- The Abbey of the Genesee - https://www.geneseeabbey.org -

December 29, 2019

Fr. Justin Sheehan, OCSO

Feast of the Holy Family

Social anthropologists and historians have much to say about the structure of the family and its history in various world civilizations. But there’s something missing in all of their accounts, and the missing element can be found in the first few chapters of Genesis. As described in Genesis, the first family on earth was not formed of two persons, a man and a woman, Adam and Eve. It consisted of three: Adam and Eve, and God.

Since then, any newly formed family in the biblical tradition consists initially of three members: God, and the man and woman. That is why, when a family has a child, it’s a child of the two parents, and also a child of God, who gives the child a capacity to relate with God ( a capax Dei) and to do his will.

Our reading from the book of Sirach is clear that God has a role in the family. The very first sentence reads: “God sets a father in honor over his children; a mother’s authority he confirms over her sons”. And St Paul in the letter to the Colossians addresses the members of a family as “God’s chosen ones” who should “let the peace of Christ control your hearts, the peace into which you were also called in one body”.

A marriage that does not have God as a member is not a holy family. It is God who makes the man and woman into one, when they receive the sacrament of matrimony, through the Holy Spirit. Hence the scripture text reads: “What God has joined together, let no one put asunder”. Any children who may be the fruit of a marriage are called by scripture “an inheritance from the Lord”. Especially with marriage in the Church (which is the house of God) every spouse can know that she or he has received the other as a gift from the hands of God, who has publicly blessed and sanctified their marriage.

In considering what its proponents call same-sex “marriage”, therefore, the religious person has to ask: Is God a member of this supposed marriage? Is this something that God has joined together? Can the members grow in “humility, gentleness, patience” and above all, in modesty and chastity? Or is it not the case that some people are calling their desires rights? Are they not saying, in effect, What two men or two women have joined together, let no God or government put asunder?

Jesus in this morning’s Gospel does not use rights language, although given who his real Father was, he could legitimately claim to do so. Instead, this is the first time that Jesus is recorded to have spoken in the Gospels, and he speaks not of rights, but of duties, of obligations: “I must be in my Father’s house, I must be about my Father’s business”. Holy people do not speak about others respecting their rights; they speak about their own duties to others, if they are in any way followers of the boy Jesus as he is presented in today’s Gospel.

All through Christ’s life we get the impression that he sensed a divine necessity laid upon him; and there is as divine and as real a necessity shaping our own lives, because it lies upon and moulds our wills and desires, as long as we continue to address God as Our Father. In Jesus the “must” was not an external one. He “must be about his Father’s business” because his whole inclination and will were submitted to the Father’s authority – not to an autonomous ego.

And that is the one thing that will make any lifestyle holy, peaceful, and noble. “The love of Christ compels us”, says St Paul. There is a compulsion which oppresses people with its demands; but there is also a compelling force, grace, which wells up within a person as a fountain of life, and does not so much drive as gently incline the will, so that there is a greater freedom to be a loving and obedient child of God Our Father.

But the Gospel does not end with Jesus’ reply. It continues: “He went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them”. Evidently being obedient to Mary and Joseph was just as much doing the Father’s will as when he was “sitting in the midst of the teachers and asking them questions”. And he didn’t have to leave his Father’s house in order to be obedient to Mary and Joseph. He could have prayed with the psalmist, “One thing I ask of the Lord, this I seek: to dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life”.

We ourselves become a house for the Lord when we receive him in the Holy Eucharist. We reaffirm that we are children of God every time we say the Our Father. And we share in the holiness of the Holy Family when we pray, “Thy will be done”, which Jesus learned from the lips of Mary. When we leave this church, let us say what Jesus said, “I must be about my Father’s business”.