Archbishop DiNoia on the Holy Family: What do we know and what does it mean?…
(CUSA) – In the temple at age twelve we first hear Jesus speak. He was thinking of his Father in heaven and his family on earth. Recognizing his mission and being obedient at the same time.
We have the same duty to look to heaven and see how to fulfill our obligations with the people around us today, especially our family.
This homily is by Archbishop J. Augustine DiNoia, O.P., during his 2015 Christmas visit to the friars throughout Washington, D.C. —Ed.
HOMILY OF ARCHBISHOP AUGUSTINE DINOIA
Feast of the Holy Family
Sirach 3:2-6, 12-14 / 1 Jn 3:1-2, 21-24 / Luke 2:41-52
Brothers and sisters in Christ.
“See what love the Father has bestowed on us that we may be called children of God…We are God’s children now; what we shall be has not yet been revealed. We do know that when it is revealed we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is” (1 Jn 3:1-2).
Here St. John is speaking of the divine desire that is at the heart of all the Christmas celebrations, including today’s feast of the Holy Family: nothing less than God’s desire to share the communion of Trinitarian life with us.
In the Incarnation Christ becomes one of us so that he can make us like himself, adopting us in the Holy Spirit as children—sons and daughters—of the Father.
Thus we sing at Christmas: “The Father’s Word on high doth take / A mortal form for mortals’ sake / … He took our flesh, to man akin / In all things like us, save in sin / That he might make our mortal race / Like God and like himself by grace” (“Puer Natus Est in Bethlehem”).
St. Athanasius puts it with characteristic directness: “the Son of God became man so that we might become God” (On the Incarnation, 54, 3)—always with the objective of making us sharers in the communion of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. This is what Christmas is all about.
How can we understand it? Well, we know that a shared human nature is basic to all our relationships with other people. We can’t have a relationship with human nature in the abstract, can we? It is only with particular human beings that we can have such relationships. There is no substitute for knowing and loving particular people whom we can see, hear, address, touch, hold, and kiss. These people have names, they have families, they live somewhere, they have ethnic and social backgrounds, and so on.
Something like this is also true of our relationship with the Triune God. To bring us into the communion of Trinitarian life, God the Son of God first enters into the round of human existence and thus begins to adapt his saving action to our nature. We come to know Christ as a fellow human, born of the Virgin Mary by the power of the Holy Spirit, like us in all things but sin.
We can hear him and see him—or at least imagine what he might look like. He has a voice that we can listen to, and he has arms that can embrace us. The Gospel genealogy lays out his ancestry for us. We know that his grandparents were called Joachim and Ann, and that Mary and Joseph are his virgin mother and his foster father.
We know that he was born in Bethlehem and lived in Palestine under Roman rule. We know that he was Jewish and spoke Aramaic. There can be no doubt that Jesus is a fellow human being, and yet very God.
In order to draw us into his own divine life, Christ is among us as really and truly one of us. To be sure, we can’t deny that God could have accomplished our salvation in other ways, but given our human nature and given his purposes known to us only by faith, to make it possible for us to meet him and know him personally makes a lot of sense.
God adapts himself to us, always with the objective of making us his children and thus adapting our nature to his. For how could we share in the communion of Trinitarian life if we were not made sharers—“partakers”—of the divine nature (2 Peter 1:4)? What the Son of God is by nature, we become by the grace of adoption.
We can see that Jesus’s social and family ties are among the circumstances of his life that significantly establish his humanity for us. He has a family just as we do. During these Christmas days, we have been spiritually and liturgically present with the Holy Family at his birth, gazing with love at the infant Jesus asleep in the hay, with Mary and Joseph at his side, with the ox and ass, with the shepherds below and the angels above.
Today the scene shifts. It’s twelve years on. Jesus has traveled with Mary and Joseph to the temple in Jerusalem for the feast of Passover—a momentous pilgrimage for him this year because the coming of adolescence initiates a period of more intense formation in the Jewish faith. It is on the return journey from Jerusalem to Nazareth that a very serious family crisis develops when Jesus appears to be lost: “The boy Jesus remained behind in Jerusalem, but his parents did not know it.”