Sunday Sermon for December 30, 2018, the Feast of the Holy Family, Year C

Readings: Sir 3:2-6, 12-14; Col 3:12-21; Lk 2:41-52

As we celebrate this feast of the Holy Family, the readings remind us that the family is the foundation of society and of the Church. Everything the Church does is to be at the service of the family. The family is even called the “Domestic Church.” In other words, the family is to live and reflect the holiness of the Church. It is in the family that the seeds of faith are normally planted and the growing faith of the members is nurtured and developed. It is in the family that virtues are taught and learned. It is in the family where love of God and neighbor are lived and modeled for the next generation.

Perhaps it is because of the absolute importance of the family that Jesus chose to become a member of a human family. Objectively, it was not necessary for Him to be part of a family. He could have come into this world and saved us by any means He wanted; yet He chose to be born into a family.

The family is the place where Saints are raised. Life’s primary and foundational lessons are learned in the family; this is the beginning of the formation of the Saints. The objection will immediately arise that not all the Saints came from healthy, loving, intact families. This is true, but it does not change the reality that the family is the first place of formation. Some Saints grew up in pagan families and some had families hostile to the Faith. Nonetheless, they received their primary human formation in their families and, moreover, God used this formation and the situations of their lives to make them Saints.

In the first reading from Sirach, we hear about the respect children owe to their parents. Some will be quick to point out that not all parents are good and, therefore, do not deserve respect. Perhaps they do not deserve respect for what they have done, but they do deserve respect for who they are. As the first reading reminds us: kindness to a father will not be forgotten, firmly planted against the debt of your sins – a house raised in justice to you.” While the context of the passage describes an elderly father with his mind failing, this passage can be applied to any situation in any family. We have to understand that in God’s providence the parents God has chosen for us are the best and most perfect way for us to become Saints.

Obviously, for some people, this does not imply that their parents were good, decent, honest, loving, kind, or any such thing. On the natural level it would seem to be far easier to grow in holiness if we all had parents like St. Therese (praise God if you have parents who are Saints!), but God can make Saints out of anyone, including those who grow up in the most horrible situations. Somehow, in a way we usually cannot understand, this horrible situation is the best way for the individual involved to become a Saint. Perhaps if such a person had Saints for parents he would have rebelled and rejected the ways of the Lord; instead, he can rebel against the bad situation of his upbringing and choose to follow the Lord and His ways.

Situations do exist when it is necessary, for the good of the person, to stay away from one’s parents. Yet, even when the situation has been very difficult it is always necessary is to forgive. Remember, to forgive does not mean to say something is okay or acceptable. Forgiveness is an act of the will. It means letting go and putting things behind you. When parents or family members are involved, we also need to pray for them. If it is necessary to stay away physically, spiritually we still need to act in charity. In the second reading St. Paul tells us we need to act with “compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience, bearing with one another and forgiving one another.” It is easy to treat others the way they have treated us, but our Lord wants us to act as He acts: with love and forgiveness even towards those who have hurt us.

If you are a parent, make sure everything you do is done out of love, that is, seeking only what is best for your children. If you have children who are rebellious or who treat you badly, make sure you are praying for them and have a positive demeanor when you see them or talk with them. This can be very hard, but being a Saint is not easy. Follow the example of our Lady and St. Joseph: seek the Lord, look diligently for Him in His Father’s house. This is the key to becoming a Saint.

Fr. Altier’s column appears regularly in The Wanderer, a national Catholic weekly published in St. Paul, Minn. For information about subscribing to The Wanderer, please visit