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Bishop's Homily for the Solemnity of the Holy Family

December 31, 2023

[Cathedral Basilica of Our Lady of Peace, Honolulu]

A few days ago, some of my family who are visiting joined me in a Mass for the thirtieth anniversary of the death of my mother.  Shortly after my mother died, I remember being very touched when my father said to us children, “The best decision I ever made was to marry your mother.”  I always knew my parents loved each other, even though, like most couples, they could get on each other’s nerves at times.  But it was not until after Mom died that Dad was so free and public in his expression of love and devotion for her.  It was as if the love they had shared for over fifty years, in good times and bad, had taken on a new dimension, a deeper meaning.

And so it is that we see these two very old figures of Simeon and Anna in the temple.  Their love for God was something that was very much alive throughout their lives, yet there came that special day when they recognized God’s love in the person of the infant Jesus in a way they had never recognized it before.  It became tangible, palpable, something – or rather someone – they could wrap their arms around.  And so they gave praise to God.

This feast of the Holy Family invites us to reflect on the gift of family that makes us who we are.  I reflect on someone who has had many difficulties in life, and they can be traced to an abusive mother.  I think of someone who is incredibly kind and generous, and this can be traced to loving and generous parents.  For good or for ill, in sickness and in health, our families are with us to guide and nurture us, and we pray that they will be strong.

It must not be imagined that the Holy Family was without their struggles.  Joseph almost divorced Mary when he discovered she was pregnant, and not by him.  Their beloved child was born in a stable.  Many innocent children in Bethlehem were killed by Herod because of his jealousy over the little child who had been born of Mary, and the Holy Family had to flee to a foreign country – not to mention the bitter sorrow they must have felt for the other parents who had lost the little loved ones.  The child went missing for three days when he was twelve.  And Mary’s heart was pierced by a huge sword when she witnessed the rejection, suffering and crucifixion of her Beloved Son.  Yet through thick and thin, they remained true to their bonds of love and devotion.

So our families also struggle along.  Economic times are difficult and add great strains to family budgets and to family breadwinners.  Inevitable conflicts can turn into violence, or into the cold bitterness of ignoring one another.  Children may go off to school and come back with ideas and lifestyles that are out of tune with a family’s deepest values.  There may be infidelities, or love may grow cold and routine.  These challenges are not insurmountable.  They may seem so, but if God can make an old man the father of an entire nation through one child born in the extreme old age of Abraham and Sarah, if God can love people so much that he would even want to become one of us, is a source of great hope for us that God can prevail over any difficulties.  We need to turn to him in prayer for our families and with our families, so that God can be the one who heals all the wounds of the family.

Most of all, we need to be grateful for our families, just as my father was for my mother.  If we thank God every day for our families, this very attitude of thanksgiving will cover a multitude of sins and help us get through difficult times.  If we commit ourselves to spend time with the members of our families and show them our support in small and routine ways, the benefits will be reaped for generations to come.  It was this Holy Family’s pilgrimage to the temple in Jerusalem that enabled them to give thanks to God, and it enabled others who were righteous to give thanks to God by their inspiration.