Feast of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph – December 30, 2012 – “A Global Holy Family”
Today we celebrate the Feast of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph. The commemoration was inaugurated by Pope Leo XIII in 1893. He was passionate about family matters and wrote forty-six encyclicals and letters on marriage, family and society. This feast is an opportunity for us to celebrate family life and to appreciate the importance of a wide variety of human relationships.
The definitions of marriage and family are obviously connected. The important role of the family unit in society is undeniable. With children or not, family households in the United States are diverse. If television is any cultural barometer “Two and a Half Men” and “Guys With Kids” have replaced “Father Knows Best” and “The Cosby Show” as templates for the modern American family.
What is sure to add a dimension to the understanding of marriage and family life is the decision of the United States Supreme Court to take up two cases challenging the federal Defense of Marriage act. The issue has already fueled the rhetoric of politicians and religious leaders.
According to some polls a majority of some mainline religious groups, including Catholics,  now say they support same-sex marriage. As you know, in last month’s elections, nine states and the District of Columbia voted to allow such unions. Some have said it is not a question of doctrine but of human rights. The biblical texts for today present two different scenarios which might help us sort out what matters most about families.
In the first reading Samuel (which means “he who is from God”) is viewed as appointed by God to function as a priest, prophet, war leader and judge.  His mother Hannah waited until Samuel grew older before dedicating him for service in the temple. She was probably the first “helicopter parent” who just wanted to make sure her son had a job. Samuel eventually changed careers and grew up to be a prophet who played an important role in the affairs of state.
Today’s gospel is known as a legend but it is not entirely unhistorical. Other precocious children, e.g., Buddha, grew up to be revered as a god. What was Luke’s purpose with today’s gospel story? It was not to suggest that Jesus was a smart, stubborn teenager who just wanted to be independent. It was to establish that Jesus was brought up in a family environment that adhered to Jewish traditions. Like Samuel, Jesus eventually would take on his role as an eschatological prophet and the redeemer of Israel.  Samuel and Jesus grew up concerned about a human family much larger than their own.
In both stories the parents are worried about the welfare of their children. Today, whether married or single, gay or straight, with children or without, our main concern is to protect our children, to provide safe home and school environments and to give them opportunities to succeed in life no matter where they grow up or what they want to be.
All of us belong to a larger human family. Although our personal relationships and family ties are most important and demand much of our energy and resources, there is an added responsibility for us as a Christian community that reaches far beyond the confines of our church buildings and our own homes.
We know there are way too many children on this planet who are victims not only of family violence but of trafficking, hunger, homelessness, physical and mental abuse. Too many adult relationships on this planet are damaged by antiquated religious and civil marriage and divorce laws. In the past, the biblical Holy Family would be presented as a model for all families. However, today, it is unlikely that any one model can serve to protect and promote healthy human relationships, loving marital unions and stable family structures.
The world needs people with moral courage willing to join the struggle to make the world habitable and humane for all peoples.  That’s what Samuel and Jesus did. Our second reading provides us with a catechetical lesson, a Christian ethic.  “Put on heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, bearing with one another and forgiving one another.” Our prophetic stance in an age when nothing is certain but anything is possible is to help create a global holy family.
1 See The 2012 American Values Survey: How Catholics and the Religiously Unaffiliated Will Shape the 2012 Election and Beyond (Public Religion Research Institute, Washington, DC) Released October 23, 2012.
2 McCarter Jr. P. Kyle in Harper Collins Study Bible (NY: Harper Collins) 2006, 389 ff.
3 Fuller, Reginald. Preaching the Lectionary: The Word of God for the Church Today (Collegeville: The Liturgical Press) 1984 Revised Edition, pp. 23-24, 393-395
4 Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama
5 Fuller, ibid.