APPLYING OUR FAITH TO OUR FAMILIES
THE HOLY FAMILY: A MODEL FOR THE CATHOLIC HOME
This program deals with just how it is that Jesus, Mary and Joseph are the perfect model for all Catholic homes. Scott looks at each of their roles in the family and examines the example each one sets for all of us.
I just read a statistic 48 hours ago that since 1965 the Roman Catholic Church around the world has suffered the loss of approximately one-quarter billion members. One-quarter billion members of the Catholic Church have been lost since 1965! That statistic is so staggering that you really can't make much sense out of it. The number is just too far beyond our own imagination.
Just take Latin America for example. In the 1930s there were only 2-1/2 million Protestants in all of the Latin American countries combined. Thirty years later, in the 1960s, that had multiplied by seven to a point where you had approximately 15 million Protestants in the 1960s, almost all of them were ex-Catholic. In the 1980s, 40 million. In the 1990s the statistics range between 80 to 100 million. From 2.5 in the '30s to the 40, the 50, the 60 million mark in the '80s and '90s.
What is going on? The director of our institute, a former Catholic, talks about how so many Catholics are overly active in social justice matters to the neglect of evangelism and Bible study and the devotional, interior and spiritual life. He talks about how they have voted for social justice and social action, whereas the people they have been devoted to have voted with their feet for evangelical Christianity.
What is it about evangelical Christianity that is so attractive? I believe it's very simple - the Sacred Scriptures, the holy Bible. Vatican II has declared once more that studying Sacred Scripture is the soul of theology. What is theology without scripture, or what is a body without a soul? We call it corpse where I come from. When you study theology or catechism apart from the Bible, you're studying something that appears to be lifeless. It's the Bible that testifies to the mighty acts of God in salvation history, a loving, omnipotent Father acting on behalf of His family, loving His children back home.
That's the message of scripture summed up in one word, covenant, a family plan, God's family covenant with His children. That is what we need to recover as Catholic Christians. St. Jerome once said, "A man who is well-grounded in the testimony of scripture is the bulwark of the Church." Are there any bulwarks out there? Are there men and women who hear me who want to be a pillar, a foundation, a bulwark of Holy Mother the Church?
St. Thomas Aquinas declares that our faith receives its surety from scripture. So we need to study scripture. We need to study books that will help open scripture for us. We need to love people enough to spend the time and expend the energy to study, to think. Dare to be doctrinal. Dogma is the food of the mind. As the mouth comes down upon the bread to nourish the body, so the mind is made by God to come down upon the dogmas of our Church to nourish the soul. Dare to be doctrinal. But doctrine divides. Doctrine from scripture is what is attracting tens of millions of Bible Christians out of the Catholic Church and into the Evangelical church.
Yet I would contend to my dying day that Bible Christianity is another word for Roman Catholicism. We need to be Bible Christians. We need to study scripture. John Paul II just recently, in evaluating and assessing the loss of tens of millions of Catholics in Latin America, in South America, especially Brazil, said in two words what we need to hear, "Abandon timidity!" There is no excuse for being timid any longer. We are suffering losses that are far too great for us to excuse ourselves, for us to pawn it off on our priests or to complain and bad-mouth our Bishops or to congratulate ourselves on retaining orthodoxy and purism.
We are called to extend the crown rights of King Jesus Christ and nothing less will suffice on Judgment Day. And the Church cannot survive in this land unless people like you respond. Go home tonight and say, "Lord, show me two or three, or just one or two ways in which I can begin to implement the idealism and the challenges that I heard all day today. Just one or two." And if you don't really feel that impulse, ask the Lord to give it to you. Ask the Lord to increase your charity, the love that you have for brothers and sisters who have been drawn away from the Living Bread, the heavenly manna, the Body and the Blood, the Soul and Divinity of Our Lord Jesus Christ in the Holy Eucharist for what amounts to junk food in comparison to the Blessed Sacrament. Love them enough or love the Lord enough.
St. Bonaventure once said that the day you no longer burn with love and concern for souls, many others will die of the cold. Where can we go to increase our love? To whom can we turn to find help? I am convinced that the Holy Spirit has raised up hopes in this century to focus our attention and to concentrate our devotion upon the Holy Family. Because in the Holy Family we are going to find the source of strength. We are going to find the encouragement we need when we have distressful losses on all sides.
The Holy Family is the place where we go when we feel like weak nobodies, incapable of withstanding the onslaught of the enemies of the Church, because Christ has raised up the Holy Family as the model of the Christian home, to be sure, but as the nucleus of the New Covenant Church-family of God showing that through detachment, through renunciation, through poverty, through mortification, through trials and sufferings, the war will be won. The Savior will be born and salvation will spill out in all directions and cover the earth.
If I had to put my finger on the biggest difference between Roman Catholicism and Protestantism, it would be on the difference between the Holy Family and me and Jesus. When I was an Evangelical Bible-believing Christian, I loved the Lord and I focused myself single-mindedly upon Jesus Christ. In my preaching, my teaching, my praying, my reading; all my considerations were focused on Jesus. Gradually Our Lord began to show me that that wasn't all He was concerned about. If He, the Lord Jesus Christ is the bridegroom, as my wife has said on other occasions, what bridegroom wants all of the guests at the wedding just to simply stare at him? Doesn't the bridegroom want you to behold the glory of the bride, the Church?
So Jesus was intent upon introducing me to His family and many others as well. The Holy Family, I believe, is the most distinguishing trademark of Roman Catholicism, but I say "ism." The Roman Catholic faith is characterized by the Holy Family but not Roman Catholics in their faith in the 1990s, and don't ask me why it is. I don't know. But devotion to the Holy Family, attention to the Holy Family, awareness, even superficial awareness, of the importance of the Holy Family is hard to find and very thin and sparse as I travel around the country speaking. Marian devotion, I can't recommend it too highly; but it is a part of a whole and that whole is the Holy Family.
Scriptural Basis for the Devotion to the Holy Family
Now, I have to confess something; that the Holy Family represented one of the biggest obstacles for me to embrace the Catholic faith. The Holy Family, all the devotionalism that seemed to surround the Holy Family, struck me as so much gushy sentimentality, a lot of extra- Biblical mush that you couldn't find in Sacred Scripture. After all, you look at the Bible, you read the New Testament, you study the gospels and where is the Holy Family? It isn't there. So it must not be important, right? No.
I began to recognize that the gospels are meant to lead you deeper into contemplative study and prayer. So that you are not just studying the words, you're studying the meaning behind the words. You're not just studying the meaning behind the words, you're studying the reality behind the meaning in the words. And what do you end up with when you study the reality of Jesus' life as the gospels present it? You have approximately thirty-some years of Jesus' lifetime, say thirty-three. Of those thirty-three years, thirty of them are silent.
Now, why is that? Why did Jesus choose to sit around quietly, invisibly for thirty years? I mean, with all due respect Lord, let's get on with redemption, huh? He would say, "I am." Because His life in the Holy Family was redemptive. Not only was it redemptive, it was redeeming; so that He invites us to recognize that when we are faithful to our spouse, when we focus upon our families with devotion and love, we are entering into a deeper share of Christ's own redemptive work.
Now, we have no trouble seeing that when we evangelize, when we catechize, when we do apologetics or when we organize conferences like this one, when we participate in some parish prayer group or Bible study, we see in those occasions very easily how we share in Christ's redemptive work. But can we see, when we go home from those activities, when we snap at our kids and we get impatient at the third interruption before we've even finished grace before dinner, that we are losing out on opportunities to share in Christ's redemptive work and what really constitutes the bulk of Jesus' mission? The majority of Jesus' time here on earth was spent, from one perspective, wasting His time. Let's get on with redemption? He was.
We need to remember that. We need to see that Jesus Christ's mission on earth from the moment of His conception to His ascension into heaven was our redemption. There was not a split second that Jesus Christ was not busily at work redeeming us, taking into himself the rich, concrete, practical realities of everyday human existence and uniting them to Divine life, Divine love and spirituality. So that, whatever we do - scrubbing pots and pans, sweeping the floor, cleaning the garage, teaching our kids how to use a hammer and nails - whatever we do is in some way a share in Christ's redemptive work. Christ assumes all of humanity in a concrete, practical way; and He does so in a concrete, practical home, the Holy Family in Nazareth.
I want to challenge you this evening to go home and practice a new type of mortification. I want to encourage you to do the typical ones, you know, fasting, fish on Fridays, whatever you choose along those lines. But I want you to practice the mortification of cheerfulness. Coming home from a hard day's work and smiling! My father-in-law challenged me, just three months ago, he said, "When you leave work," because the Franciscan University of Steubenville is work, it's holy work, it's joyful work, but I tell you it's draining work. I refer to my 220 students as loving, highly motivated brain suckers! I'd never seen it before, because they want to know the Bible. They want to know Church history. They want to know apologetics. They want to know how to evangelize and catechize, and every time I'm leaving my office, I feel like a wrung-out dish cloth.
Last year I really struggled with coming home. First of all, wanting to come home. I wanted to find a pine tree and snooze for twenty years. I wanted to find a hole and crawl into it. I was so exhausted, so bewildered, in fact, at how many students had such desire to learn their faith and share it. But I discovered that after I was doing so much of God's work, so spiritual, so theological, so religious, so catechetical, I'd come home and be an A number one, first-class jerk, to my wife first and then to my kids because, after all, my spiritual clout was what was really important.
You can't do that for very long and continue praying without being electrocuted by the conviction of the Holy Spirit. My father- in-law gave me very practical advice. He said, "When you come down from that holy hill of Franciscan University and you cross over Route 22, just picture yourself crossing over the Jordan River and entering the Promised Land, because that's what your home is." When I come home now, I see my home as a model of the Holy Family at Nazareth, the place where God's redemptive work takes place in its greater fullness, at least in my life.
Jesus spent approximately three years in public ministry; about thirty years in the interior quiet of ordinary domestic life. He took the time that God, the Father, allotted Him and He gave a tenth of it to public ministry and external works. He could have tithed aside on His time, and then He devoted ninety percent of it to fostering love, patience, kindness, gentleness, faithfulness and all the other fruits of the Holy Spirit in His own home, with His own mother and with His own father.
Why did God choose to launch our redemption in the quiet confines of a Nazareth house? I think it's a fair question, because God wants us to probe His own deeper reasons behind His saving works. I didn't find an answer to that until I began to contemplate the mystery of the Holy Family while praying the rosary. I realized that you could sum up salvation history throughout scripture in one line, with one question. And that is, where is the Holy Family? Where is the Holy Family?
You go back to the very beginning and there you would expect to find the Holy Family. After all, God, the Blessed Trinity, is creating mankind after His own image and likeness, male and female, husband and wife, urging them to be fruitful and multiply that the two become one and then become three and four and five and six, and fill the earth. There would be a Holy Family, created sinless, created with Divine grace, called to be children of God. There you would expect to find the Holy Family, the replica of the Blessed Trinity within creation, and what do you find? A husband and a wife who rebel against their Lord and Father in heaven and who rebel against the covenant of marriage in effect and sow the seeds of disgrace for their whole family, which we are.
You don't find a Holy Family a few days or weeks after the creation of the first human couple. It becomes, obviously, a very unholy family. So what is God going to do about that? God intervenes decisively in salvation history. Perhaps we're going to find the Holy Family with Noah. After all, He declares that Noah is a righteous man, standing out from all the other people who were so unrighteous and wicked and violent that God had to judge the earth with a destructive flood, with Noah and his wife and their three sons on that ark, set apart by God for the salvation of the world. There at last we have a Holy Family, right? Wrong.
As soon as they disembark Noah gets drunk. His son, Ham, pulls off a rebellious and perverse act of disobedience and for it Ham and his son Canaan are cursed and the family is split and divided all over again. It's like a broken record; oh no, here we go again. So it didn't work with Adam, even though he had been created sinless. It didn't work with Noah, although he was a righteous and blameless man who was so exclusively unique in all the world. I'll bet you it's going to begin at last with Abraham, the third covenant figure in salvation history. Because after all, Abraham was a righteous man, a man of faith, the father of faith. Abraham in his older years, in his 70s was willing to abandon his culture, his family, his property. He was willing to give up everything when the Lord called him. And so was Sarah, and they set out together. There, there's the answer. Maybe it's just simply the case that God had to wait until they got older and riper, more mature, like Abraham and Sarah.
Here we at last find God's Holy Family, right? Well, this man of faith grows impatient and takes an Egyptian maid-servant and has sex with her. She bears a son named Ishmael. Some people say, "Well why didn't God ever punish Abraham for this bigamous concubinage, taking some Egyptian to be his second wife. Why doesn't God punish Abraham for that?" Instead, He allows Abraham and Sarah to expel Hagar and her son, Ishmael. Did Abraham get away without being punished? Who is Ishmael the founding father of and who is Abraham the founding father of?
Abraham, you know, had that son Isaac, who has a son named Jacob. What does God change Jacob's name to? Israel. Abraham's grandson was named Israel and Abraham's other son through the Egyptian maid-servant, named Ishmael became the founding father of the Arabs. You have the Israelis and you have the Arabs. Did God punish Abraham? How would a father feel when He looks down from heaven and sees 4000 years of family feuding between two brothers, Ishmael and Isaac?
The Arab-Israeli dispute goes back to a family squabble that results from Abraham's infidelity and impatience. That is no Holy Family. That is a family torn apart by impatience, ambition, lust. So maybe God had to wait until Moses, the next in line to finally create what is lasting as a Holy Family, a family that will be holy permanently not just momentarily, not just in passing. After all, God taught Moses the sin of Israel, the ways of Egypt, out in the deserts through hardship and sacrifice.
Moses went through forty, then eighty years of discipline, training for his heavenly father; so that he could go forty days without food in the presence of God atop Mount Sinai. Surely with a man like Moses, we would have the beginning of the Holy Family. Only he marries a Midianite, lives a Midianite culture and refuses to circumcise his son on the eighth day, becomes a covenant breaker. So that not even with Moses can God begin building a replica of the Blessed Trinity in creation.
Well, how about David? I mean back in Moses' time, we had some difficulties. They were powerless, they were weak, they were vulnerable. But how about David, the King? He's got the power, he's got the humility, he's got the faith. After all, scripture says of David what it says of no other person. "David was a man after God's own heart." Surely, David is the one to begin building God's Holy Family. He's got so much power, so many advantages. And what does he use them for? To strip a man of his wife, to send him out in the battle to die. So he becomes an adulterer and murderer in one fell swoop. Not bad for one day's work, if you're Satan. No Holy Family.
Thousands of years and not one single Holy Family, until we come across a humble, impoverished couple from Nazareth. Against all odds, God raises them up as parent nobodies. They're in the line of David, but they can't announce that fact because a wicked king reigns on the throne; and if he hears of any Davidic royalty, it would be snuffed out, as the slaughter of the innocents in Bethlehem proves. And yet here, at last, we have the beginning of a new family covenant that serves as an adequate replica of the Blessed Trinity in history and in creation.
Lessons to Be Learned From the Holy Family
The Holy Family is proof that God's greatest work on our behalf and for our salvation begins in poverty, in silence, invisibly; and it serves to establish perhaps the most important lesson for our own spiritual lives. Our life must be lived in imitation of Christ's life and most of that life was lived obediently, humbly, patiently in the Holy Family in Nazareth. The question before us tonight, the question that the Holy Spirit wants to put in our hearts is, "Do you really want to have a holy family, or do you just want to have a good Catholic family, like the family you grew up in? You know faults and sins and lots of problems; but, you know, stay together so that when I'm old I'll see some grandkids and I'll have some satisfaction?"
If that's all you want, then ignore the rest of what I'm going to say; because Jesus Christ wants to establish far more than that in our lives, in our homes. Do you really want to have a holy family? If you practice contraception, you do not want to have a holy family. I'm sorry. I like to be liked. I like to be popular. I don't like to shock or scandalize. I hate it when I have to say things that offend people. I'd rather not fly out to the West Coast and say it; but I'm not here to be popular. I'm here, God, I pray, to be used so that the Lord might create holy families.
Contraception chokes and kills the life-giving power of marital love. Now, if you don't contracept, does that guarantee a holy family? No, but it opens up the possibility. For couples in the 1990s, in the USA not to contracept is a miracle of Divine grace. Back in the 1920s and '30s, it was an ordinance of the natural law that pagans often practiced. Now, it's different. We're in a new degree of darkness. Why is it so hard? It's hard to say, but I dare say this: that God has allowed it to get this way in order to make us saints.
Never was there a time in the history of the Church when it was easier to be a saint, to die and become a canonizable saint. In the 1990s all you've got to do to become a canonizable saint is just to hold fast to the confession of the Catholic faith and do your best, with God's grace, to live it! That requires such heroic virtue that, if we could recognize God's own handiwork in the social problems of our day. You see, He didn't design this world to be paradise. He didn't design this world to be heaven. He designed this world, in a phrase, to be a saint-making machine. And it has never worked as efficiently as it is working today, if we simply allow it to.
Do you want to have a holy family? Do you want Jesus Christ to be Lord of all, for if He is not Lord of all, He is not Lord at all. If you tell Christ, "Well, you can have this area of my life and bless it. You can have that area of my life and bless it, but not these." Who is being Lord and who is being servant? We unconsciously reduce Christ to the level of a lackey, a go-fer, a slave when we selectively obey and confine Christ to certain areas of our lives and restrict other areas and keep him away from them. Who is being Lord and who is being servant, I ask you?
Do you really want to have a holy family? Part of that question is another question. Are you willing to admit that you cannot do it on your own? Chesterton once said that the Catholic life isn't hard to live, but it is humanly impossible! If we are able on our own power to live the teachings of the Catholic Church, then God the Father owes God the Son an apology for sending Him to die, because no father would send a son to die unless there is no other option, unless there was no other way.
I want to insert here a little tangent because I detect across this country, perhaps even around the world in the Church something I call "creeping universalism," the unspoken belief that deep down we think everybody will go to heaven and nobody will necessarily go to hell. Jesus described the two roads - one leads to heaven, one leads to hell. He says, "The road to hell is wide and easy and many find it. The road to heaven is hard and narrow and few there are who would find it."
Look around and see the souls of brothers and sisters who are making choices, choosing lifestyles, determining their eternal destinies. You know the saying, "Sew a thought, reap an action; sew an action, reap a habit; sew a habit, reap a lifestyle; sew a lifestyle, reap a destiny." The choices you make in the next sixty minutes are going to determine and shape and influence your eternity. Are you willing to admit before Our Lord tonight that you are not capable of raising a holy family or sustaining a holy family in our society today? If you are willing to admit that, I say, "Bingo, your qualified." (Bingo, did you catch that? I'm now Catholic. After 5-1/2 years I'm catching on to your ways.)
If you are willing to admit before God what alcoholics have to admit before they go through the twelve steps in Alcoholics Anonymous, "I can't do it. I've got to let go and let God." That doesn't mean I just kind of silently drift into inaction. It means I have to allow God's action to soak into my own. I have to assimilate His grace, His energies. Apart from Christ, I could do nothing. But St. Paul tells us, "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me."
Do you really want to have a holy family? Do you really want to be a part of God's Holy Family and allow the holiness of that family to spill over into your own life and into your own marriage, your own home? Do you really want it enough to give up whatever stands in the way of holiness in your home, whatever stands in the way of Jesus, Mary and Joseph entering more completely into your life, into your marriage, into your family? Are you willing to pray the rosary as a family, despite the fact you know your kids are going to complain and criticize?
I'm not saying be tactless and religiously rude and just impose it tomorrow at dinner with insensitivity and authoritarianism. No. Do it a bit at a time. That's what we're doing right now. We do a decade after dinner. We tried five decades when our kids were seven and six and three respectively. Forget it! We had outright rebellion. I mean they were taking to the streets. So be prudent. Carefully measure out what your family can handle. Alot of this is still new to my wife. So I don't want to give her an overdose. It might be new for your spouse. It might be new for you, as well.
I would suggest to you that in the Holy Family, we have the climax, the summit of God's saving work in history, Exhibit A that it can work. Not just in the life of an individual like Jesus, who after all, is God-man. Not just in the individual life of the Blessed Virgin Mary, who stands out at the Queen of the Angels and the Queen of all creation, but in her actual family, in concrete, everyday, ordinary existence. It works! And it can work today. The Holy Family is proof positive of that fact.
I want to challenge you to challenge Protestants, Bible Christians, Evangelicals, Fundamentalists, Pentecostals, Charismatics to see this. All Christians who confess God to be a Father, a Son and a Holy Spirit can recognize in the Holy Family the most beautiful and adequate replica of our God, our Divine family. And Protestants need it today more than ever before, just like Catholics. Tim and Beverly Mahaeg, great Protestant leaders - Beverly Mahaeg from Christian Women of America, CWA, a great pro-life activist organization. But a book they wrote several years ago, The Act of Marriage, endorses abortion under certain circumstances.
They have since retracted that position but they have not retracted the book. The book is still out there, being bought and read by thousands and thousands of people. They also, it's sad to say, suggest that masturbation is not wrong because nowhere is it condemned in scripture. Charlie Shed, Reverend Charlie Shed, who wrote "The Stork is Dead," and many other very popular best-sellers evangelical sex books, now is on record on the Phil Donohue Show, recommending vibrators and allowing anal sex. Ed Wheat writes a book for married couples entitled, Intended for Pleasure, in which he says oral sex to climax is licit.
Our separated brothers and sisters need the guidance and the holiness of the Holy Family more than ever before, to help them through turbulent and confusing times. The Wheat book, the book by Ed Wheat, Intended for Pleasure, I think raises the difficult question. There's a problem, I think, reflected in the very title, Intended for Pleasure. Sex is not intended for pleasure any more than food is intended for flavor. Just as food is intended for nourishment, so natural law and Holy Mother the Church teaches that sex is primarily designed for procreation.
This does not imply whole opposition or condemnation of sexual pleasure any more than it condemns good flavored food for tasting so good. It simply reminds us that just as the sin of gluttony is committed when a desirable side effect, namely good taste, replaces nutrition as the reason for eating, so the sin of sensuality or lust results when the need or the desire for sexual pleasure leads to the direct suppression of fertility.
Sex is not intended for pleasure. It is intended for life-giving love and it gives pleasure as a desirable and foreseeable side effect. But if you begin to desire the side effect more than the primary end, something is radically wrong. Look around. Something is radically wrong. Among our separated brethren but among our own family members; within our own marriages, within this parish and in every other parish across the country and around the world. We need help. We need God's grace and nothing less than the death of Christ can give us the grace we need to live a life that is otherwise humanly impossible.
We're not talking about natural virtue any more. We're talking about supernatural virtue. We're not talking about just simply being good. We're talking about being Christ-like. We're not talking about being virtuous, upstanding and honest. We're talking about taking up one's cross and following Jesus to Calvary. Do you really want to have a holy family? All of us need a holy family, especially Americans and most especially American males. We hear so much from feminists about the plight of females in America. We never hear about the plight of men in America. Is our society so favorably inclined toward making life easy for men and hard for women?
Listen to the following statistics about American life for men. Six times more men are arrested for drugs. Eighty-eight percent of those arrested for drunk driving are men. Eighty-three percent of those arrested for serious crimes are men. Twenty-five times more inmates in prison are male than female. Seventy-five percent of suicides in our society are committed by men. Men die more frequently from cancer, pneumonia, liver disorders, stroke, heart attacks. Our society is crushing men. Our society is not liberating women or men. We need men's liberation in truth, just like we need women's liberation in truth. And the Holy Family gives us the model for both.
Do we really want to have holy families; and men, let me ask you, "Do you really want to be holy fathers?" Look at Joseph. St. Joseph, the Patriarch and Protector of the Church. St. Joseph, the Patriarch and Protector of the Holy Family. St. Joseph is known as a master and an example for the interior life, the life of prayer, the life of friendship with God. That is what the Christian life is all about. He who does not pray will not be saved. I'm quoting about 500 saints and Doctors of the Church when I say that. And prayer is conversation with God intended for deepening friendship with Our Lord.
St. Joseph is the example par excellence of the interior life. Are you eager for excellence in your own work. Do you embrace your vocation not only as husband and father but out there in the work world? Do you see your work as an opportunity for sanctification, your own sanctification? Do you see your work as prayer, where you can offer up each hour for various intentions - for the needs of your children, for the needs of your friends and other family members?
St. Joseph was the father of the Holy Family. He was willing to renounce many things that we find it very difficult to go a few days or weeks without. He renounced, as a most chaste spouse, for an entire lifetime because he married a woman pledged to perpetual virginity. People often have trouble with Mary's perpetual virginity, but do you know that it wasn't questioned in the Church for hundreds of years? In fact when Helvetius questioned it, St. Jerome wrote to Helvetius about this novel, wicked and daring affront to the faith of the Church in the whole world, writing in the 5th Century.
It was unthinkable for somebody to call into question Mary's perpetual virginity. I have a baseball that we got twelve years ago, that Willie Stargel of the Pittsburgh Pirates signed. My wife was a rabid Reds fan from Cincinnati. I was a rabid Pirates fan from Pittsburgh. We got married the year they had to face each other in the playoffs. About three weeks after our honeymoon ended and, oh, did it end that week when the Pirates swept the Reds three straight! I loved it! And my mother-in-law, God bless her, gave to her daughter this baseball signed by Willie Stargel, quoting from the book of Ruth. It said, and Stargel wrote it, "Your people shall be my people. Willie Stargel."
My boys are now coming into a love for baseball, a devotion to the Pirates that borders on idolatry, I suppose. It's a lot like mine was. It doesn't border on idolatry, it's right smack dab in the middle of idolatry! Not really, but they love baseball and so do I. I suggested one day, just playfully but acting like I was serious, "Hey, since we can't find a ball, why not use the ball signed by Willie Stargel, and go out and hit some flies?" Vroom! My sons stopped dead in their tracks and said, "Dad, no. Don't do that!" I said, "Guys, I'm just kidding, just kidding." It took them about ten seconds to get over their apoplectic reaction to what was just said in jest. This ball was set apart. It was sacred! It was to be used for no other purpose than to show all of their friends and neighbors. "We've got a ball signed by Willie Stargel!"
Well, we have a woman signed by God! We have the Divine autograph written into the body and soul of the Blessed Virgin Mary. She is so utterly and totally consecrated to our Lord that she is set apart as a divine and sacred vessel. And Joseph understood that and he accepted it. Therein lies his greatness, because all the other attempts to create holy families with Adam and with Noah, with Abraham and with Moses and with David began with a man who wanted power, who wanted wealth, who wanted sex and pleasure as ends in themselves. And they weren't really able to renounce the things that God called them to. They had to be on top. They had to be visible. They had to be loud enough for all to hear.
But not so for St. Joseph. He renounced money, sex and power and thereby became, in effect, the Patron of the Universal Church, the greatest family in all creation, including and encompassing the angels as well as the saints who see in this patron a provider who sacrifices himself so generously.
Pope Leo XIII, back in the last century, has a quotation that I just love to return to. Let me read it. "Just as the most Blessed Virgin is the mother of Jesus Christ, so she is the mother of all Christians whom she brought forth on the mound of Calvary in the midst of the supreme sufferings of the Redeemer, Jesus Christ, who was, as it were, the first born among Christians who by adoption and redemption are His brothers; and such are also the reasons why the Blessed Patriarch, St. Joseph, regards as being confided to him in a special manner the multitude of Christians who compose the Church, that is to say, this immense family spread throughout the world over which, since he is the spouse of Mary and the father of Christ, he possesses, as it were, a paternal authority. It is, therefore, natural and very proper that St. Joseph, just as he once providing for the needs of the family in Nazareth and surrounded it with his holy protection, should now shelter under heavenly patronage, the Church of Christ and defend her."
Go to St. Joseph. St. Teresa makes it so clear that he wants to give us the graces of Christ in a way that we don't even know how to ask. We can't even imagine how generous he is.
We can't imagine how hard it was for him to hear the word of the angel that she is now pregnant, out of wedlock. That you are now called to embrace this woman and thereby embrace the Son of God and all of the hardships that go with it. And think of the hardships of Joseph. They are not few in number.
Think of his poverty. Think of his flight to Egypt. Think of his refugee status. Think of his daily anxiety in terms of providing for a woman whom he rightly suspects to be blessed among all women and a son who is the Son of the Most High and he can't even save enough money to put Him through college! And think of the anguish over the slaughter of the innocents left behind in Bethlehem, when he wants to blame himself. Think of the challenge of raising the Son of God, the Creator, the Lord of Lords, the King of Kings who sees your heart in every moment. Think of raising Him, teaching Him, showing Him, apprenticing Him.
The Rabbis had a maxim, "Any father who does not teach his son a trade, teaches him to steal." So Joseph had to teach Him carpentry - the Master Builder of the Universe, the irony of it all. And yet he responded, every time God spoke to him, with a "yes." He cooperated and corresponded to every grace God gave him. Here we have a family radically unlike our own. Here we have a son creating His parents. Here we have a mother who is a virgin, and a father who is a virgin. Here we have God telling us that the world has it all wrong. The world has it upside down.
The Holy Family is a judgment upon the ways of the old creation, the Old Covenant. Every family I know has a father, a mother and then sons and daughters. The Holy Family has a son, a mother and a father; and Joseph was willing to accept it and to be crowned for it with God's graces and the authority over the Church of Christ.
Conclusion: Holy Family is a Sign of Contradiction and Hope
Look at the Holy Family and recognize the nucleus of your own family, because we are now all adopted into the Holy Family. What am I saying? Nothing less than the Holy Family is my family. It's your family and it's the only way that we can make our families holy families. The rosary is essential for this and so is devotion to the Blessed Patriarch, St. Joseph, Patron of the Universal Church.
We need to go to him constantly. We need to go to him generously, faithfully. We need to see in the Holy Family and St. Joseph, the sign of contradiction, yet the sign of hope and salvation for the world today. We shouldn't be surprised at all of these oddities. After all, what is the symbol of our faith? A crucifix. We wear them around our necks. We put them on our walls. We decorate our churches, sometimes our offices with a crucifix. We are so accustomed to seeing it that we no longer see its significance.
Imagine a new religion being founded that had as its symbol the gas chamber or the guillotine. That is the symbol of hope? That's a sign of salvation? You bet - the crucifix shows us the only way to get home. It's to follow St. Joseph into the arms of the Blessed Virgin Mary, allowing her to carry us to our oldest brother, Our Lord and Savior, our Creator and Judge and Redeemer.
Let's go to them now and let's consecrate ourselves anew and ask the Holy Family to fill our families with new hope. In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, we pray - Father in heaven we thank you for the Holy Family. For giving to us a father on earth in the Blessed Patriarch, St. Joseph and drawing him to our heavenly home to be our patron, our guide, our provider, our protector. We thank you Lord that you have established such a practical role model for men in our age. Help us now, not only to go to him but to lead many, many others to him and allow us to be led by him to the Blessed Virgin who he protected, who he cared for, who he loved, to whom he was devoted. Our Father, help them both draw us and God's spouses and children to the Cross, to behold your Son, our Savior, our eldest brother, our Lord and Master, our Blessed Redeemer, to see there on the Cross the establishment of the flesh and the blood bond of the family covenant that you have for us, now and forever. These truths, Oh Father, so greatly exceed our minds. We would never be your counselor. We would never have been able to help you devise such an awesome and wise plan. Fill us then with the mercy we need to humble ourselves before you and the Holy Family to be childlike and to receive all the graces that Christ died to give us, and hear us as we pray the family prayer that Christ taught His brothers and sisters to pray.
Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed by thy name. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us, and lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil.
Hail Mary, full of grace. The Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou amongst women and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death Amen. In the name of the Father and of the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Thank you very much.
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