Homily for the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, Year C

I am going to go out on a limb, here. I am going to preach today on Paul’s rule for Christian households. “Wives, be subordinate to your husbands.” (Col 3:18) With that line, the husbands are smiling and nodding – a few probably are elbowing their wives to say, “See?” Believe it or not, There are a lot of wives who aren’t particularly fond of this verse.

So, I’m going to set it aside; I’m not going to start with it. Instead, I’m going to start with the next sentence and start by talking to the husbands out there: “Husbands, love your wives.” (Col 3:19) Paul gives the same instructions to the Church at Ephesus, but he goes a little further; to the Ephesians, he orders that they love their wives “just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.” (Eph 5:25) Gentlemen, if you want your wives to be subordinate, that must come with you taking up your half of the deal, too. Love your wives. Don’t hold back. Give yourself up entirely for her, just as Christ gave himself up entirely for the Church. Men, are you ready to die for your wife? For your children? For your family? I don’t mean a dramatic death that makes you a hero. We all have fantasies like that. I mean a personal death every single day. Are you ready to pour yourself out and die every day out of love for your wife and family? On September 29 of this year – just a few months ago – Bishop Olmstead from Phoenix wrote a letter to the men of his diocese, to the fathers. Let me read to you how he started that letter:

I begin this letter with a clarion call and clear charge to you, my sons and brothers in Christ: Men, do not hesitate to engage in the battle that is raging around you, the battle that is wounding our children and families, the battle that is distorting the dignity of both women and men. This battle is often hidden, but the battle is real. It is primarily spiritual, but it is progressively killing the remaining Christian ethos in our society and culture, and even in our own homes.

Men, that is your challenge. If I may give you a little homework, go home today and look up that letter. Sit down and read it; if you read as slowly as I do, take a week or two and set aside 15 minutes each day to get through it. You can find it on the website his diocese set up, intothebreach.net. The letter itself is called “Into the Breach.” Before I move on to the wives and children, let me offer you seven tips Bishop Olmstead offers to you as men to carry you daily, weekly, and monthly to be the best father you can be.

Daily

  1. Pray and lead your family in prayer
  2. Examine your conscience before going to sleep
  3. Go to Mass
  4. Read the Bible

Weekly

  1. Keep the Sabbath

Monthly

  1. Go to Confession
  2. Find other Catholic men – It is in community that we will perfect the Christian life.

So, children, what does Paul tell you? “Obey your parents in everything, for this is pleasing to the Lord.” (Col 3:20) Obviously, I perfectly lived up to that call throughout my childhood. And if you believe that, please see me after Mass so I can tell you more blatant and absurd lies. Of course we don’t perfectly live up to that. In fact, to confess honestly to you, there were many many times that I felt my parents were just plain wrong or that I knew better. So, I did what I wanted – and, I have to admit, frequently paid the price when I found out how right they actually were. Today, though, we see Jesus as a child, the only story we have in scripture of his youth. I firmly believe that this encounter is the reason we have no stories from when he was twelve to about 30 – after the sass he gave Mary, he was grounded for 18 years!

On a serious note, though, Jesus is God, right? He is the God of the universe who has taken on human form. He shouldn’t have to answer to anyone. Yet, “He went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them.” (Lk 2:51) Are you kidding me? The same God who challenged Job, “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?” (Job 38:4) now obeys his human parents? My friends, this is your example. And, I will let you in on a secret – don’t tell your parents that I told you. But, sometimes, they don’t actually know what to do. They are trying their best just like the rest of us. Does that mean children should ignore their parents when parents are wrong? Go back to Paul: “Children, obey your parents in everything, for this is pleasing to the Lord.” (Col 3:20) or to the example of Christ, “[Jesus] was obedient to them.” (Lk 2:51) Paul doesn’t say to obey and honor your parents when they’re right; Jesus didn’t only obey when Joseph and Mary correctly reflected God’s plan. We believe that Mary remained free from sin her entire life, but not Joseph. Joseph was a “righteous man,” a good man, but he was as flawed as any other man. He led his family in strong silence, and Jesus, the God of the universe, was still obedient to him.

So, finally we come to the wives. Paul tells you to “be subordinate to your husbands.” (Col 3:18) First, I want to point out that this command is not unique to wives. Neither command that Paul gives is unique to husband or wife. Would it make sense if we read Paul to say that husbands should love their wives, but wives are not to love their husbands? Of course not. In the same way, we must understand that both husbands and wives are to be submissive to each other. Paul says as much in his instructions on families to the Ephesians. “Be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ.” (Eph 5:21)

So what is this subordination? The call here is to always love to pour yourself out for the other. When you were married, you promised each other “love…and honor…all the days of [your lives].” All Christians are called to seek to serve one another. It’s part of the Christian life. How much more for spouses!

My friends, if we want to rescue the world that is falling ever deeper into the mire of sin, the first thing we must do is rebuild the family. The family is the cornerstone of society, the first building block. The first building block of the family is the spouses, the husbands and wives who seek to always serve, love, and honor each other. So, wives, how does this happen? Why does Paul specifically point out for you to be subordinate to your husbands? In the words of one of my seminary professors (who is, himself, a husband), it’s because this is one of the hardest things for you: to respect and put up with the oaf you took as a husband. I suspect, if asked, you could list any number of times that your husband decides something that you can see is just plain stupid. That’s when this command from Paul is most important. Don’t let a stupid decision come before the vow you made.

Ladies, you have a unique place in the family. It is from you that your children will learn to love. Men will teach a love to their sons that is specific to a man’s love, but love itself is frequently taught by mothers. Your children look to you for an example of what it is to love – both mothers and fathers.

Last year, a movie was made of the musical, “Into the Woods.” One of the final songs in that musical is called “Children will Listen.” I think the advice given there is extraordinary as we build strong Christian families, families that are modeled on the love, devotion, and gift we see in the Holy Family. My friends, if we are to take back the world, a world that is falling ever further into the clutches and realms of the enemy, a world that brings the enemy joy more than the Lord, the first thing we must do is rebuild the Christian family, the foundation on which our society was built to begin with.

I’m going to end with that advice to parents from Into the Woods:

Careful the things you say,
Children will listen.
Careful the things you do children will see
And learn.

Guide them along the way
Children will listen
Children will look to you
For which way to turn
To learn what to be

Careful before you say
“listen to me!”
Children will listen.

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