• Sir 3:2-6, 12-14
• Ps 128:1-2, 3, 4-5
• Col 3:12-21
• Mt 2:13-15, 19-23
There’s no doubt that the family is under attack today in many ways. The list of corrupting influences and active enemies is lengthy, including adultery, divorce, “same-sex marriage,” contraceptives, and much more. Families with more than a couple of children are often mocked as being either religious zealots or simply stupid, while those who believe children are best raised by a mother and a father are regularly labeled as “narrow-minded.”
Pope John Paul II, in his 1995 encyclical, “The Gospel of Life,” noted that “human life is a gift received in order then to be given as a gift” (par 92). The family is the human communion by which life is received and love is given—and then offered to others. The family is the core of social and relational life, and without it, humanity ceases to exist. As the Second Vatican Council’s Decree on the Apostolate of the Laity stated, “This mission—to be the first and vital cell of society—the family has received from God” (par 11).
Today’s reading from Sirach reflects on the God-given nature of the family, including the specific roles of the father, mother, and children. It refers to “honor,” “authority,” “reverence,” and “obedience,” notions often ignored or even scoffed at today. Likewise, in the reading from St. Paul’s epistle to the Colossians, numerous other godly qualities are encouraged, including humility, gentleness, forgiveness, and gratitude. Yet the culture of death, so pervasive and entangling, loathes such attributes. It insists instead that relationships are about getting, not giving, and that arrogance, rudeness, and anger are acceptable when things don’t go my way.
It natural to think this state of affairs indicates that we live in a unique time, and the temptation is to look back fondly to a day the family was held in high esteem. But on this Feast of the Holy Family, I would suggest the family has been under siege from the very beginning of human history, and that the many and varied attacks on the family reveals Satan’s hatred for God’s plan of love, life, and salvation. The serpent in the Garden appealed to man’s pride, that is, to his love of self. In this way the first human family and marriage was dealt a fatal blow that has reverberated down through time.
Thanks be to God, “Christ chose to be born and grow up in the bosom of the holy family of Joseph and Mary” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, par 1655). This is not, of course, a mere historical detail, but a powerful witness to the full humanity of the Incarnate Word and to God’s love for the family. And by “the family,” I mean both the Holy Family and the family of humanity. God—as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—is a completely perfect relationship in Himself, an eternal exchange of love. Yet in creating man, God did not only give physical life, but desired to give His own divine, Trinitarian life. “He calls together all men, scattered and divided by sin,” states the Catechism, “into the unity of his family, the Church” (CCC, 1). Through Jesus, the Son of God who became the Son of Man, the Father has formed a family, the Church, bound together by the bond and love of the Holy Spirit.
In Matthew’s account of the Holy Family fleeing to Egypt there is mention of another family—the Herodian dynasty. This powerful family of rulers was ruthless and cruel, often killing real and perceived enemies, including the innocent male babies of Bethlehem (Matt 2:16-18). Herod the Great and his sons had numerous marriages, most of which ended in divorce or execution. Likewise, many people today are willing to destroy families, including their own, in order to grasp at the temporal pleasure of life in this world. We can give thanks today that Jesus came into this world to invite us into His family, the Church, and to share in the eternal life of the Father through the divine grace of the Holy Spirit.
(This “Opening the Word” column originally appeared in the December 30, 2007, issue of Our Sunday Visitor newspaper.)