Richard S. Vosko

Musings on religion, art and architecture

Homily- 29 December 2013 – A “Wholly” Family


Solemnity of the Holy Family 12/29/13 – A Wholly Family?

Sirach 3:2-6,12-14; Psalm 128:1-5; Colossians 3:12-21; Matthew 2:13-15, 19-23

The headline reads: “Families: Same sex parents. Cohabiting couples. Voluntary kin. Children with parents in prison. Immigrant parents.”  Natalie Angier reports that “researchers who study the structure and evolution of the American family express unsullied astonishment at how rapidly the family has changed in recent years.” [1]

For some commentators, legal issues aside, these relationships certainly qualify as holy families. For other critics they are abnormal and out of sync with the status quo definition of family. So what does today’s feast of the Holy Family say about family life today? Is it about family or is there another message for us? 

Today’s liturgy offers us an opportunity to focus on the interpretation of the word family, which, today, has many definitions. The key word in any social unit, described as family or not, is “relationship.” Relationships are grounded in a love and concern for others. The sustenance of relationships is what, first of all, bonds humans together. Prescribed definitions, however sacred or traditional, cannot accommodate all relationships.

How, then, are today’s scriptures helpful to us? In the first reading the author of Sirach reminds us that the parents or guardians who raised us might someday need our care. The passage also suggested that honoring parents might be a way to make up for not obeying them. [2] This traditional commandment is worthy given the tensions that can exist in families with young children or teens. But this could be a difficult demand when you see your parents doing something they tell you not to do.

Psalm 128 uses “fear of the Lord” as a way to be blessed by God. We have to be careful here. It would be naive to think that obeying God is a guarantee that we will be protected from disasters in life or that a tragedy is punishment for not obeying God’s teachings. One could say, however, that someone who respects the presence of God will also respect all other creatures of God on earth. That is when we all are blessed.

The second reading, probably written by a follower of Paul after his death, encourages the people of Collosae to show endurance and steadfastness and to live as if Christ were alive in them. The letter proposed that they live in a fashion appropriate to their faith. [3]

Possibly addressed to baptismal candidates the writing challenges them to take off the old self and to clothe themselves with Christ. This could be the beginning of a code of ethics for Christians and a benchmark for respecting all human relationships even when they are different from ours.

Some scripture scholars question the connection of today’s gospel passage with the theme of the holy family. Nevertheless, once again, like in last week’s gospel, Joseph the father of Jesus gets advice from an angel. This time he avoids the slaughter of infant boys that would have ended the life of the child Jesus. 

Joseph had a hunch, trusted his instincts, and took a different route back home. Sometimes we have to change paths in life to get where we want to go. In the Middle East families were very expansive. Joseph could easily rely on vast social system for support in caring for his family not only along the way but when they finally settled down. [4] An extended family has all kinds of members. 

In commenting on the behavior of early Christians, our ancestors in faith, Dorothy Day once wrote, “We can do it too, exactly as they did. We are not born too late. We do it by seeing Christ and serving Christ in friends and strangers, in every one we come in contact with.” [5]

Maybe we can spell the word “holy” W-H-O-L-L-Y to include the many faces of the human family — human beings of all races, ages, genders, social classes and sexual orientations, who love and support each other in every way possible. This definition might then give new significance to our most familiar family units. Isn’t that, after all, what the family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph did? 


1 Natalie Anger. “Families” in The New York Times (November 26, 2013) D1

2 Reginald H. Fuller and Daniel Westberg. Preaching the Lectionary: The Word of God for the Church Today (Liturgical Press. 2006) 11-13

3 J Paul Sampley in Attridge, H. (Ed.) The HarperCollins Study Bible Revised Edition (San Francisco: Harper, 2006) 1999

4 John J. Pilch The Cultural World of Jesus, Sunday by Sunday, Cycle A (The Liturgical Press. 1995) 10-12

5 Dorothy Day, The Catholic Worker,  December 1945



Author: Richard S. Vosko

Richard S. Vosko, Ph.D., Hon. AIA, is an internationally known sacred space planner. He is a presbyter in the Diocese of Albany who enjoys the classroom as much as the pulpit. On Sundays he presides at worship at St. Vincent de Paul Parish, Albany, NY. For more information on Vosko’s background, his projects, publications and speaking engagements please go to his website. For his homilies and occasional musings about religion, art and architecture go to his blog. Comments, questions and suggestions are always welcomed there.

6 thoughts on “Homily- 29 December 2013 – A “Wholly” Family

  1. This is not my favorite Sunday, although I am grateful that it has been years since I have heard the kind of truly awful homily that makes me want to walk out of church. There were many Holy Family Sundays when I was in the NY Archdiocese when that would happen.

    Your reminder of what makes a family is beautiful. I see all kinds of family in my life, people that I know through a long history, or through my work, people in my daily life, or in my internet ministry circles, people of every sort making “wholly families” in all kinds of ways. God is in there, always.


  2. I concur with Fran’s comments above. Thank you Richard for addressing the description of wholly families head on. One tweak to your last comment, sexual orientation, not preference. It is not a choice. People are born into their sexuality.

    Thank you for your inspiring words. Sorry I missed being with you and the community on Sunday.


  3. I am sending this to my “wholly” family and sharing it with our staff as prayerful reflection to begin a new year. Thank you.


  4. I love that you are emphasizing relationship over bloodlines. As a family with two women who are adopted into our network this notion means much to us. Finally, Suzanne, thanks for your comment about orientation vs. preference.
    Happy New Year to all. Don


  5. Various folks were sick at my house so we missed hearing this in church & just got a chance to read. This is one of the many reasons why our family chose to attend St Vincent’s years ago – because our extended family by blood and by choice includes EVERY kind of family and we wanted our kids to grow up in a faith community that loved and valued all the people they also love and value. (Because honestly, I used to HATE this Sunday in the parish I grew up in because it seemed like they felt only the ‘perfect’ families-and who really is that?!- were valued by God).


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