A Real Family, A Holy Family
Sunday December 30, 2001 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Feast of the Holy Family
Reading I (Sirach 3:2-6, 12-14) Reading II (Colossians 3:12-21)
Gospel (St. Matthew 2:13-15, 19-23)
Today the Church celebrates the Feast of the Holy Family. This is not merely a feast celebrating the family of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph 2,000 years ago; but rather, it is a feast which celebrates every family, and it is the call to every Christian family to holiness. It is to be modeled, certainly, upon the Holy Family of Nazareth, but it is a celebration of your family.
I suspect that, on the day of marriage, most couples have great dreams of what they want their family to be. Sometimes, of course, it is not going to work quite that way. We look around us and we see the family being destroyed. We have a divorce rate in this country of nearly 60%. We have children who are confused; they are not sure who their parents are going to be next month or next year because there is a rotating door of who is living with Mom or who is living with Dad this month or this year or this week, whatever it might be. The poor children are totally confused. They do not have parents at home with them these days because we have decided that material things are more important than children. Consequently, both [parents] are outside the home even when it is not a necessity.
We must also recognize that some of this is being done intentionally. Part of the intent was to get the mother out of the home so that the State would be able to take over the raising of the children. This was not done by mistake; this has been done completely with malice and forethought. The intention is indeed to destroy the family. Now that is the most diabolical thing that has come down the pike, ever. We can understand where the devil would try to attack the Eucharist or the priesthood or the Church or consecrated life or whatever it may be. But now he has turned upon the family. He has decided that the only way that he is going to overcome and be victorious in this world is if he can destroy the very foundation of the Church and of society. And he is doing well.
There was one thing that he needed to be able to do and that was to put a break somewhere between the couple Ė so he introduced contraception. And he has been successful beyond all imagination. The vast majority of couples now, who are of reproductive age, are contracepting or having themselves sterilized. Even among Catholics we have the exact same problem.
And so the question is how are we going to get this turned back? How are we going to straighten this problem out and be able to overcome the Evil One with all of his wiles? There is only one way and it is one word; that one word is OBEDIENCE. We must be obedient to God. It is the only way that we are ever going to be able to survive in our families and in our societies. We cannot be putting the children in front of the TV set and assuming that is going to babysit them and satisfy their needs. We cannot be throwing a TV dinner in front of them and suggesting that is enough. We cannot be allowing ourselves to be scattered in every direction.
The diabolical genius in this whole thing is that it has attacked the human person at its most vulnerable position: selfishness. We live in the most self-centered and sinful society that this world has ever known. And it is being presented to us as a good thing. It is being presented as virtue to make sure that your children are enrolled in every possible thing that they can do and make sure that the parents have little or no time with the kids. We live in a generation where each person within a family home is doing their own thing. Very rarely do we see a family doing a whole lot together. The only time, these days, when they are together is when they are being driven to be dropped off at their various events. And even when they are together, each one is in their own little world because the radio is on one station, the junior high kids have their radios in their ear on another station, the senior high kids are doing something entirely different and they do not even want to be seen with their parents because they are embarrassed. Things go on and on and on this way. We see that what the devil has done is to direct himself right at our own selfishness.
Saint Paul, in the second reading today, gives a whole list of virtues that we have to strive for. Then he says, "Over all these put on love." Love is selflessness. Love seeks the good of the other, not the good of the self. On the day that every couple has stood before Almighty God in His Church to make their vows of marriage, they made a vow to one another to love, to never be selfish in their relationship, to give, to pour themselves out, to no longer be self-seeking but only seek the good of the other. That is what it is to be. That is the example that children should be learning. They should be in a family where they see two people who are absolutely in love with one another, seeking to serve one another, and to build one another up.
And flowing from that relationship is the love for their children, putting the children as a priority in their life. Not treating the children as little objects, as the trophy that they wanted to be able to show off but "now they are a bit of a pain and we donít want to have to deal with them. Weíll dress them up when itís convenient, but otherwise, get out of the way." That is wrong. Children are not there for the parents; the parents must be there for the children. And children must be loved and desired for their own sake, not for what the parents can get out of it.
You see, we have turned the entire thing backwards. This has been done very methodically through the education system and through the media. They have been very successful. People who regularly watch television tell me that if you turn on the TV these days there is a general pattern of what it is that they are trying to do. They have made men on television to look like buffoons, utter idiots who cannot do a thing that is right and who look like babbling idiots. Women, on the other hand, they have made to be completely independent, strong, and who do not need a man around. So you see what they are trying to do. You can look at any of the various networks they have out there and what they are trying to do is change the definition of the family.
Just look at the fights that are going on these days and how they are trying to do that even with insurance. We are trying to suggest that two homosexuals living in the same home are a family. We are trying to suggest that two people living together outside of marriage are a family. We are trying to redefine what a family is. It has gotten to the point where the only thing that we can say that a family is not is a husband and a wife and their children living together in harmony. That is the way we see that it is not supposed to be in our society. Everything else is okay, and everything else is being supported. Even within our own state, all you have to do is look at the way they have set things up in the tax system: If you were not married, you could get lots of write-offs; but if you were married, you were penalized for it. People figured that out. You see, everything in our society is directed for the destruction of the family.
We look, now, to the opposite side and ask where is the good news in all of this? It is the Church. Everything in the Church is at the service of the family. Now, unfortunately, in the selfishness of many people within the Church it does not always appear that way. The practical reality may not [make it] seem that is the case. But if you look at the teachings of the Church and you look at everything that the Church is to be about, it is all at the service of the family because the Church recognizes that the family is the basis of everything.
But even beyond that, the family is called to be the domestic church. What the Church is to be on the universal level, the family is to be on the domestic level. So when we look at the Church, we recognize that there is an order, there is a hierarchy. Indeed, the Church itself is a family. All of us, who are baptized into Jesus Christ, are sons and daughters of God, our Father, and of Mary, our Mother. We are a family. But what has happened with our Faith is that so many have wandered away because they did not want to be obedient to our heavenly Father, they did not want to come into line with what the teachings of God are. The Ten Commandments we do not want to follow. Things that are required for membership in this family we have decided are antiquated or are socially unacceptable and so we have thrown them aside so we could do it our way.
What we need is to look at what God intends for the family, not what the media tells us, not what the education people tell us because all you have to do is look around and see the fruit of it. How many times I have stood here and begged that you would turn the TV off. Throw the stupid thing away! It is destroying your family. It is intending to destroy your family. Still, we put our children in front of it for hours and hours a day so they can have their minds filled with mush and they can walk away being told that they are the center of everything and nothing else matters except their own little world. Then we wonder why our families are being destroyed. Get rid of the things that are going to destroy your family.
The number one destructive element within marriage is contraception. All you have to do is look at the figures. Follow it from the 1920ís up through the 1960ís and into the Ď70ís and up to our own day, every single time that a new contraceptive was introduced on the market the divorce rate jumped. The only thing that was different was the new contraceptive. Until finally they came up with this wonderful invention that they presented as the saving grace for all marriages and that was what they called "The Pill". The divorce rate literally doubled within a few years. The only change was that now selfishness reigned within marriage: no responsibility, no requirements, total selfishness, pleasure-seeking, hedonism, and using one another as objects rather than loving one another as persons. It is no wonder people are getting divorced if all that is happening is that they are being used.
We need to learn how to love. We need to learn how to be obedient. And we need to learn the roles that each one plays within the family. These are not arbitrary things, but rather, they are by Divine Decree. God has set a husband and father as the head of the house. The husband and father is not to be a babbling fool, an idiot who is to be thrown away, blown off, and ignored. He is to be the head of his family. The word "husband" implies one who is going to protect and provide. You are not, as gentlemen, to be in the background someplace allowing your wife to take on the burden of everything that is going on within the family - sitting there watching TV and sucking on a beer while everything else goes on around you and ignoring it as if it is not your problem. The husband and the father must be the spiritual director of the family, must give the guidance and direction to the family, must be strong and decisive within the family. But this does not mean that it is some sort of an autocracy; it is to be done out of love, to seek what is best for your wife and for your children, taking into account the position of your wife, listening to what she says, and then making the decision based, not just on what you think is going to result in the least amount of fallout, but rather, making a decision based on what is truly the best for your family Ė not what is best for you, not what will be the easiest or most convenient, but what is truly the best for the people entrusted to your care.
And you must do that so that your wife is going to be able to be the mother and the foundation, not having to be worried about all of the things. The media is trying to set the woman up as the head of the family so that all the decisions fall upon her, so that all the responsibility is right there, so that she is pulled in every direction, so that she does not have the time or opportunity to focus on her children. And all of it, of course, being told to her that this is for the good of her children when all that it is really doing is pulling away the relationship of mother and children, as well as husband and wife, and father and children. So we need to make sure that we are putting things straight, that we are making sure that the husband is the head of the household, that he is being supported and encouraged by his wife, rather than to be nagged and torn down and called names and whatever else. It is critically important that the husband is loving his wife and building her up and seeking her good, rather than ignoring her and living his own way. You are not roommates in the same house; you are husband and wife, and you are parents. You are to love one another so that your love overflows into your children and there is a stable foundation for the children.
If you are living your family life and your married life the way that God intends, your family is not going to be like most of those on your block. And it is certainly not going to be like those you are going to see when you turn on prime-time television. But it does not matter if we are like everyone else; what matters is that we are living in our family like Godís family, the way God intends it to be. God wants you to be a holy family. That is why Saint Paul calls you "holy and beloved". He wants all of us to grow in holiness.
When we look at the end of the first reading and the end of the second reading as well, it lays out for us what the hierarchy is all about. Sirach tells us in the first reading that God confirms a fatherís authority over his children, as well as a motherís authority over her children. Saint Paul tells us that wives are to be subordinate to their husbands. That does not mean to be a slave within the family; that means to allow your husband to be the head of the family and to follow in the direction that is set. Then he tells the husbands to love their wives, which, again, is the point I have already spoken of: to seek the good of your wife and your family, to serve them, to pour yourself out for them. And then he says, "Children, be obedient to your parents."
Now the problem, of course, is that children are going to learn from their parents how to treat their parents. If every time the husband makes a decision, the wife sighs and rolls her eyes and basically makes comments under her breath, the attitude the children are going to have toward their father is going to be exactly the same. If the father is presenting to his children that their mother is some kind of an emotional basket case who is off on some roller coaster somewhere and does not have a clue what reality is all about, why do we think it is that the children have little respect for their mother? They have learned from their father how to treat her that way. Then, of course, they treat one another that way, and when they try to get married, they have learned to treat one another with disrespect and in a selfish manner so that they, too, will enter into marriage and do what they have learned.
We need to turn all of this around. It all begins with husbands and wives respecting and loving one another the way that you have vowed to Almighty God that you will do. It is not a good idea. It is not a fairy-tale existence. It is a vow that every married couple has made to one another - and to God. It is exactly what every married person is going to be judged upon on the Day of Judgment. How did you live the vows of your marriage? Did you love this person that God has entrusted to your care? Did you really pour yourself out? Did you seek to build the other person up? Did you try at every moment of every day to give in a selfless manner?
That is precisely the pattern that God has laid out for us. That is what Jesus did for us. The Church is called the Bride of Christ; He is the Bridegroom; He is the Husband; He is the Father. Look at the mosaic above the altar [the mosaic depicts Jesus Crucified with Our Lady and Saint John at the foot of the Cross on either side]. For every man who is here today, that is the pattern that you must follow in your family. It is not about "me being the king as husband and father, and you can serve me". It is about serving your family. It is about pouring yourself out and pouring out every last drop and ounce of who you are for the sake of these beautiful people entrusted to your care.
And standing right at the foot of the Cross, mothers, is Our Mother. That is where you must be: right there, united with your husband and pouring yourself out, offering all of your sacrifices and sufferings to our heavenly Father and uniting yourself with your husband so that the children see a united front, a couple united in love, growing with one another and bringing their children with them. That is what the family must be about. It is obedience to God; it is love for one another. That is what this world has lost.
We are not to model ourselves upon this world, Saint Paul tells us. But rather, he tells us to have a transformation of our mind so that we will live the life of Christ. And so as we celebrate today the Feast of the Holy Family, we are to model ourselves on the Holy Family. We see one little snippet in the Gospel when the angel of the Lord appears to Joseph and says, "Take the Child and His mother and flee to the land of Egypt." Joseph obeyed immediately: In the middle of the night, he got up. He did not say, "Well, in the morning we will have to do this." He woke up Our Lady and she obeyed immediately and they took the Child and they went to Egypt. Our Lady followed Joseph; Joseph followed God. That is the way it must be in the family.
There is only one way that this can happen, and that is if you pray. How do you know what Godís Will for you is unless you are praying, unless you are seeking Him in the depths of your heart and seeking to discern the direction for your lives and for your family? You must pray individually. You must pray as a married couple. And you must pray as a family united in love, seeking God in all things. That is the holy way that God has laid out. That is going to be the fulfillment of your marriage vows. That is the love, the union, and the way that God desires for each and every family: to be united in love, to be obedient to the way that God has laid out, to be a family not like what we see on television, not like what we are seeing in the world today, and not like the one that was spoken of in a newspaper.
Someone showed me an article in the New York Times the other day where there was a family that was getting together. It was the present husband and wife, the first wife, the second wife, the first husband, the second husband, and the children from each one of those unions, as well as the children from the other unions that these people had. Whoís the mother? Whoís the father? Whoís the husband? Whoís the wife? No one knows. There were four marriages for each one in that particular case and they were all together as one big happy family. That is not what a family is supposed to be.
We see the model of the family; God has laid it out. And God has called the family, not to disunity and not to dysfunction, but to holiness. That is what He desires for your family. Are we willing to do it Godís way rather than the way of the world? To humble ourselves, to serve one another, and to grow together in love and holiness after the model that we see of the Holy Family of Nazareth.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.