Homily: The Humanity of the Holy Family

December 26, 2021 – Feast of the Holy Family

The following is my homily I will be delivering at St. Pius X Parish in Indianapolis today:

When I want to improve at something, I observe people I believe do it well and try to learn from them.

For example, I admire good writing and want to write well myself, so I study it. When I am reading a John Grisham novel on the beach, I am doing more than enjoying a good story. I am making mental notes on why the story is good: What is it about the writing that brings the story to life? What makes the characters believable? I know I am not, and never will be, as talented as Mr. Grisham, but I can improve my own writing if I pay attention and learn from him and others that do it well.

When I played football in high school, I used to watch NFL games closely. I wanted to cheer for my team, but I also wanted to study how the players played the game. I watched their technique, their ability to adjust to what their opponent was doing, their speed and quickness, their focus. I had no illusions that I would ever play in the NFL, or even in college, but I could improve my own game if I learned from those that did it well.

On this Feast of the Holy Family, the Church is encouraging us to learn from those that did it well.

Just like I know I’ll never be another John Grisham or play in the NFL, I am fairly certain my family will never reach the high bar set by the Holy Family. How are we supposed to compete with them? Mary and Joseph were both saints and Jesus was divine.

That being said, all three were fully human, a humanity often lost when considering what they overcame and accomplished: Young Mary saying, “Yes” to God’s plan for her; Joseph trusting an angel’s message received in a dream; the two of them taking refuge in a stable at the time of Jesus’ birth. Two human beings taking extraordinary steps in order to follow the will of God.

Many artists over the years have captured the essence of those moments so beautifully in their paintings. However, I have recently seen some images that highlight the humanity of the Holy Family.

They include an image of Joseph holding baby Jesus while Mary sleeps with her head in her husband’s lap – sometimes mom gets tired and needs dad to step up; an image of Joseph teaching Jesus carpentry skills at the workbench – a dad passing on a trade to his son; an image of young Jesus jumping rope, with Mary and Joseph each holding one end of the rope – a family playing together. Just yesterday, I saw an image of the infant Jesus sucking his thumb.

I don’t know if Jesus jumped rope or sucked his thumb, but that’s not the point. The point is that Jesus, Mary, and Joseph were human beings, living lives that included many of the same challenges we face and positive experiences we enjoy. They lived, laughed, and loved like we do.

We get a notable example of that in today’s gospel – Mary and Joseph made a mistake; they lost track of Jesus; they assumed he was with a particular group of people, but it turned out he was not. The gospel says, “Thinking that he was in the caravan, they journeyed for a day and looked for him among their relatives and acquaintances, but not finding him, they returned to Jerusalem to look for him.”

Mary and Joseph lived exemplary lives, and the Church teaches us that Mary was without sin – however, they weren’t perfect; they made mistakes. That knowledge makes them a bit more real to us.

I am not going to ask for a show of hands, but I am guessing that a large percentage of parents have, at one time or another, lost track of at least one of their children.

When I was a high school Athletic Director, my son Rick was a ball boy for the football team. So, he traveled to every game with me, went back to school with me after each game so I could tie up a few loose ends, then we’d head home together.

Except one night when I left him at school. I didn’t realize my mistake soon afterwards and quickly return to pick him up. No, I completely forgot about him. It was in the days before cell phones, so I wasn’t made aware of my error until I got home.

Carol greeted me at the door, saying, “One of the football coaches called. Did you forget anything?” The look on my face showed I had no idea what she was talking about, so she continued. “Your son? Eleven years old? About this tall?” The panic I felt, and the sadness in my heart, was palpable as I raced back to school.

I’m pretty sure we left each of the kids behind at one time or another. My own “holy family” once left me at a truck stop on the way to Wisconsin. They actually didn’t realize it for over an hour – that was apparently how much of an impression I left as a child. I can only imagine the fear my parents endured as they turned the car around and drove another hour back to the truck stop.

That happened to Mary and Joseph, too. They were real parents with real problems and challenges. I’m sure leaving Jesus behind was only one of the parenting nightmares they faced. I’m sure there were times when Jesus was sick with a fever and was up crying all night. As Jesus grew up, Mary likely comforted him when he was upset by something a friend said or consoled him when his pet turtle died. I’m sure Mary and Joseph didn’t simply dismiss these parenting challenges by saying, “Jesus is also God, I’m sure he’ll be fine.” He was their little boy! 

That should bring us great comfort. Mary and Joseph weren’t without challenges on their way to sainthood; they became saints because they met those challenges head on, always keeping the will of God at the forefront. They were not a Holy Family because of who they were, but because of how they lived.

They lived by the words we heard from St. Paul in our second reading: They Put on….heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, bearing with one another and forgiving one another…” These loving attributes are all choices, as evidenced by the words “put on.” We have a choice. If we want to do something well, we need to study those that do it best. We may never be recognized as saints by the Church, but we can live well, learn from others, and do our best. We can follow the will of God and choose to put on the loving attributes necessary to make our family or community a “holy family.”

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