Feast of the Holy Family
Gen 15: 1-6; 21: 1-3
Heb 11: 8, 11-12, 17-19
Dec. 28, 2014
St. Ursula, Mt. Vernon, N.Y.
“The word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision, saying, ‘Fear not, Abram! I am your shield; I will make your reward very great” (Gen 15: 1).
Various readings during the church year refer to God’s promise to Abraham and Abraham’s faith in God. The 1st Eucharistic Prayer, which until 1970 was the only one there was in our Roman Rite but now we don’t use very often, calls Abraham “our father in faith.” But this morning’s 1st reading is the only Sunday reading in which we hear God make his promise to Abram in its complete context, and Abram respond to the promise—a response of faith with no rational or natural ground for that faith, only the ground of “the word of the Lord”: “Abram put his faith in the Lord, who credited it to him as an act of righteousness” (15:6).
Our reading from the Book of Genesis is unusual in skipping over 6 chapters. It starts with God’s promise in ch. 15, then leaps to the promise’s fulfillment in ch. 21. In between, God renews the promise to Abram with a solemn covenant and changes Abram’s name to Abraham as a sign of the new relationship between them, between God and this man of unshakeable faith.
The 2d reading, from the NT Letter to the Hebrews, gives us additional reminders about Abraham’s faith. God called him out of his native country to go as a nomadic wanderer “not knowing where he was to go,” following only God’s instructions, to a land that would eventually be the inheritance of his yet-unborn family. Then the letter cites the passage from Genesis that we just heard about sterile Sarah’s conceiving and giving birth to Isaac. Finally, it refers to Abraham’s readiness to offer Isaac as a human sacrifice in response to God’s command, and God’s saving Isaac from that fate.
|Abraham leading Isaac to be sacrificed|
Cathedral of Notre Dame, Tournai, Belgium
In his Letter to the Romans, St. Paul, too, cites Abraham’s faith as the starting point for Christians’ faith in Jesus Christ as our redeemer.
The faith of Abram-Abraham is thus set out before us as a model for our faith in God in general, and our faith in Jesus in particular. Hebrews connects Abraham and Isaac with God the Father and Jesus when it says that Abraham “reasoned that God was able to raise even from the dead, and he received Isaac back as a symbol” (11:19). Symbol of what? Of Jesus risen from the tomb after giving his life in sacrifice for our sins, of course.
But these 2 readings are set out before us on a particular day, the feast of the Holy Family. So they’re meant to model for us faith as part of how we live as families: as parents, as children, as spouses. Faith in regard to family life is a tremendous challenge in our day, probably much more than in Abraham’s day (roughly 1,600 or 1,700 years B.C.).
It takes faith in God’s goodness and God’s plans for our lives—God’s promises for our salvation in Christ—to obey the moral law. It can be hard for husbands and wives to be faithful to each other. It’s hard for parents to make sacrifices for the welfare of their children—starting with a life-long commitment to each other in marriage so that children will have a stable home, abundant love, both male and female models of Christian discipleship, and appropriate discipline.
In an age that glorifies sexuality, it’s hard for spouses to practice chastity in their relations by keeping them open to life; in other words, by not using the pill or other forms of contraception. Chastity calls us to self-restraint, and faith calls us to openness to God’s plan as exemplified in Abraham’s life.
Abram and Sarah were sterile. As you know, nowadays many couples who have trouble conceiving resort to various forms of IVF in their desire to have kids. It requires faith to listen to the Church’s interpretation of God’s law, that children should be conceived only in the “natural” way and not as laboratory products—not to mention that embryos conceived in a lab and not subsequently implanted in an attempt to produce a pregnancy will be discarded like so much trash, and not like the human beings that they are, however invisible to the naked eye.
As our children grow, it takes faith for parents to teach them to pray, to worship as part of the Catholic community, to learn the truths of our faith and the moral law. It takes faith to be patient with teenagers, appropriately strict and appropriately free (giving them freedom to grow and make mistakes). It takes faith for teens and young adults to respect and honor their parents, however “old-fashioned” they may seem to be. It takes faith for parents who are aging and becoming more dependent to listen to their kids’ concerns for them—and for the kids to be patient with their parents’ declining physical and mental abilities.
“By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go” (Heb 11:8). “By faith Abraham, when put to the test, offered up Isaac” (11:17). By faith we parents, sons, and daughters, brothers and sisters, strive to obey God’s will for us expressed in the commandments, in the teachings of the NT, and in the teachings of the Church that apply those commandments and teachings to the 21st century. By faith we offer up the sacrifices of our daily lives in families, working together, forgiving one another, supporting one another, caring for one another. By faith we trust that God will see us thru all the challenges we face, credit our words and actions “as acts of righteousness,” and bring us finally to the inheritance he has promised to his faithful sons and daughters, a place in his own household with Jesus Christ, who was born for our salvation, “raised even from the dead,” and lives and reigns forever and ever.