Sunday Sermon for December 26, 2010, Holy Family Sunday, Year A

Readings: Sir 3:2-6; 12-14; Col 3:12-17; Mt 2:13-15, 19-23

In his 1981 Encyclical, Familiaris Consortio, Pope John Paul II challenged families to “become what you are.” This sounds foolish; how can we become what we already are? If we pull this equation back one notch to the foundation of the family, i.e., the marriage, we can say that the couple is truly married on their wedding day, but they have certainly not grown into the marriage. The Church’s view of the fruit of married life for the couple is that they would become Saints. The day of marriage is merely the first step in a long process of purification and growth.

In like manner, on the day the couple has their first baby a family is established, but there is much to be done before anyone would contend that this community of persons has developed into the full maturity of what defines a family. If we just look at this from the point of view of the mother, the woman is a mother at the moment of conception; that understanding increases exponentially at the moment of birth. As the child grows, the relationship develops and her understanding of motherhood broadens. As more children are conceived, born and grow, she not only has greater facility because of her experience, but her concept and definition of motherhood will be considerably deeper and more refined than it was when her first child was brought into the world.

If these things can be said regarding marriage and parenthood, then we can certainly extend it to the family as a whole. One needs to be careful to define things correctly because there is development even in the most dysfunctional of families. So, the Holy Father is challenging families to become what God has created them to be. This is going to look very different from the warped views of family being put forth in various sectors of our society.

For this reason, it is critical for families to look to what God has created. While there will always be differences in social mores across time and cultures, the basic truths regarding families and family life remain the same for all people of any age or place. We can see the basic outlines in the readings today.

First and foremost, the family is to be a place of love. The love of the married couple provides a stable, secure place for the raising of children. Children learn from their parents whom the Church teaches are the first teachers of their children, both chronologically and didactically. The very first lesson is learned from experience of the marital relationship. The love of the couple overflows to the child, but the lack of love is also learned and absorbed by the child.

We see hear this point made very clearly in the second reading, but we also see it being lived out practically in the Gospel. Love is not merely a feeling or an emotion; love is a virtue. God has confirmed an order in the within the family. The first reading tells us that God sets a father in honor over his children and confirms a mother’s authority over her children. Remember that authority and power are not the same thing. Power is selfish and is exercised by lording over the other while authority is given for service and that service is to be done out of love.

The first reading also shows us that love taught by practice and example will be returned as the proper honor is given by the children to the parents. Contrary to the selfishness and gross distortions of family life which we see so often presented, the Church gives us this reading from St. Paul’s Letter to the Colossians which tells us what the relationships within the family should look like, starting with the parents and flowing from them to the children. We are to practice compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience, forbearance, and forgiveness. This is perfected with charity and brings about peace within the heart. Peace in the heart leads to peace in the home.

This is what we see modeled in the Holy Family. We see each serving the other; neither is selfish or belittling. Each of the virtues mentioned by St. Paul is evident in the Gospel story today. Beyond that, each person within the marriage accepts his or her role and accomplishes that role for the common good. You might reply that in this family the mother is perfect and without sin, the father has probably achieved spiritual perfection and the Child is God. They were already Saints before they were married; you were not. Even so, if you learn from their example to live family life God’s way you will become Saints. So, the challenge is to live as God intends and, by living according to God’s plan, for families to become what you are.

Fr. Altier’s column appears regularly in The Wanderer, a national Catholic weekly published in St. Paul, Minn. For information about subscribing to The Wanderer, please visit