Sunday, December 29, 2013

Our holy, broken families (Holy Family)

This time of year, we all see the Hallmark-Card images
of family that are hard—
no, make that impossible!—to live up to. 

So it was with my family, growing up; 
probably yours, too, I imagine. 
One of the best things I ever did 
was to accept the reality of my family’s brokenness, 
instead of the ideal that never was.

Speaking of “best things,” 
my father says one of the best things he did, 
as a husband, was to take mom out for a date 
every Saturday night. 

This goes with something Pope John Paul the first said: 
“Parents begin to educate their children 
by their love for each other.” 
This is one reason why, 
when married people come to confession, 
I sometimes give this penance: 
“Do something romantic for your spouse.”

I bring that up because what my father said—
and what the pope said—calls to mind 
something truly amazing: 
God, in becoming a true human being, 
an infant at Mary’s breast, growing up in a home, 
“learned” about love from Mary and Joseph!

This is the mystery of the Incarnation: 
God becoming like us in all things but sin.
He whom all heaven could not contain, 
into Mary’s womb came to dwell. 
The all-powerful Creator became a defenseless child! 
The Ancient of Days learned about human life and love 
from watching Joseph and Mary.

And you worry about what you teach your children!

On this Feast of the Holy Family, 
let’s acknowledge some things:
Sometimes, in church, we talk so much about married life, 
we neglect those who are single, 
or those whose married life together ended in deep pain.

We often don’t know what to say. 
Well, we could start with, “I’m not going to judge you; 
and I do want to welcome you!”

Some people don’t “fit the mold”; 
some can’t marry as God and nature define marriage. 
It’s not our place to redefine marriage; 
but it is certainly our place—indeed, 
it’s absolutely our obligation before God—
to embrace everyone without mockery, 
without ugliness, as Christ in our midst!

This is a subject that deserves a lot more time than a Sunday homily.
But this is just about my only chance to address it with you.
Let me just say here something that may not be obvious.
What’s at issue with the question of marriage 
is two very different understandings—
what our culture is tending to think about marriage
and what our Faith teaches.

More and more, our culture understands marriage 
to be essentially about personal fulfillment.
But what our Faith understands about marriage is self-gift and family.
These two understandings are moving in opposite directions.

We hold up the Holy Family as an ideal; 
but Christ knows well how “dysfunctional” 
our families can be. 
That’s why he came to be part of our human family!

You and I are also painfully aware of family troubles 
we don’t like to talk about: 
Alcoholism or other addictions; 
anger, emotional abuse or physical violence; 
depression or other emotional problems. 

Yes, Christ took a beating on the Cross; 
but he never inflicted such abuse on anyone—
and neither should we!

To make matters worse, some of these issues 
aren’t dealt with openly, 
but instead become shameful secrets, 
wounds that never heal.

Don’t we call this the season of Light? 
Christ offers his Light to heal these wounds. 
Will we let him?

Christ, who came to carry the Cross 
of all our human sinfulness, 
will give you courage and walk beside each of us 
on our own Way of the Cross. Will we let him?

Our second reading talks about the role 
each of us has in our families. 

Christ is the child among us—should he witness 
parents berating and demeaning each other?

Christ the teenager: we have no idea what music he liked. 
But do you think he would have tolerated music 
that demeans women and exults violence?

Christ was a worker; 
but he did not make work an excuse to neglect his family.

Christ the man saw women as Images of God, 
not as servants, or imaginary partners on the Internet.

Christ was strong enough to bite his tongue; 
he didn’t need fists or words to prove himself.

Men, are you and I “man enough” 
to follow the leadership of Jesus Christ?

And Christ the healer never shamed anyone he met; 
not the prostitute, not the tax-collector, 
not the leper or the alien.

And he will never shame nor despise any of us 
for our sins, our wounds, our secrets… 
whatever they may be.

Yes, our families are far from the ideal. 
But they, too, can be “holy families.”
Not because they look like a Christmas card, 
but because we let Christ bring courage, 
and healing, and hope:

Not to the families of our dreams, 
but to the real family life we actually have.

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