what it really means to belong TO God. And everything about our living must reflect that we are most at home here in God’s house. The Holy Family also models for us the importance of our nuclear families for nourishing and strengthening our religious identities. In our everyday family living we are called to the same obedience to which Mary and Joseph called Jesus. For its in giving ourselves over to God’s will that we, too, advance in wisdom and age and favor before God, and all those who know us.
So, our nuclear families, then, are the school of holiness, because it is there that we learn the memories and the traditions that make us who we are. But being so intimately familiar with our families often blind us to see the goodness in one another. You know, some weeks ago I shared with you how my little brother beat out the lights on our car, our sedan, when I was growing up and the punishment that I suffered because of it. I should have been watching out for him. But there’s another part of that story and that is that I had to share a room with him growing up. And, unfortunately, I’m kind of a neat freak and my side of the room was always clean, I thought, and his side looked like a tornado went through it. And it was always that way until I moved away from home. You know, many an argument came about because of those living arrangements. But eventually he became a neat freak, I think, as well.
So, today’s feast should remind us to open our eyes and be astonished at the goodness of each other, rather than anxious about our own concerns. Families grow in strength when each person in the family, from parents to the smallest child to the extended family is treated as a member of God’s family and, therefore, holy. And this can be extremely challenging when sometimes all we see is each other’s faults. It takes a great deal of humility to get beyond the normal everyday annoyances that are part of a family’s life and see others as they truly are – holy and deserving of love, honor and respect.
Now, we think that Mary and Joseph didn’t have to suffer through these same things that we do, but we hear in today’s gospel they lost Jesus! And after they found Him, they had to struggle to understand who He was and who He was meant to become. And, in doing so, they were able to help Jesus grow. To grow in wisdom, strength, age and grace. Its in the same way that we, too, are called to help one another in our own families to grow to full maturity as members of the household of God.
Brothers and Sisters, we are members of God’s Holy Family and may all that we do be for His glory, and exhibit that by the way we live our lives.