Homily: The Holy Family of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph – Cycle C
Early this past November, not long after we had made the changes to the Communion Procession, one of our parishioners approached me after Mass to say that she was very confused about how to follow in the procession. She sat in one of the side sections and thought that she was supposed to pass through the center pews and into the procession, but was told by the usher to proceed to the back of the church to join the procession once the center pews had emptied. She thought that she was right and so was bothered when the usher told her to do something different.
At first, I tried to explain that the usher was right, which she countered with evidence that it had happened her way a week or so previous. To this I simply responded, “Okay, yes, but my instructions also said to let the usher direct you; so next time be obedient to the usher. You can never be wrong if you’re obedient.” That might have been a little bit of frustration coming out on my part (as evidenced by the fact that Fr. Clayton happily corrected me about the “never be wrong” part later), but I think that I touched on something important.
Obedience can be something very challenging for us, right? Our culture seems to idolize the individual, and even more so the freedom of the individual to follow his or her will (which typically means, “to do whatever he or she wants”). The culture says that this is freedom. Yet, it seems like God has set up our human nature to be dependent on a hierarchy of will. Just look at the family: the father and mother at the head, with the children subordinate to them. Families seem to function best when this order is maintained and there is proper obedience among its members. Children must be obedient to their parents; spouses need to be obedient to one another, and there is even a proper obedience of parents to their children (though this seems to be grossly distorted these days). This is how God designed it.
In religious monasteries and convents, where the persons who live there are seeking to know and follow God’s will in a unique way, obedience is a key to harmony (and, thus, peace). For the religious brother or sister, the will of his or her religious superior is God’s will, since God deigned that this particular man or woman would supervise that house of religious. For diocesan clergy, like Fr. Clayton and myself, we accept the will of our bishop, Bishop Doherty, when expressed in matters regarding our priesthood and priestly life, as if it is the will of God for each us. For example, when Bishop Doherty assigned me as Administrator of this parish, I felt anxiety at first; but through prayer I was able to conclude that, since this was coming from my bishop, this was God’s will for me at this point in my life and I tried to accept it in peace.
So the same is true in families: Children, the loving will of your parents is God’s will for you, because they seek what is good for you, even when you don’t like it. Parents, the genuine needs of your children and your spouse, both material and spiritual, when they are made known to you, are God’s will for your life. This goes both for the big things, like having your children baptized and praying for your spouse daily, and for the little things, like taking out the trash when your spouse asks you and washing your children’s laundry (perhaps for the third time this week). Obedience to one another is God’s will for your lives.
This brings us to the family that we celebrate today: the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph. We see that, in big things and small, they were obedient to one another and so fulfilled God’s will for their lives. In the Gospel today, we heard how Jesus stayed behind in the Temple after the Passover celebration to listen to the teachers and to ask them questions. Was this disobedience on his part? Perhaps. However, given the fact that he was 12 years old and, thus, culturally permitted to be in groups of other adult men, it may have been an innocent desire to learn all he could from the wise men who taught God’s Law in the Temple. Nevertheless, when Mary and Joseph find him, Jesus returns to Nazareth with them and, the Gospel tells us, he “was obedient to them.”
Still, this incident demonstrates for us another important point: Yes, by faithfully fulfilling the duties of our vocation—that is, by being obedient to them—we fulfill God’s will for our lives. Nevertheless, God still wishes to speak to us directly, and we still have a duty to listen for his voice speaking to us and, thus, to be obedient to it. Could Jesus have fulfilled the will of God by simply being obedient to his parents? Arguably, yes. Yet, he stayed back in Jerusalem to listen to the teachers explain God’s commandments (which were God’s holy will for his people) so that he could be directly obedient to his Father in heaven, too. Thus, the same applies to us: it is not enough just to be obedient to our vocations (though that is a fundamental starting point); rather, it is necessary for us to listen for God to speak to us directly, which he does in our personal prayer and in each and every Mass.
Catholic speaker and evangelist, Matthew Kelly, often asks his audiences this question: “If you knew that God himself would appear at Mass in order to give you a message, wouldn’t you bring something with you to write it down?” He then goes on to challenge them, saying that, each and every time they come to Mass, God has a message for each of them—perhaps in the Scriptures, in the words of the hymns, or in the prayers of the Mass—and that most of us miss it because we’re too worried about whether or not we like the music or the preaching, or we’re thinking about where we were going to go out to eat after the Mass. Yet God doesn’t fail to send us his message. We simply fail to obey.
As Pope, John XXIII would end his day before the Blessed Sacrament. He said that he would end his prayer for the world by saying: “Lord, I’ve done all I can. It’s your Church. I’m going to bed!” And so, what was the secret to his peace? His papal motto, Obedientia et Pax, perhaps gives us a clue. “Obedience and Peace”, is how his motto reads in English. What I think he was trying to say to us—and was probably trying to remind himself—is that when we sincerely seek to listen to God—that is, to be obedient to him—we experience a lasting peace. In other words, when we sincerely seek to follow His voice, we experience the peace that the world cannot give. Now known as Saint Pope John XXIII, John showed us that true peace comes from obedience to God.
And so, my brothers and sisters, perhaps today we could each ask God for a heart more open to his will for us—which, by the way, is nothing less than that we would be happy, free, and fully alive—and for the courage to be obedient to it; so that we might know the peace that the Holy Family knew; the peace that the angels promised would come upon those on whom God’s favor rests; the peace that the Christ Child brings with his appearance on Christmas night; the peace that one day we hope to experience eternally in heaven; the peace that is available to us even now, here in this Eucharist.
Given at All Saints Parish: Logansport, IN – December 26th & 27th, 2015