Sunday Sermon for December 31, 2023, the Feast of the Holy Family, Year B

Readings: Sir 3:2-6, 12-14; Col 3:12-21; Lk 2:22-40

As we celebrate the feast of the Holy Family today, we not only reflect on the family of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, which is the holiest family ever to grace the earth, but we also focus on the truth that every family is called to holiness.  This point cannot be overemphasized, especially in our day when marriage and family are under direct attack by the forces of evil.  Therefore, we need to learn from the example of the Holy Family, and apply what God has revealed to our own families.

The thrust in our world is to cause division.  We see this in so many ways, but none so tragic as the divisions that result in the breakdown of marriages and the almost irreparable damage inflicted on the children.  Satan knows if he can succeed in these tactics, he will be able to establish his kingdom because there will be so much brokenness and despair in the majority of the people that they will go along with his plan.  Our brokenness most often results in selfishness or self-preservation.  These are the very tools the evil one wants to use against us.

How will Satan’s plan be thwarted?  By living the way the Church has taught married couples to live.  We go back to the moment the couple’s marriage is established and note that the marriage vows state an ongoing and unconditional love between the two spouses.  This love not only provides the completion and fulfillment of the two people in the marriage, but it also provides the foundation for stability and security of the children who will be born from this blessed union.

Love is the opposite of selfishness, so it makes sense that charity is the way to overcome Satan’s plan to divide and conquer through selfishness.  This begins by recognizing and upholding the dignity of each member of the family.  The first reading speaks about how children are to treat their parents, but we must also be cognizant of the fact that children learn from their parents how to treat one another.  This brings us back, once again, to the marriage vows of love for one another.

In the Holy Family, St. Joseph put our Lady first.  Everything he did was in service to her and to Jesus.  At the same time, our Lady put St. Joseph first and everything she did was in service to him and to Jesus.  Of course, our blessed Lord held His parents in the highest esteem and did everything in service to them.  I realize that this is the only family that has a sinless wife and mother, one of the greatest saints as the husband and father, and God Himself as the Son.  In this way, our marriages and families are clearly different from the Holy Family.

While this is true, the relationships in the Holy Family still stand as the example for all marriages and all families.  Every husband should have his wife on a pedestal of sorts.  He needs to forego his selfish pursuits and seek first the good of his wife and family.  Women, although they are the highest members of God’s material creation, are directed by God to be subordinate to their husbands.  In other words, to place their husbands on a pedestal of sorts and to seek his good and that of the family before herself.

If we strive to implement this point of mutual love and service, all the virtues St. Paul describes in the second reading will follow automatically: compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience, mutual forbearance, and forgiveness.  But, there is one more aspect that we see in both the teaching of St. Paul and in the example of the Holy Family: put God first.

We see the Holy family doing everything in obedience to God’s Word.  Four times in today’s Gospel reading we are told that what our Lady and St. Joseph did was in accordance with the Law of the Lord.  We notice also that the only people in Jerusalem who recognized Jesus were the two whose lives were marked by prayer.  Simeon was “righteous and devout” while Anna “worshipped night and day with fasting and prayer.”  So, four people (including Mary and Joseph), whose focus in life was centered on God, were able to grasp the mystery unfolding before them.

It is precisely this point of putting God at the center of your own marriage and family that will allow you to become a truly holy family.  If you want to love your children more, love your spouse more; and if you want to love your spouse more, love God more.  Love conforms one to the beloved.  Loving God and one another will conform each person to Christ, making each family member a Saint and making the family a holy family.

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