Feast of the Holy Family: Being a Real Man, A Real Woman, A True Child of God
During this time a year, parishes get quite a number of phone calls from very excited young people announcing that they became engaged on Christmas Day and wanting to begin preparations for their wedding. Actually, that is not totally correct. They want to begin preparations for their marriage. Over the last number of years, I have found that most young people are far more concerned about making a life together, their marriage, than they are about the exciting day of their wedding.
What is it that a young girl is looking for in a husband? What is it that a young man is looking for in a wife? Hopefully, once the intense infatuation of the initial months of romance subsides, the girl or guy starts considering the person who has come into his or her life. Is he a real man? Is she a real woman? Will he be a good father to our children? Will she be a good mother?
On this, the feast of the Holy Family, it makes sense to ask: what makes a man a real man, what makes a woman a real woman? And we can add, what makes a child, a real child? The answers are found if we look at the Holy Family.
St. Joseph was a real man. He provided for the Holy Family, working as a carpenter. He protected the Holy Family, even going to the length of going into exile in Egypt when Herod was trying to kill the newborn Messiah. So the real man provides and protects. Joseph did more than that, though. He kept a union with God. Even before he took Mary into his home, Joseph’s union with God was so strong that he saw things as God saw them. He had wisdom. That explains why he would not expose Mary to the law. She probably would have been stoned to death. She was a young girl, who, he thought, did something wrong and became pregnant, but she didn’t deserve being ridiculed and killed over this. He had decided to send her away. Then Joseph dreamed, and the angel Gabriel told him not to be afraid to take Mary. Just the fact of having a dream about doing the will of God tells us that Joseph’s mind was focused in the right direction. Joseph, the man of faith, trusts in the angel, trusts in God, and establishes the Holy Family. Mary would not be a single Mom. She would be a wife. The child would have a father present, even though no one but them would realize that this was an adoptive father.
The real man that the Christian girl wants, the real man who heads our families, is not afraid to stand up to the pressures of the world to do what is best for his family. He provides a Christian home, and he protects his family from all that might assault it. I was blessed to have a father like that, and I hope you were too. I remember when cable TV came out and disgusting things became available for all, my father saying, “Not in my house.” I know for a fact, that so many of our homes are blessed to have Dads who make it quite clear to their children what will and will not take place in their homes. Their motto is that of Joshua in the Old Testament, “As for me and my family, we will serve the Lord.” That’s Joshua 24:15. It takes courage to be the one who will stand up to society. It takes courage to be a real man. It also takes prayer. Many of our men say a prayer over their children when they look in on them at night, and over their wives if they have to get up to leave early in the morning. As I told our girls who heard a young married man saying that he does this every day, “That’s the type of guy you marry.” The man who puts his family in the hands of God is a real man, a man like Joseph, the head of the Holy Family.
So much for the guys. What makes a woman a real woman? It is so sad that in our sex crazed world women are reduced to their physical characteristics. A girl’s body may be that of a super-model, but that does not make her a real woman, at least not for a Christian. Again, we need to look towards the Holy Family, in this case, towards, Mary. A real woman, a real Christian woman, nurtures her children and her family. Mary kept a union with God that was open to his Presence within her. Then, she carried the child within in what the Second Preface of Advent beautifully calls, love beyond all telling. She brought the child within over the hill country to visit her cousin Elizabeth, to help care for Elizabeth and to celebrate their pregnancies. Before birth a child is held just under his or her mother’s heart. Mary’s child was held beneath a heart full of love not just for him, but for other’s.
Mary made the sacrifice of her reputation to protect her child. She made the sacrifice of allowing Joseph to care for her and the child, even though this meant leaving her homeland because Joseph was determined to go into exile. She nurtured her child with her body and then throughout her life, cared for him, supported him, and sacrificed herself over and over again for him even though she knew that “a sword would pierce her hear,” as Simeon foretold.
The real Christian woman is a woman who sacrifices, a woman who nurtures and a woman whose union with God makes Him present in her home. Sure as a young lady she is physically beautiful. All young girls are beautiful. But real beauty comes in the steps a girl takes away from the temptation to be self absorbed. Look at our Moms and grand-moms. They are truly beautiful. Their beauty comes in the sacrifice they make for their children, their husband, even when their sacrifices drain them.
The real Christian woman nurtures her children and her family, not just with physical food, but with spiritual food. Who taught you your first prayers? Perhaps it was Mommy and Daddy, but most likely Daddy was at work when Mommy was spending time with you teaching you to pray. When Mom had you in the car and stopped by Church to say a prayer, she was nurturing not just her spiritual life, but, through her example, your spiritual life. It is true, the Mom is the heart of the family, particularly when she is united to the Immaculate Heart of Mary. A woman of sacrifice, who nurtures with the Presence of God is a real woman. Or as we would tell our Teens, “Guys, when you meet a girl like that, marry her.”
What makes a child a real Christian child? This is simple, like Jesus, a real Christian child is a child of God. No, we are not conceived through the Holy Spirit, only the Word that became flesh was physically conceived by God. But we have been made children of God through the sacrifice of Jesus. Jesus became one with us so we can become one with God. A real Christian child is a Daughter of God, a Son of God. A real Christian child respects himself or herself, this respect is really a recognition of God’s presence within. In the Holy Family Jesus spent the first part of his life subject to his parents, who were present to protect and nurture him. He respected the Presence that worked through them. That commandment about Honoring our Fathers and Mothers is a call to recognize and respect God’s Presence in our parents. When Jesus became a man, Joseph was no longer present, he most likely had passed away, but Jesus was adamant in respecting and caring for his mother, entrusting her to the disciple John from the cross. Real Christian children respect their parents throughout their lives.
Today we ask the Lord to help husbands be real men, men who protect, provide and unite their families to God. We pray that wives be real women, women who nurture, sacrifice and are the heart of their families. And we pray that young people may take the steps they need to take away from self absorption and into the reality of Christian life so that when their time comes, they may form Holy Families, families that raise children of God.