(Holy Family 2008 (B): This homily was given on December 28, 2008 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I., by Fr. Raymond Suriani. Read Luke 2: 22-40.)
[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Holy Family 2008]
On the first Sunday after Christmas, there are definitely many people in church for Mass who were also there on the Sunday before Christmas. I’m sure most of you fit into that category. But, hopefully, on the very first Sunday after December 25th there are at least a few people in church for Mass (here and in other places) who were NOT there on the Sunday before December 25th—or on the Sunday before that; or on the Sunday before that; or on the Sunday before that!
These are the souls who were touched by God’s grace in some way during the celebration of Christmas, and who made the decision to start practicing their Catholic faith again.
Well, if you’re one of those people, I want to reinforce your decision today in and through this homily. And if you’re not one of those people—that is to say, if you’re someone who was in church last Sunday and has been faithful all along—I want to increase your level of dedication to your Catholic faith through what I say this morning on this Feast of the Holy Family.
And so it shouldn’t surprise anyone that the title of my homily today is: “Why practicing your faith is good for you and your family.”
It’s very clear from today’s gospel reading that Jesus, Mary and Joseph—the members of the Holy Family—were Jews who took their religion very seriously. Jesus was consecrated to God in the Temple in obedience to the Law of Moses, which stated that “every male that opens the womb shall be consecrated to the Lord.”
We heard that a few moments ago. And notice it says that the members of the Holy Family did not go back to their hometown of Nazareth until (and here I quote) “they had fulfilled all the prescriptions of the law of the Lord.”
Later on we read in Luke that Mary, Jesus and Joseph traveled to Jerusalem every year to celebrate Passover, the most sacred feast in Judaism. Our Lord attended synagogue regularly—not just on the High Holy Days.
They were a family of practicing Jews. And practicing their religion was good for them: it gave their lives the right center; it gave their lives meaning and direction; and it taught them how to love and serve God and one another.
That, of course, was 2,000 years ago. We live in a different time, and in a different culture. But I believe the truth still applies: When you go to church and practice your religion, it makes a positive difference in your personal life and in the life of your family—especially if your religion is Catholicism (which teaches the fullness of God’s revealed truth)!
And this is something that even honest secular researchers will acknowledge. If they’re researching deviant behavior, for example, and they divide people into two groups: people who practice their religion, and people who don’t, there will almost always be a huge difference in the numbers! The amount of lying, and cheating, and stealing, etc., will almost always be much greater in the “non-practicing” group.
The other day I made a short list of some practical benefits that I’ve observed in families that practice their Catholic faith. (This is not an exhaustive list; you could probably name many others.)
#1 When a family practices its Catholic faith, parents have another authority—the Ultimate Authority—to appeal to in dealing with their children! “Do it because I say so” can only get you so far, parents. If that’s the only weapon in your arsenal, sooner or later your children will say (or at least think), “And who are you, mom? And who are you, dad? With all due respect, you’re just an imperfect human being like me.” But if you can say, “Do it because Almighty God wants you to do it; do it because it’s HIS will”—that carries a lot more weight.
#2 When a family practices its Catholic faith, everyone learns the importance of forgiveness. And let’s face it, no family—no marriage—no friendship—no interpersonal relationship—survives for very long without forgiveness.
And beyond that, practicing your Catholic faith also provides you with concrete examples of how to forgive (especially in Jesus).
#3 As was the case for Jesus, Mary and Joseph, practicing your religion presents everyone in the family with the right set of priorities—the right “center,” so to speak.
#4 When a family practices its Catholic faith, everyone learns to be accountable and responsible for their actions—which apparently is not a lesson that most high school students are learning these days! Did you see the results of the Josephson Institute study that came out last month? Almost 30,000 students surveyed: 64% of them had cheated on a test in the past year; 30% had stolen from a store; 42% had lied to save money—but 93% said that they were satisfied with their personal ethics and character.
Not a lot of responsibility and accountability there, unfortunately.
I wonder how many of them go to church every week. That’s a question they didn’t ask—but should have!
#5 When a family practices its Catholic faith, everyone learns the importance of thinking of others; everyone learns the importance of helping others. That’s another benefit. As Jesus said, “Whatever you do to the least of my brothers and sisters, you do to me.”
And finally, #6 when a family practices its Catholic faith, every family member has the opportunity to get on—or to stay on—or to get back on—the road to heaven, which is the ultimate goal of our existence here on earth.
So aren’t you glad you’re here at Mass today? You should be!
Hopefully this will motivate you to come back next Sunday and every Sunday thereafter—and to practice your faith on the other six days of the week as well—for your own good, and for the good of your family.