Sunday, December 27, 2009

Fr. Matthias Neuman's Homily for the Feast of the Holy Family

Holy Family Sunday - Dec. 27, 2009

Readings: 1 Sam 1:20-28; 1 Jn 3:1-2, 21-24; Lk 2:41-52

There are few Christian feast days that evoke more of a warm, comforting feeling and response than that of the Holy Family. The figures of Joseph, Mary and the Child together have remained for centuries as one of the main pivots of Christian
spirituality and devotion. And yet within this wonderful picture there are assumptions often being made which are completely false. For example, the assumption is almost automatically made that equates this Holy Family with a biologically intact family: father, mother, and the child as the biological offspring of both parents. However, this family of Joseph, Mary and Jesus is not a biologically intact family. By our modern categories it would be a blended family with Joseph as a step-father of Jesus and possibly bringing children of his own by a previous marriage. That should give us pause.

I mention this only to bring to mind that what is important in the Holy Family are not the biologically intact individuals, but rather the functions that belong to each, functions of directive fathering, caring mothering, marital cooperation and childhood piety. It is these that constitute a true Holy Family, no matter who carries them out.

The previous point is an important one, because we live in a society where an increasing number of families are made up of other than biologically-intact families. There are many grandparents today who raise their grandchildren as their de facto father and mother. They become the parenting relationships for the children. In so doing they can become a Holy Family. There are way too many single mothers who are raising their children by themselves. They have to do both mothering and fathering roles; and hard as it is, they too can become a Holy Family.

I think I encountered this phenomenon head on for the first time when I was at Holy Family and St. Ann’s parishes in Nashville, TN. In both places the grade school teachers used to plead with me to spend more time in the grade school. They used to repeat almost like a mantra: "Seventy-five percent of these children have no positive masculine influence in their lives." That was thirty years ago; percentages have only gotten worse since. Trying to respond to that can be scary. I remember one little first-grade boy grabbing onto my leg and saying, "Will you be my daddy?" I don’t honestly remember how I answered. What I do remember is a scary image flitting through my mind of this little first grader running around the playground, yelling: "Father is my daddy." Scary indeed. I remember spending a lot of time meditating on
some words of the Chinese scholar, Confucius: "Every adult man is the father of every child." Food for thought.

I met the phenomenon again as I got to know a couple in the parish. They were in their fifties and raising their own four-year-old grand-daughter as their own. The girl’s mother, the couples’ real daughter, got pregnant at the age of seventeen. She had the child, but after two months announced to her parents that she wanted nothing more to do with child-rearing and handed the baby over to them. They were doing a good job of raising the child, but they confided to me: "It’s a lot harder the second time your fifties." They too are a Holy Family.

On this feast of the Holy Family I ask you now: let’s think of some of the unconventional Holy Families that you know, and pray for them.

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