Saturday, December 29, 2007

Sisters and Brothers

(Holy Family, A)

The feast of the Holy Family deepens our appreciation of the Christmas mystery. This past week we celebrated the great miracle of our Lord’s birth, but that’s not the end. Part of the mystery of the Word made flesh is the mystery of our God being born into a real human family.

From the very beginning of creation God has shown his special love for the family. He put our first parents together and blessed their union, commanding them to “be fertile and increase, fill the earth and master it.” So rejoice in your dignity before God, you who are married. You are fulfilling the original vocation God gave to humanity, long before there was a priesthood or anyone had heard of religious life.

We celebrate today that God has blessed the human family with his own presence, making himself the child of two young parents. As we know, Jesus was only biologically related to Mary, both Joseph and Mary were his parents on earth. Think of the sublime humility of God! The same Word of God, through whom everything was created, makes himself subject to these two young people who were forced to have their child away from home, and, as we heard in the Gospel today, were not even able to settle down for quite a while. Life wasn’t easy for the Holy Family, and everyone knows that family life always has its anguish and challenges. But in this regard our membership in both our families of origin and in the families we ourselves found through marriage, these are schools of charity and dependence on God’s grace. In the prayer after communion we will express our desire that Holy Communion strengthen us to face these “troubles of life.”

Just as the Incarnation of God in the humanity of Jesus of Nazareth sanctifies the humanity of us who have Holy Communion with him in this Eucharist, so the Lord’s presence in the Holy Family sanctifies our own families. We recognize this mystery in the prayer over the gifts for today’s Mass when we will pray that the prayers of Mary and Joseph “unite our families in peace and love.”

I think part of reason the message of St. Francis is so attractive and compelling is that he recognized God’s sense of the universal family of all creation. We Christians know that we are brothers and sisters in Christ, for it is in Christ that we are drawn into the one Sonship of Christ with God the Father. But St. Francis took this a few steps further. He preached to birds and called them his sisters. He even called fire his brother, praising the fire for being robust and lively. He called water his sister, praising for being precious, useful, and chaste.

The insight is simple. If everything that is comes from the one God that puts all creatures in the relationship of siblings. And so we are called to treat every fellow creature from our sister and brother humans to the animals and even to the plants and inanimate things with all of the love, loyalty and sometimes anguish and long-suffering that goes with being a family.

That’s what Francis meant when he called himself “brother Francis.” He wasn’t giving himself a fancy religious title, he was just saying that he was trying to be brother to every other creature he met.

And so let us pray today that the example and prayers of the Holy Family of Nazareth will help us to unite our own families in peace and love, and to learn to live as sisters and brothers to everyone, and indeed to all of creation.

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