02 January 2018
Entrusting our Family to God
Feast of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph
Last week my sister and brother-in-law celebrated their 9th wedding anniversary. I remember the day of their wedding pretty clearly: I wasn’t a priest or even a deacon yet, so I was in charge of cantoring the Mass; there was lots of snow on the ground, but it was about 50 degrees, so it was very foggy; there were 5 priests concelebrating the wedding (including now-Bishop Raica, now-Msgr. Vincke, two priests from the Diocese of Lansing and one from the Archdiocese of Detroit; perks, I guess of having a seminarian for a brother, and a dad who works for a parish in DeWitt).
I also remember, a little more than 5 years ago, when they told us that they were pregnant with their first daughter, Evelyn. I remember wondering how my mom would take being a grandmother, because, generally, grandma is a word that is associated with those who are a bit more mature (a kind way of saying older), and I wasn’t sure my mom was ready for the very real and public acknowledgment that she was, in fact, more mature. But, I couldn’t have been more wrong! My mom was very excited to be a grandmother, and she has loved spending her time with her two granddaughters, my niece Evelyn and my niece and goddaughter Adelaide.
We heard in our first reading and our second reading about Abraham becoming a father with his wife, Sarah, for the first time, at an age which would be described as really mature (that is, really old). And God fulfills His promise to Abraham through Isaac, who is the beginning of the descendants of Abraham more numerous than the stars in the sky. Abraham must have wondered if God was going to fulfill His promise, but Abraham trusted in God to be true to His word, and it happened. And that trust was put to the test when God asked Abraham to sacrifice his son, Isaac. Of course, God stayed Abraham’s hand before he could complete the sacrifice, but even then, Abraham trusted that God could raise from the dead an heir as we hear in the Letter to the Hebrews. Of course, the author to the Letter to the Hebrews, traditionally St. Paul, sees in Isaac and Abraham a foreshadowing of Jesus, whose Father, God, did not stay the executioner’s hand, but let His Son be sacrificed so that we could go to heaven.
And that’s where our Gospel comes in. Even as an infant, being offered to the Lord as the firstborn by the sacrifice of two doves, Jesus’ destiny is set. Simeon, the just man, awaiting the Messiah, sees Jesus and knows that God has, again, been faithful, in not letting Simeon see death until he saw the Messiah. But he also prophesies that Mary, Jesus’ mother, will have her heart pierced by sorrow, which is certainly the case when Mary had to watch her own Son die, naked on the cross.
Children are, more often than not, the fruit of family life. In fact, in order to be married, you have to be open to children (unless you’re past childbearing age). It’s one of the goods of marriage, and even for those who are of childbearing age who cannot conceive, adoption is a great way of having children. In either case, having or adopting a child should be the response to God’s will for a husband and wife. Look what happened to Abraham when he tried to take God’s promise into his own hand: he and his slave, Hagar, conceived Ishmael (Sarah at first said it was ok, but then mysteriously changed her mind after Abraham started spending a lot of time with Ishmael). When we try to replace God’s plan with our own plan, it tends to mess things up. And we know, by what Jesus has said through His Church, that natural conception or adoption are the only good ways to bring a child into the world. Sometimes, yes, that conception has to be helped by hormone treatments or vitamin supplements. But when processes like in vitro fertilization are used, or when people decide they have a right to have a child on their terms, and not as part of God’s plan, our relationship with God is damaged by the sinful means or by selfish desires. Children, no matter how they are conceived, are always blessings. But we always want to be sure that the way we welcome a new life into a family is according to God’s plan, and not only according to our plan.
Instead, the Lord invites us to entrust our families to Him. And that goes not only for how to welcome a new child in the family, but even before that. The Church requires that Catholics get married in a Catholic Church, or get a dispensation from the local bishop from that requirement, because as a new family is formed, the Church wants to make sure that God is a part of that decision and is involved in the life of the new family. And when that family, by natural conception or adoption, brings a new child into the picture, then the family is also invited to help that child with the life of faith by having the child baptized and living out that faith daily with the child. This means going to Mass each Sunday (don’t worry if the baby or little child acts up or is noisy; it’s what kids do); praying at home before meals and sometime during the day or night (for me it was usually right before bed); showing unconditional love and forgiveness to the best of our ability; treating others as we want to be treated and as we would treat Jesus. All of those things go into making a family holy, like the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph. And that all starts by trusting God, by having faith in God and His plan, just like Abraham did. We sin, and we mess up, when we take matters into our own hands, as Abraham himself did a few times. But God invites us to trust in Him always, and so find salvation for ourselves and our families.