Today we celebrate the Holy Family, which falls within the Octave of Christmas. In the church calendar, only Christmas and Easter get an octave. An octave is the eight day celebration of that feast, so for Christmas Day and for a full week we are celebrating Christmas Day. We do the same thing during Easter week. For eight days in a row the day takes on the full solemnity that principal Feast whether it’s Christmas or Easter.
Christmas and Easter represent the two most astounding claims of the Christian faith, and each of these feasts, these claims, are preceded by a long period of preparation. On Christmas we make the astounding claim that God became Man. The Word was made flesh and dwelt among us. No other religion claims that God became Man. We are given the period of Advent to prepare ourselves to accept and to celebrate this radical claim of our faith.
Easter, of course, represents the other astounding claim that Christians make. God in the person of Jesus Christ took on all the sins of all the people and died on the Cross to conquer death and thereby give us all the chance for everlasting life. And that astounding claim is preceded by the season of Lent.
Both of these mysteries are really too big for us to comprehend. They are invitations to contemplate thoughts and ideas that are far above our abilities to understand. So we are given long periods to get ourselves in a posture of acceptance. And then we are given a full week to celebrate each of those incredible manifestations of God’s love for each and every one of us.
These claims that we make as Christians are not merely intellectual principles. They should form the foundation of our lives. Our lives should be changed because we believe these two great Mysteries. And Saint Paul gives in his letter to the Colossians some teaching on how our acceptance of these two astounding claims should be lived.
We are to put on Christ. But what does that mean? Saint Paul says it means heartfelt compassion or being willing to suffer with someone who is suffering. It means kindness and humility and gentleness and patience. And lest we not really understand what those words mean, Saint Paul sums it up: We are to bear with one another and to forgive one another.
Family life gives us many times through the day an opportunity to bear with one another and to forgive one another. I like grammar and syntax, and so I am struck by the root meaning of the word forgive. In English we use the prefix for sometimes with the letter e and sometimes without the letter e. When we include the letter e, the prefix means ahead in time. A foregone conclusion is a conclusion that has already happened because it was ahead in time. When we don’t include the letter e, the prefix for basically means not. When I forgo something, it means I don’t do it. Admittedly lots of people who are really good at English mix these things up, which is honestly a chance for people like me to practice some of those virtues we listed a few minutes ago. But I bring this up because when we forgive one another, we are not giving that other person what we think they are due. We are choosing Mercy over Justice. And that connects us back to these two great feasts of Christmas and Easter. As so many of the readings leading up to Christmas reminded us, we’re all going to get Justice one day. But thanks to God coming in the flesh at Christmas and rising from the dead at Easter, we have the sure hope and promise of God’s mercy. He will not give us what we really deserve on our natural merits. He will give us through his Supernatural Grace the forgiveness we need to be with him in heaven.
And here on Earth in the context of the human family, we are given many opportunities to learn more about forgiveness and mercy and kindness and patience and gentleness. All of these great virtues flow from the greatest virtue, which is love. When we are all covered by God’s love and are sharing that love with each other, then it is not so hard for wives to be subordinate to their husbands or for husbands to avoid any bitterness towards their wives or for children to obey their parents or fathers not to provoke their children. Now, when we depart from Love, all those bad choices seem not so bad. But we are all part of natural families, and the Holy Family has shown us where we should aim. We may not always hit the target but in the Holy Family we have terrific models of fatherhood and motherhood and son- and daughter-hood.
We are also members of two other families. The church is a family, and the Catholic Church has a papa, whose name today is Francis, and a mama, Our Lady. And we are all their sons and daughters. We owe the same standard of obedience and honor to our church family that we do to our natural family. Extending even further, we are members of the Human family. And we have the same invitation to practice forgiveness and mercy and kindness and patience and gentleness to every member of the Human family whether or not they are members of our church family or our natural family. This is the vocation to holiness, and the vocation to holiness is a universal vocation. All of us are called to holiness and we are called to pursue holiness with everyone.
And the Holy Family is our model. Joseph, the father, is a model of quiet strength, serving his role without insisting on everyone paying attention to him. Mary, the Mother, is a model of perseverance and piety and presence. She says very little in the Gospels, but she is there for her son and all her children right to the very end. Like Saint Joseph, she does not call attention to herself, but always points to her son. And Jesus is the model of love, which Saint Paul calls the bond of perfection. It is love that completes us, for love designed us.
We are warned by Simeon and his blessing to Mary that Jesus is destined to be a sign that will be contradicted. Though the good news of Jesus Christ is offered to all, not everyone will accept that good news. Led by the example of Saint Joseph and Our Lady and Jesus himself, let us commit to celebrating the Incarnation of the Eternal Word, let us reflect that bond of perfection to our parents, our spouses, our siblings, our children, our friends, and our acquaintances so that the world might be renewed and embrace compassion, kindness, humility, and patience. May the peace of Christ control our hearts and may the word of Christ dwell in us richly.