Holy and Messy Families

Homily for the Feast of the Holy Family, Year C.

As you were listening to the gospel just now, you might have said to yourself, “Wow, Jesus has grown a lot since yesterday! Yesterday he was just a baby; now he’s twelve years old.” Those of you who are parents probably feel the same way about your own kids: yesterday you were just bringing them home from the hospital; today they’re all grown up. As you get older, time seems to speed up, and becoming a parent only accelerates the process. You have a limited amount of time to raise your children, and there’s a lot of raising that has to happen. Not only do you have to teach them basic skills which you have long taken for granted—like how to use a fork and knife—but you have to teach them things that you’re still struggling to learn yourself: how to work hard, how to play fair, and how to always follow God’s will. Raising a holy family can see like an impossible task at times. And there are moments when you seem to be making progress, only to find that you’ve taken two steps back. There’s a lot that goes on in your children’s lives that you may not know about. Things may seem to be going well on the outside—they may seem happy and healthy—but on the inside they may be struggling. They may not feel loved, wanted, or appreciated, and you may not know about it. 

One of the great blessings of my time here at St. Charles has been getting to know many holy families. (As an aside: if I haven’t gotten to know your family, it doesn’t mean you’re not holy. There just happens to be a lot of you). But as I’ve gotten to know many of you here at St. Charles, I’ve been humbled by the fact that not only have many of you have had me over to dinner, but you’ve let me hear your confessions. You’ve invited me into your homes, but you’ve also invited me into your brokenness. Some people might be afraid of doing both, but you haven’t. There can be a desire at times for the priest to only see the good stuff in your life: your beautiful home, your loving marriage, your successful children. But the reality of family life is not always that, or at least not just that. The reality of family life is often messy. And you’ve invited me into your mess, and I consider that a great privilege.

As we celebrate the feast of the holy family today, it’s worth remembering that although Jesus was born into a perfect family, He was also born into a messy world. His first home, the stable in Bethlehem, was certainly not the Pfister Hotel. Jesus did not come into the world to remain in a sterile, antiseptic environment; He came into the world to enter into messy lives, messy families, and messy communities. He shared meals with many people, and not all of them were saints. He ate the food of sinners, and He forgave their sins. Jesus wants to be part of your family, even if it’s not perfect, even if it’s not yet the holy family that you want it to be. 

Even if you don’t know what’s going on in your children’s lives, even if they are grown up and you feel like you no longer have much influence on them, even if your children have tragically preceded you in death or you no longer have any contact with them, Jesus knows your children and He loves them. It’s never too late to become a holy family because Jesus is the one, and only one, who can make our families holy. And He wants your family to be holy even more than you want it to be holy. And you can rely on that, you can trust in that, even when all hope seems to be lost. 

So, if you are a parent, and your children are still young, make sure you introduce them to Jesus. That might require getting to know Jesus yourself first, and that’s okay. The teacher doesn’t always have to be the master. In fact, the best teachers are often the ones who are learners as well. If you are parent, and your children are all grown up, or if they have tragically preceded you in death, continue to bring them to Jesus in prayer. They may now be outside of your influence, but not of Jesus’. Jesus has a much longer and larger reach, one that spans heaven and earth. Never give up on inviting Jesus to be part of your family, even if your family is broken, messy, and full of sin. And if Jesus is part of your family, then Mary and Joseph will be part of your family as well. And besides the Blessed Trinity, you couldn’t ask for a better team of three. Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, pray for us and intercede for us. Amen.