Born Into A Family – Fr. Gary Pennings

Fr. Gary Pennings’ Homily December 26, 2021

“Yesterday, we celebrated Christmas, one of the two great feasts of the church year, Christmas and Easter, everything else kind of revolves around those two things: Christmas, the beginning of our salvation, the mystery of God becoming flesh, we bow every Sunday during the creed when we get to that part and then Easter, the fulfillment, the realization of that paschal mystery of his passion, death and resurrection. And this Sunday in the octave of Christmas, because Christmas is celebrated really for eight days, such a high feast this Sunday in the octave is called the Feast of the Holy Family. God chose to be human to come to us, enter space and time in a family. So the mystery of the incarnation is big enough to ponder, but then he comes in a family, something else for us to reflect on. God chose the family as an arena to enter our condition. Now many of you have and are probably still gathering with family. You, many of you are probably sad that maybe some of them will leave in the next day or so. Others of you are kind of happy some of them will be leaving in a day or two… It can be, if we’re honest, or sometimes it’s so draining to be with loved ones that we’re not always with and we’re standing a little relieved when they leave. We still love them. Our families aren’t perfect. Jesus, too, was born into a family. Now Mary and Joseph, but pretty close to perfect, right? Especially Mary, she is perfect, but they had uncles and aunts. They had other extended relatives. What about crazy Uncle Mortimer or eccentric Aunt Leah? I don’t know if he had those or not, but they probably did. All of our family seem to right? But the family plays an important role in humanity and for each of us. Those whose families fall apart or are extremely dysfunctional, let’s face it, we all have a little dysfunction in our families, they often face challenges as they grow. Others may step in and provide the love and guidance and support that families meant to offer. It seems that God designed families as an essential element of the human existence. First of all, we’re all part of one. Everybody is part of some kind of family. The Jewish tradition and Jesus himself calls God father, implying some kind of familial relationship. In the Book of Genesis, the very first book of the Bible history unfolds in the context of family. First families and then families get together and form clans and tribes and eventually peoples and nations. One of the commandments is directed to the offspring. Honor your father and your mother. Ten Commandments and one of them focuses specifically on honoring parents. The Book of Genesis says that God created man in his own image, male and female, he created them. He told them to be fruitful and multiply and he says in the very first book of the Bible, a man shall leave his father and mother and cleave to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh the seed, the beginning of family, but there’s something about the human family even greater than all of that. The human family reflects something about God himself. Who is God? Father, son and Holy Spirit one god in three divine persons. In the very nature of God and who God is in his interiority, if you want to call it that, there’s an icon of family, a community of life and love that’s fruitful, but trinity itself is this image of family and so it makes sense that in God’s creation, that would be reflected through the human family.

First reading today from the Book of Sirach says, ‘God sets the father in honor over his children and a mother’s authority he confirms over them.’ The plan of God for marriage and family is founded not only in the Scriptures, but in the created order and the natural law. This is the basis of the church’s teaching on family. The catechism says, ‘In creating man and woman, God instituted the human family and endowed it with its fundamental constitution.’ Second reading today, see what love the father has bestowed on us that we may be called children of God. And so we are. And so we are. That’s why Christians call one another brothers and sisters. We don’t always act like, well, sometimes we do act like brothers and sisters. We fight a lot, but we’re called to love one another because we have a common father. We’re in one family. Families are essential for society, but also for the church. Families are the first schools of prayer, the first schools of faith and the first schools of love. In the families where we first learned to pray in the Gospel, Jesus is taken on an annual pilgrimage. Mary no doubt sat the young Jesus on her knee and taught him the Jewish prayers, the shamma. He learned to pray through his parents and his family, probably with childlike prayers at first. The most powerful way is the witness of parents praying. It’s a great thing when your kid catches you, praying by accident, when you’re not doing it, so he could see it, but you’re on your knees next to your bed and he or she walks by your door and sees mom or dad deep in prayer. That’s a powerful witness. In my generation. Families often gathered every night after dinner. It’s when families all ate together, actually once upon a time, and they prayed the rosary together. They had family prayer. Some families still do that. I was with a family that prayed all their life when their children were young. Now, their children are grown up and still every evening after dinner and their kids live all over the country, they all call in to get on a conference call, and they all pray together. What a beautiful, beautiful example. A school of faith, see when a child sees the faith of their parents, they learn something of the value of faith. When they see that maybe it starts with the symbols and signs the faith religious emblems in the house. They see, though the more important way about faith sustains the family through trial and hardship, how the family stays grounded with faith, how those storms come and go, but the house stays standing because of faith. They see how a family prioritizes God over all the other distractions in life, and children learn the value of faith.

And lastly, and maybe most importantly, families are a school of love. First experience of love is from our parents. If we don’t get that, we’re often wounded somehow. God loves us at first through our parents. Families teach us to love those we didn’t choose. Teach us, teaches us to love, Jesus had to learn to love what did I call them uncle Mortar Mortimer and Aunt Leah? We’re learning, we learn to love those we didn’t choose. We learn to love those that aren’t perfect. We learn to love those that sometimes irritate us. Families and the love that family demands draws us out of ourselves and into the lives of others. It invites us to take the high road and to love one another even when it’s difficult, maybe especially when it’s difficult. It teaches us to sacrifice and to deny ourselves for the sake of the other. Families do this. Sometimes formally, but a lot of times informally, not even realizing they’re doing it. The little toddler is playing on the floor with his neighbor kid and that neighbor kid grabs his toy and the toddler says, ‘mine’ and begins to beat the other kid over the head with it. The parent says, ‘No, no, no Jr. gotta share, gotta share.’ It’s a central biblical theme. Deny yourself for the sake of the other. All of this is learned in family. All of this is learned in Family. This feast of the Holy Family happens right after Christmas to remind us that the Lord Jesus grew up in family to remind us that we are part of a family that we first learned about God and his love in family and we’re called as a church to live as brothers and sisters in Christ with God, our father as a family. And we’re learning. We’re taught to learn to love those we didn’t necessarily choose, but to love them anyway. All that are important lessons that flow from the incarnation and from the fact that Jesus was born in a family.

The Knights of Columbus have a tradition of passing out prayers to consecrate human families to the Holy Family on this day. I invite you after mass to pick up the Knights when passing out these little prayer cards and to take them home. I’d like to conclude my homily with this consecration and prayer for families. So your response to the first three invocations would be we entrust our family to you. We entrust our family to you. O Lord Jesus, you lived in the home of Mary and Joseph in Nazareth. There you grew and age, wisdom and grace as you prepared to fulfill your mission as our redeemer. We entrust our family to you. O Blessed Mary, you are the mother of our savior at Nazareth you cared for Jesus and nurtured him in the peace and joy of your home. We entrust our family to you. O St. Joseph, you provided a secure and loving home for Jesus and Mary and gave us a model of fatherhood while showing us the dignity of work. We entrust our family to you. And so we pray, Holy Family, we consecrate ourselves and our family to you. May we be completely united in a love that is lasting, faithful and open to the gift of new life? Help us to grow and virtue to forgive one another from our heart and to live in peace all our days. Keep us strong in faith persevering in prayer, diligent in our work and generous toward those in need. May our home, O holy family, truly become a domestic church where we reflect your example in our daily life. Amen. Jesus, Mary and Joseph, pray for us.”