In his or her own way, each of the three members of the Holy Family put God before each other. They did not make God just one priority among others but subjected their entire lives to God’s will. The Holy Family is holy precisely because it arose from unreserved obedience to the will of God. And it not only arose from that obedience but flourished under it. The relationship between its members is founded on their individual and prior relationships with God.
Later in St. Luke’s Gospel, from which our text is taken today, Jesus will say to his followers: “Whoever prefers mother or father to me is not worthy of me; whoever prefers son or daughter to me is not worthy of me.” That is another way of saying that “obedience to God comes before obedience to men.”
Joseph knew that Jesus was not his own, not just biologically, but in any sense. Jesus was God’s, entrusted to him for a time to perform the function of fatherhood needed. You can almost hear Joseph say the words of the Baptist, “He must increase. I must decrease.” Joseph also knew that Mary did not belong to him but to God and was only entrusted to him for a brief time to perform the function of husband. Above all, Joseph knew that he did not even belong to himself. He belonged to God and was created by God for those tasks he performed of father and husband on this earth and for unknown and untold tasks in the Kingdom of Heaven.
Mary, too, knew that she was not her own. Her statement to the Archangel Gabriel demonstrates it: “behold the handmaid, the slave, of the Lord. Let it be done to me according to your word.” Mary knew that God wanted her to be mother and wife and that is why she became them. She knew that she would only find fulfilment in obedience to God’s will for her. Whatever he wanted, that would be her will, her plan, her rule, her self-realization. She knew she was not her own to do with as she pleased but belonged to God and to God’s pleasure.
Then, of course, Jesus himself, notwithstanding the sublimity of his divine nature, gave way to the will of the Father in total obedience. As the Son of God, he knew he did not belong to himself, was not jealous of his condition as God, but that he belonged to the Father. Doing the will of the Father is the meaning of his divine and human existence. Emptied of himself to the bitter pains of death, he is filled, finds fulfilment, in being raised to glory by the Father. His obedience to the Father not only expressed his divine relationship to Him, but also brought about the healing and redemption of the world.
It is no different for us as individuals, as marriages and as families. The meaning of our lives is to obey God. That ought to fill us with joy and with hope unmeasured. He alone knows the original purpose he had in mind for each of our lives and each of our relationships. Our mission is not to live our lives as we want, as if somehow we knew better than God why were created. It is not to “do our own thing”, bringing God into it as an afterthought however holy or sincere. The truth of our very being is that we cannot become who we really are if we base our lives only on what we want to do or be, or like doing or being. No matter what appearances may say, we will not really get anywhere if God plays little or no part in our plans and decisions. And like the members of the Holy Family, that does not just mean making God one priority among others in our lives; it means subjecting our entire lives to God. To choose God’s will in all things is the most rational and intelligent way to live. To live solely by our own wishes or by the suggestions and influences of the world is irrational.
In family life, the more we seek to live it under the direction of God, the more our family will experience the inner unity, peace, love and joy of God. The writers of our first and second readings today give some very practical advice and guiding principles on how to live family life under God. Why not take those readings home with you and read them together as a family, as a married couple, and talk them through? Use them as a way of examining how you are currently living in your homes. Let them be the basis of a family code. As the inspired Word of God, you cannot go wrong in following what they say. They contain great wisdom, they show how the roles in family life lead to a strong balance and complementarity between all the members. If followed, they will lead to an ever-stronger integrity of married and family life. They will make Jesus Christ appear more evidently as the foundation of the home.
Every family is sacred to God and should therefore be sacred to society. There are a lot of good people in public services and in public authority who use their influence and their positions to help families in so many ways. What’s often lacking is not the will to help, but the values which inspire that help. It seems obvious to state that our society has long abandoned the values of God’s will, and so what is sincerely offered as help can often contradict the will of God for marriage and the family. Arguably society has become indifferent to God because so many families, which are the basic cells of society, have themselves airbrushed God out of their lives. This is undoubtedly a very complex and difficult question to ponder but, from the perspective of the Catholic faith, any solution to family woes proposed by society which contradicts the will of God for marriage and the family will in the end only make matters worse. Every family, just like the Holy Family, belongs to God, is God’s handiwork provided we ourselves don’t disfigure it. No family belongs to society as if society can treat it as it pleases. To promote and defend the family requires first, however, that families themselves become more aware and more active in recognising that they belong to God and in living accordingly.
In the Rite of Baptism, parents and godparents are told that they are the first and best teachers of their children in the practice of the faith. Sadly, that is not always how it turns out, whatever the reasons. Children are entrusted to parents by God for a time, just as Jesus was entrusted to Mary and Joseph for a time. While your children are your children, they are also not your children, but God’s. In this sense, all parents are, like Joseph, foster parents. In fact, the first duty of parents is to lead their children to God the Father through Jesus Christ. There is nothing more important than this. This requires engagement, imagination, creativity, commitment, ongoing efforts to know and practice the faith personally, as a married couple and as a family. It means being able to field questions, explain teachings, show how to pray; it means above all an adult, rational and loving commitment to Christ and his Church. These things are more important than the easy but passing things which can so often absorb family time and energy. At times, we allow the pressure of others, be it peer pressure or keeping up with the Joneses, to take priority over our life of faith in the family. I understand it’s not easy. Yet, if we don’t stand up in a counter-cultural way to the influence of material things and of values and suggestions which can be harmful and even destructive, then the Christian fabric of our families will be torn. Without strong families, society can only implode.
As a token intended to help the families of our parish in Largs who are trying so hard to keep the faith alive and kicking, and doing a wonderful job, I want to give you today the gift of a book paid for by the parish. One book is called YouCat, which is a version of the Catechism for young people of secondary school age and up to 25. The other is called KidCat and is for primary school children and their parents. In order to be fair in the distribution, each home can have only one of each book, if required. At the end of Mass, those of you who fall into this category (or your parents) can come forward and receive the books from Mrs Ryan at the Lady Altar. Please remember that the books are for using! They are intended to get everyone talking at home about God, faith and Church, even if it’s only once per week. Set aside a time when all or most can be there. Enrich your understanding and love of your Catholic faith and let it feed your family lives, your parishes and beyond. We want more Holy Families!