Saturday, December 26, 2015

Homily for Feast of the Holy Family

Homily for the
Feast of the Holy Family
Dec. 27, 2015
Ps 84: 2-3, 5-6, 9-10
Luke 2: 41-52
Iona College, New Rochelle

“Blessed are they who dwell in your house, O Lord” (Ps 84: 5).

The house of the Lord is the theme running thru our readings this evening.  That word house is layered with meanings.  It’s a building, a dwelling place.  It’s a household, the people who dwell together—immediate family members, servants, and slaves (e.g., Abraham’s nomadic clan, the people at Tara in Gone with the Wind or at Downton Abbey, as well as a religious community—like the Brothers’ houses here, on Montgomery Circle, or at the Prep).  It’s a large, complex, generational family (like the house of David to which St. Joseph belonged, or Britain’s House of Windsor).

Finding of the Child in the Temple

(St. Ursula’s Church, Mt. Vernon, N.Y.)
In the 1st reading Hannah brings Samuel to become part of the Lord’s household at Shiloh, dedicated to the Lord’s service.  In the psalm we praise God’s house, i.e., the temple of Solomon, and call happy the priests and Levites who make up its household.  In the gospel, the boy Jesus remains in the temple, desirous of being in his Father’s dwelling or busy about his Father’s business (depending upon your translation of εν τοις του πατρος μου, literally “in what is my Father’s” [2:49]).  In the Johannine reading, we hear that already in this life we are God’s beloved children, i.e., members of his great family and household.
If we are beloved, then surely we are blessed!  We know we are beloved because he chose us and called us into this special relationship of being his sons and daughters thru the relationship that we entered by Baptism into Christ and that we maintain thru Eucharistic communion—“from the Spirit he gave us” (1 John 3:24), “dedicated to the Lord as long as we live” (cf. 1 Sam 1:28).  But John also hints at something greater to come, something he can’t verbalize:  “what we shall be has not yet been revealed” (3:2); a fuller revelation will come when we will be blessed to dwell in the Lord’s house forever.

John points to something wonderful to come, something that Paul refers to as he writes to the Corinthians:  “What eye has not seen, and ear has not heard, and what has not entered the human heart, what God has prepared for those who love him” (I, 2:9).  Luke also points at wonders to come as he tells the story of Jesus in the temple, wonders not evident to the eye or the mind without faith.

1st, Mary and Joseph find the boy “after 3 days.”  That phrase of course is highly suggestive to us who believe in the resurrection.  It’s only “after 3 days” that we can find the real Jesus; that we can recognize him as the Son of the Eternal Father, the one who opens up to us some understanding of the mysteries of God.  Before the 3d day, while Jesus lay dead in the tomb, the hearts of the disciples were darkened and their lives empty, as were Joseph’s and Mary’s while they were looking for the boy “with great anxiety” (Luke 2:48), as are our hearts and lives unless and until we reach that 3d day, until we find the tomb empty and understand that he is risen and our lives take on an entirely new meaning.  “After 3 days” Jesus is no longer found physically among us but has entered the heavenly temple, and it’s there that we must find him.

2d, Mary and Joseph find Jesus “in the temple,” in the house of God.  Jesus is found by those who seek him in the house where he abides thru “the Spirit he gave us,” i.e., in his sacred Word, in his sacraments, in his Church.  He’s sacramentally present in our physical buildings—great cathedrals like St. Patrick’s (when you go there, make sure you go behind the main altar to the beautiful Lady Chapel, where the Blessed Sacrament is reserved) and in humble chapels like this one.  More important, perhaps, he’s present in the Church that we often de-personalize by calling it an “institution”—the Church that is his Body, the communion of the saints, the assembly of his disciples that preserves and hands on his teachings; the Church that composed the sacred Scriptures under the Spirit’s inspiration and determined which writings were inspired and merited inclusion in what we know as “the Bible”; the Church that makes Christ present to us thru his sacraments, and thus the Church that incorporates us into the great family of God as his beloved children.

3d, when Mary complains to Jesus, “Your father and I have been looking for you with great anxiety” (2:48), he subtly corrects her:  “Didn’t you know that I must be in what is my Father’s?”  Joseph is his father thru a legal fiction.  We can know who Jesus is only when we know who his real Father is; know that his Trinitarian family is larger and grander than just the house of David; and know that this is the house or family into which he leads us by making us his sisters and brothers.  We’d have no advantage in being related to St. Joseph by blood or by adoption.  Being the children of God—that’s what we’ve been created for; that’s our destiny; “our souls yearn and pine for the courts of the Lord” (cf. Ps 84:2).  “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you” (Augustine).

“Blessed are they who dwell in your house, O Lord."

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