Feast of the Holy Family
Eccles. 3:2-6.12-14; Ps. 127:1-5; Colossians 3:12-21; Gosp. of Mt 2:13-15.19-23
Preached by Msgr Philip Heng, SJ at Cathedral of Good Shepherd, Singapore on 29 December 2019
In today’s Gospel that we just heard proclaimed, Joseph was warned in a dream three times to avoid the evil political powers that were scheming to kill Jesus, the Infant Messiah. Such murderous intentions of King Herod to destroy the divine plan of Salvation forced the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph, to flee into Egypt. There the Holy Family lived as refugees in exile, and then as returnees, and eventually as settlers in Nazareth in Galilee, which is not their original home; the original of which is in Bethlehem in Judea.
My brothers and sisters in Christ, we know that the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph are the most perfect model of all families. However, let us note that they are the “model of all families” not so much because they lived a life of great virtues where there were no suffering, but more so because they obeyed God’s Will totally and unconditionally.
It is in this respect, we see Mary’s willingness to be stoned to death in public, in accepting God’s Will to be the Mother of Jesus, the Messiah. Joseph’s, willingness to obey God’s Will and take Mary and the child Jesus to be his legal wife and child, regardless of the great trials and tribulations that were to come upon him, in protecting and bringing up the Child Jesus as his own.
And as for Jesus, we know as a historical fact and we believe in faith, that even as the Infant Messiah escaped from being murdered by the evil scheme of King Herod, we know that Jesus our Lord and Saviour in proclaiming and living the Gospel of Salvation, eventually suffered cruelly and was crucified and died shamefully and innocently for blasphemy, in revealing the Truth that He is the Son of God, in obedience to His Father’s Will.
My sisters and brothers in Christ, today we celebrate the Feast of the “Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph” our most perfect of all families, who lived God our Father’s Will with total, selfless and unconditional fidelity. As such, all our human families are called to draw from them, the needed inspiration and strength to live our human family vocation. We are all called by God to reaffirm our commitment to live the Father’s Will more fully, more selflessly and more unconditionally, like that of the “Holy Family”.
In living such a family vocation, let us first affirm the Truth and reality that God our Father, out of His Love, created every human person in His Image and Likeness. And, this means that the deepest natural desire of every human person is to love God our Creator and Father in return. And, in our deep desire to reciprocate such a love, we are also created to love every human person, as God Loves us. This means that if we should choose not to love one another, we are then not loving God and also in effect disfiguring and destroying our human nature, which is the divine love that God planted within our hearts.
There is the true story of Hannah Zimunya who went into labour pains unexpectedly at 25 weeks into her pregnancy with twins. Hannah was rushed to the hospital and she gave birth two days later. Hannah and her husband Xavi welcomed their two tiny little boys — Dylan, 2 lbs, and Deiniol, 1 lb 9 oz with great joy.
However, when both boys were taken to a neonatal unit at a hospital in Bolton, England, Dylan began to thrive. As such, he was transferred to another hospital in Wrexham, about 60 miles away. With his bigger brother gone, Deiniol’s health started to deteriorate and he began to need 100% oxygen to stay alive. After 14 weeks after his birth, doctors were of the view that Deiniol would not survive. So, the parents asked that Dylan be brought back to the hospital to say goodbye to his twin brother.
Both babies were placed in the same incubator, for the reunion. After 5 minutes being together, to the great surprise of everyone, Deiniol’s condition immediately improved and he only needed 50% oxygen. And, as soon as they tried to separate Deiniol from his brother, he soon needed 100% oxygen supply again. As it was clear that the twin brothers had to be together, they put Dylan back with his brother together; within two days, Deiniol was taken off his ventilator completely.
Hannah, the mother shared with BBC, “It really was a miracle. Dylan saved the life of his dying brother just with a cuddle. It was brilliant to watch and it showed all of us that they should never have been separated.” From then on the boys stayed together in the Bolton hospital for two months. After providing his brother with a good dose of sibling love, Dylan left the hospital in January this year and Deiniol finally went home four months later.
The twins recently celebrated their first birthday with their three big siblings. The baby brothers are thriving, though Deiniol still needs a small supply of oxygen until his lungs are fully formed. While medical research cannot prove the life-saving qualities of the hug between the twin brothers, we can see that the miracle of love is really powerful.
My brothers and sisters in Christ, let us then note that while today’s First Reading from the Book of Ecclesiasticus emphasised the importance of mutual respect in relationships, the Second Reading from St Paul’s Letter to the Colossians proclaims very eloquently our need to live a life of holiness as saints. St Paul says, “You are God’s Chosen race; His saints; He loves you and you should be clothed in sincere compassion, in kindness and humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with one another; forgive each other as soon as a quarrel begins. The Lord has forgiven you; now you must do the same.”
To reflect on this human truth more fully, the experienced family counsellor and author, Johann Christoph Arnold contends, “Over many years of counselling, I have seen again and again that unless husband and wife forgive each other, marriage can become a living hell. I have also seen that the thorniest problems can often be resolved with three simple words, ‘I am sorry.’ Human imperfection means that we will make mistakes and hurt each other, unknowingly and even knowingly. And in my life, the only fail-safe solution that I have found is to forgive, if necessary seventy times seven times in one day.
In short, “I am sorry” are the magic words of family life. This is because when you say to a family member “I am sorry,” you open hearts that were closed, heart full of treasures of affection and tenderness . . . Let us then use these magic words as often as they are needed; even seventy times seven times a day. If we do, our family will be a godly and happy place to be.”
As we reflect on the importance of loving one another, and where forgiving one another is an essential aspect of showing the love that God has planted deep within our hearts, Fr Joseph Galdon, a Jesuit spiritual writer explains further. He says, “I don’t think any one of us can deny that there is love inside us. We have all had those beautiful moments in life when it became very clear to us that we can be truly happy when we love one another. We are all fulfilled only when we share the love we have in our hearts with others . . .
But, if we believe that we have such love within our hearts, then we also have to believe that such love is also present in the hearts of others. We all possess the inner beauty – the beauty of love that is not always seen on the surface. We all wear silence, anger and arrogance on the outside some times, and that makes it hard to recognise the love that the common humanity has within us all. Thus, we can never judge the package by its wrapping. What is inside is not always visible on the outside. We have to accept the fact that the contents of the package have value even if the wrappings and ribbons on the outside are not too attractive. People are good and genuine love does exist.
When we reach out to others in love, despite the unattractive outer wrappings of the person, we give life a new meaning. If we speak to strangers, and listen to them respectfully, if we are not afraid to show that we care, especially to those who are close to us in the family, then we will find that the love we share with them, will come back to us a hundredfold, for love begets love. Dostoievski wrote in one of his novels, ‘Love a man or woman, even in their sin, for that love is the summit of all love on earth.’
To this Fr Galdon adds, “No one says that this kind of selfless love is easy or simple or effortless. It does take a lot of blood, sweat and tears to make it work. But, when we understand the blessing of truly selfless love, when we learn to cherish and love the essence of each person we meet, then we will experience the inner peace and joy that is beyond all words.”
My sisters and brothers is Christ, as I conclude, let us remind ourselves again as we celebrate the feast of the Holy Family, that you and I, and all families are called to live our family vocation more fully in obedience to God’s Will, as Jesus, Mary and Joseph have shown us so perfectly, as our models of Faith and Love for God.
And this Will of God to love Him as our Creator and Father, is a natural love that God has planted in our hearts. Inseparable from such love for God is our essential need to love one another, as the twin infants Dieniol and Dylan in our true story have shown us. Moreover, our life experiences in our families and all relationships also undoubtedly confirm that this is true of life and for us. Moreover, we also know very well that for such love to be deep, it is essential that we forgive one another willingly and as often as possible, so that the reconciliation and healings in relationships and within the family can take place.
Let us then pray that we each have to graces and wisdom to live a life of holiness as saints as St Paul says, “You are God’s Chosen race; His saints; He loves you and you should be clothed in sincere compassion, in kindness and humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with one another; forgive each other as soon as a quarrel begins. The Lord has forgiven you; now you must do the same.” It is through such a wholesome love can we say, on this Feast of the Holy Family, that we are living our family vocation, as Jesus, Mary and Joseph have shown us.
Adapted from: “Lifting the Burden, Reading Matthew’s Gospel in the Church Today, by Brendan Byrne, S.J.; Liturgical Press; Collegeville, Minnesota; 2004; p. 31.
Adapted from: Aleteia; Cerith Gardiner, Dec. 02,2019; https://aleteia.org/2019/12/02/a-simple-cuddle-from-his-sibling-saved-this-premature-babys-life/
Hearts Burning; homilies for the Sundays of the Year (cycle A,B,C); by Nil Guillemette, S.J.; St Paul’s Pub.; Makati City, Philippines; 2006; p.17.
Adapted from: The Chain of Love; Essays for Daily Living; by Joseph A.Galdon, S.J.; pub.; Cacho Hermanos, Inc.; 1993; p. 53.
Msgr Philip Heng, S.J.