1. Several years ago, I sat on my couch on a Sunday morning.
a. I should have been on my way to North Carolina to celebrate my brother’s birthday.
b. But outside a snowstorm was dumping a foot of snow. I was stranded.
2. Since I had said mass the night before, I was golden.
a. I decided just to stay in my rooms, enjoy the snow,
b. and let the day go as it would have, were I in North Carolina.
3. And then around 12:30pm my phone started blowing up.
a. People from the church of the Nativity,
i. my second parish in the east village,
b. were texting me . . . during mass.
4. “How can you allow him to say such things?”
5. “What kind of a church is this that allows a priest to preach such hate?!”
6. “Get him out of here!”
7. What caused such outrage?
8. Well, it was the Feast of the Holy Family. Today’s feast.
9. And my assistant preached a homily
a. in which he said that the devil was destroying the American family.
10. And who was in league with the devil?
a. Well, he listed a whole series of types of people who lived different lifestyles than he did,
b. made different choices than he would,
c. who expressed themselves in ways he thought were,
i. well, he said it himself: satanic.
11. His list of sins was so broad that he told 95% of the people present,
a. who had braved a foot of snow to come to mass,
i. that they were in league with the devil.
12. And while we might say that his approach
a. was because he came from a different culture
13. And while others might try to forgive his rather ham-fisted style
a. as an expression of his priestly concern,
14. Many might ask where he got his ideas from in the first place
a. The answer to that is simple: from an ideal.
15. That homily preached that day comes from an ideal of family,
a. With a father and a mother and children.
b. With the members of the family living in harmony,
i. each fulfilling their God-given roles
16. This is an ideal that is present not only in his culture, but in many.
a. It is present in our culture and it has deep roots.
b. We see it reflected in televisions shows, films and in literature.
17. We celebrate its sanctity in the feast we celebrate today, the HOLY family.
18. Where the ideal family held up to us is that family of Mary Jesus and Joseph.
19. That they are supposed to be an ideal is clear in the Gospel,
a. where Luke portrays them as model Jews,
b. bringing Jesus to the temple according to the” law of the Lord.”
20. That that ideal was important to the early Christians, is clear from the second reading
a. where the author of Colossians pleads with the families of that community
i. to be model husbands, wives and parents and children.
21. That it continues to be important to our Church is clear as well;
a. As It is the way the Church has encouraged us to avoid sin and be better,
b. Ever since, well, since Jesus Mary and Joseph.
22. But then what happens when we fall short?
a. What happens when our family doesn’t get along,
1. the way Colossians says we should?
b. What happens we are not models of faith like Mary and Joseph in the Gospel?
c. What happens when we realize that life is NOT black and white, but grey,
i. and we are not able to live up to some ideal?
23. Well one thing that happens for many is that they reject the ideal entirely,
a. as one woman did to me at St. Teresa’s again on the feast of the Holy Family, one year,
b. when she declared loudly at the back of the church after mass,
i. “Come on father,
ii. a family where the mother is a virgin,
iii. the marriage is never consummated
iv. and there is only one child
v. and HE is God?
vi. What kind of model is that for anyone to follow?
vii. Let alone a Catholic?”
24. But another thing that could happen,
a. is that we could look deeper.
25. And when we do, we realize that when that Jesus
a. who grew up in that most atypical family, became a man,
b. he went about preaching a message
i. where God is our Father,
1. and we are all God’s Children.
ii. where anyone who does the Father’s will
1. is mother, sister, brother to him.
iii. who founded a community
1. whose members called themselves brother and sister,
iv. and which to this day refers to its ministers as sister or Father.
26. Jesus redefined family.
a. For him “family” was not just a biological unit but a theological one;
b. Which has its root not in parental lineage but in LOVE.
27. And thus, family could and did take many forms.
28. which is WHY that most atypical of families the holy family IS a model for us;
a. not because we could ever be ideal like the Holy Family,
b. but because of the love that made Mary accept birth of Jesus
i. despite the strangeness of his conception,
c. the love that made Joseph accept the responsibility of Mary
i. despite the scandal of her pregnancy,
d. the love that Jesus learned in his home
i. and preached was the heart of the Law of the Lord,
e. THAT is the ideal;
f. and it is lived out in many different ways,
i. many different models
ii. many different forms.
29. One way it was lived out was the way that group of parishioners lived it out with my associate on that snowy Sunday so many years ago.
a. They could have attacked him after mass,
i. berating him for his message.
b. But they did not. instead, during the prayers of the faithful,
c. after the written petitions were done,
i. one after another, they stood and added their own.
30. They PRAYED for each group of people the priest had condemned,
a. insisting that they be included in Jesus’ family, the Church, rather than rejected.
31. They challenged his narrow view of what makes a family;
a. but they did it with respect and with love.
32. I am told that by the end of the prayers the priest was so stunned,
a. he could barely continue.
33. But you know what? When he went back that evening to say the 7:30pm mass,
a. he changed his homily.
i. Gone were condemnations
ii. and a message, much closer to the one preached here today
iii. was proclaimed.
34. I would like to think it was because the preacher heard the challenge from his listeners to look deeper than the stereotypes he proffered.
35. And to hear the love these people felt
a. for their faith, their church – for him!
b. And to respond in kind.
36. This love is not easy.
a. It requires listening.
b. it requires respect.
c. It requires acceptance of different opinions and beliefs,
d. and forgiveness of failings and sins.
37. The love that is spoken of in the second reading
38. and embodied in Jesus Mary and Joseph in the Gospels
a. does not let us off the hook.
39. But it is that love, that makes a family holy, no matter what shape it takes.
40. I would like to think that at that moment
a. My associate glimpsed in that little community in the East Village a Holy Family.
b. I know I did, many times.
41. I see it here as well, in the groups of people who teach our children, work with our seniors, comfort the grieving and serve this community.
42. For when we do these things,
a. we live that law of the Lord, just like Mary and Joseph did.
b. We are that community of love and respect that the author of Colossians called for.
c. when we do these things, as imperfect and sinful as we are,
i. we do not just aspire to be like the Holy family,
ii. we are the Church, Mother Sister and Brother to Jesus.
iii. We are the Holy family.