Bishop Glen John Provost
Bishop of Lake Charles
Homily for the Feast of The Holy Family of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph
Sunday, December 30, 2007
Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception
"Put on, as God¹s chosen ones, holy and beloved, heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience." Colossians 3:12
The family is the first classroom for a child. For that reason the family is essential to society and the church. What a child learns early in life will be with him or her for the rest of the child¹s life. For this reason, perhaps, one phenomenon amazes me. It is compartmentalizing religion.
A parent would not think of telling a child, "Well, now, son you have an option. You may either study math or choose not to." Nor would a parent say to a child, "You have an option as to whether or not you want to read." There is no option when it comes to basics. A parent would consider gross neglect to not insure a child¹s training in mathematics and reading. Yet, the same insistence is not always present when it comes to religion.
Nothing is as heartrending as to hear a child say, "I want to go to Mass, but my parents won¹t take me." Our religious faith is so fundamental that I cannot imagine someone not making it at least as much a part of their children¹s life as any subject in school.
I am struck by the lack of option in the Gospel today. An angel appears to Joseph in a dream and says, "Rise, take the child and his mother, flee to Egypt, and stay there until I tell you" (Matthew 2:13). Joseph¹s reaction teaches us so much. He quietly obeys.
Then, when Herod dies, an angel once again appears with instructions in a dream. "Rise, take the child and his mother and go to the land of Israel" (Matthew 2:20). Joseph again obediently listens and obeys. There is something marvelous about this obedience. It is submissive, total, and conspicuously quiet. Joseph asks no questions. He raises no doubt. He presents no obstacle. This should tell us something about the internal harmony of not only the Holy Family but also our own families.
St. Paul speaks of this harmony in the second reading. "Put on, as God¹s chosen ones, holy and beloved, heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, bearing with one another and forgiving one another" (Colossians 3:12-13). What a beautiful model of harmony! "Do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus" (Colossians 3:17). These qualities are to overflow from the lives of Christians into the life of the community. "And let the peace of Christ control your hearts, the peace into which you were also called in one body" (Colossians 3:15).
For this reason, for the reason of harmony and unity, St. Paul places the family in the same context. First addressing wives, he says, "Be subordinate to your husbands, as is proper in the Lord" (Colossians 3:18) (6). We must not be silly and negate this teaching by applying some politically correct interpretation. St. Paul places no heavier a burden on wives than he places on husbands or children. "Husbands, love your wives, and avoid any bitterness toward them. Children, obey your parents in everything, for this is pleasing to the Lord" (Colossians 3:19-20). In another famous passage on this same topic, St. Paul is even more specific. "Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ loved the church and handed himself over for her to sanctify her" (Ephesians 5:25-26). That is saying a great deal. As Christ gave His life for the Church to redeem her, a husband is to love his wife by giving of his own life to her.
In many ways, this total giving of self is what Joseph does for Mary and Jesus. In doing so, he leaves every husband a model of what St. Paul will later speak of and Jesus will fulfill. The example of selfless giving is intended for every member of the family. Only in this total act is harmony possible in the family unit. It is not what I want. It is what you want. It is not my personal fulfillment that I pursue. It is in my personal act of giving of self where I am fulfilled and the harmony of the family secured. The family should and must be the first teacher of the fulfilling message of the Gospel. It is only in giving that we receive.