By Fr Munachi Ezeogu, cssp
Homily for Feast of the Holy Family - Based on the Epistle
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We Are Family

1 Samuel 1:11, 20-22, 24-28 1 John 3:1-2, 21-24 Luke 2:41-52

A teacher was teaching his Sunday school kids about the importance of the family and things that money cannot buy. “Money can’t buy laughter and it can’t buy love” he told them. To illustrate his point he said, “What would you do if I offered you $1,000 not to love your mother and father?” The whole class fell silent. Finally a small voice queried, “How much would you give me not to love my big sister?” Evidently it is easier to love vertically than to love horizontally. The love between parents and children or grand-parents and grand-children comes more easily to us than the love between siblings. On this feast of the Holy Family, the second reading reminds us of the need to love one another since we are all children of the one family of God.

When we talk of the Holy Family (capitals letters), our mind goes to the family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph. But there is another holy family (small letters), the larger family of God, the family constituted by all who call God their Father, the family of the children of God. The reading starts off by reminding us of the great mystery of God’s love which has made us into real children of God. “See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are” (1 John 3:1). Even though for John the details of our final transformation on the Last Day are not yet clear, two things are clear: (a) we are God's children now, and (b) on the Last Day, we will become like God. “Beloved, we are God's children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is” (1 John 3:3). John establishes the fact that we are God’s children, and therefore, we are family. He is not saying that we should or we will be family in the future. No, he says that we are family now. When we celebrate the feast of the Holy Family, we celebrate ourselves as God’s children, for we also are a holy family.

Having established the fact of what we already are, John goes on to point out how we should conduct ourselves in light of whom we are. Being children of God brings with it a twofold responsibility. “And this is his commandment, that we should believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us” (1 John 3:23). You can describe this twofold responsibility as faith and neighbourly love, or love of God and love of neighbour. As believers we are God’s children. We are family. But we still have the choice to be true or false members of the family of God. True children of God are those who strive to live by the twofold commandment of love of God and love of neighbour. Here again we see the two dimensions, vertical and horizontal.

The vertical dimension, as we said, appears to be the easier one. It is fairly easy to proclaim one’s faith in God and protest one’s love of God in pious hymns and prayers. The test for the authenticity of our faith claims, however, lies in the horizontal dimension: How do we measure in terms of practical love of our neighbour? John will state this principle more clearly in chapter 4 where he says, “Those who say, ‘I love God,’ and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen” (1 John 4:20).

On this feast of the Holy Family, the Church invites us, through the First Letter of John, to become in practice what we are indeed. We are family, let us live like family. We start by making our natural families into more loving homes. To measure how much you are contributing into making your family a loving home ask yourself how much of the three A’s – Attention, Affection, and Appreciation – you are giving to each and every member of your family. We all need to give, as well as receive, the three A’s in order to love and feel loved. Next to the home, the church should be a family – an extended family – where we give and receive love. Take time today to look to your right or your left and notice a man, woman, teenager or child who could do with a little bit more of attention, affection and appreciation. Sure enough, our neighbour is found outside the home and the church, but if we can start being more loving in the home and the church we would be taking practical steps in living like members of the family of God that we are.

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