Weekly Homily from Fr Jim Hogan, Feast of the Holy Family, December 28, 2014

My apologies for once again posting this after the fact.  I was a bit under the weather these last few days.  When you go to the USCCB website for the readings, please note that there are alternate readings for all three readings.  Look for the ones that match what is listed below….Reyanna

•Genesis 15:1-6; 21:1-3 • Hebrews 11:8, 11-12, 17-19 • Luke 2:22-40•

Scripture Readings: Feast of the Holy Family

Recently the maternal side of my family celebrated the funeral of one of my uncles.  He was a very good man. I think he was a holy man. On the occasion of a funeral any dysfunction or discord within a family often becomes evident.  People simply are vulnerable and grief guides the family interactions.

I refer to family funerals because my uncle’s funeral (the maternal side of my family!) is still in my heart, and our liturgical calendar designates today as the Feast of the Holy Family. Devotional awareness of the Holy Family gradually became popular in the 17th century.  It was only in 1921 that Benedict XV inserted the feast into the liturgical calendar of the Latin Rite church.  This feast is not about a pious devotion.  It calls us to a theology and spirituality to be lived in a real world populated by real people like you.

The gospel today is one of several biblical annunciations in the Christian bible.  The authors used such stories to indicate the deeper meanings of their story.  In other words, biblical annunciation stories like the stories of “Simeon – a man who lived with prayerful expectations of help for Israel,” and “the prophetess Anna” are literary devises.  They are not verbatim reports of events that happened. They are not to be taken literally but read or heard as pointers to deeper truths!

Simeon’s canticle sounds like a prediction.  It is not.  When Luke was writing his gospel, toward the end of the first century, the vast majority of Jews already had rejected “the reform of Judaism that Jesus had championed.”  So through Simeon’s words, Luke is explaining what already had happened.

“This child is destined for the fall and rise of many in Israel.” The Romans already had destroyed the city of Jerusalem and the Great Temple.  The decision of the Jews to reject Jesus and his vision was a fact and non-Jews were becoming Christians.  Through the words of Simeon, Luke tells us that all of this happened because Jesus is “a God-revealing light to the non-Jewish nations!”

The Human Genome Project is a tool I find helpful in understanding the remainder of Simeon’s words.  Every human being inherits DNA from our ancestors.  Deeply woven into our DNA are the remnants of various primal instincts that enabled our ancestors to survive, thrive and reproduce.  Fear, self-preservation, anger, jealousy and sex are only a few of those primal instincts.  They are charged with enormous energy.  If we do not channel and sublimate that energy in creative ways, it manifests itself in behavior or acts that are less than human.

Now back to the gospel text.  There in the Temple, Luke’s Simeon acknowledges Jesus, is “a figure misunderstood and contradicted” and will be like “the pain of a sword-thrust though you.” Our popular piety understood this as reference to the anguish of Mary in witnessing the death of her son.  In Luke’s gospel Mary is not present on Golgotha, so this imagery of “a sword” must mean something else.

Scholars suggest it may mean the historical Jesus challenges us to “discern what God is doing” among us; to decide one way or the other about his teaching and lifestyle.  Luke implies the historical Jesus is like “a sword” that penetrates my heart revealing who I really am.  Mary, the family of Jesus, his contemporaries, all generations since, and now we, must decide.  Do I embrace his vision or consider him insane?  Do I think his teaching and life-style is of God, or simply unrealistic.  These are decisions most of us would rather not be forced to make.

If I embrace his vision, his teaching and his life-style, the consequences can seem painful.  He is the first among us to sublimate the energy of his primal instincts into unconditional, universal love. In doing so he is the first among us to become fully human.  That is the invitation, the challenge this feast sets before us—to sublimate the energy of our primal instincts into unconditional love.  That is the only path to becoming fully human and fully alive.



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