God’s Plan for the Survival of the Family
Sunday December 26, 2004 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Feast of the Holy Family
Reading I (Sirach 3:2-6, 12-14) Reading II (Colossians 3:12-21)
Gospel (St. Matthew 2:13-15, 19-23)
Today we celebrate a feast that in our society has become really one of the most important of the liturgical events of the year, that is, the Feast of the Holy Family. This is something that just a couple of generations ago nobody would have believed would have had the kind of importance that it does today, because everybody understood that the family is the foundation of the Church and of society, and everything within the Church and within society was at the support of the family. But that has changed. Everything within the Church certainly (at least in Her official teachings) is still at the support of the family, but society has changed very drastically in the last couple of generations. It has turned against its own self because it is attacking its own foundation.
Consequently, what is happening in our society is that we are trying to redefine what a family is. It has become anything that anyone wants it to be. If two people live together outside of marriage, that has become a family. If two people of the same sex want to say that they are “in love” with one another, that is a family. If you have all sorts of bizarre arrangements of differing groups of people – as it has become now, they switch off and do various things – they call that a family. And the ones who are paying a price for this are the innocent: the children. So today we have young people who have no conscience. We have young people who do not know who they are as human beings, as male or female. They do not know how to be in a relationship because the very relationship that is supposed to model for them what a family is, and what a male-female relationship is to be, has been completely destroyed or has been altered to such a degree that one can hardly recognize it anymore. Consequently we have very, very confused young people.
The tragedy of this is that in the next generation we have all kinds of young people who are going to try to get married, but they do not know what marriage even is because they have not seen it and they have not experienced it. Because they are human, their hearts, like all of ours, long to be loved and long to give love, but they do not even know what it is because they have not experienced that either. In all too many situations in our society, two very selfish people beget children; and rather than loving them, these two individuals who begot the child continue to be totally selfish. We stick children in front of the TV now for hours to baby-sit them. We give them violent videogames so they learn from an early age that killing is not a problem. We present them with all sorts of immoral things. We have children now who can run around the Internet far better than most adults can. And I suspect that most of us have probably heard that the vast majority of the queries on the Internet are all about sex. Considering the age of the people who are often on the Internet, that should tell us exactly what is happening to these precious young minds. So we see that in this redefinition of the family that is being attempted in our society, not only is the family being destroyed, but the most precious commodity that any society has is being destroyed – and that is our beautiful children. Because of this, the society itself is being destroyed.
The answer to all of these problems is a very simple one, but it requires that we are going to have to go against the grain of society. The answer is the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony and the family, not the way that society has defined the family to be, but the way that God has defined the family to be. So we need to look at the factors that are present that are destroying the fibers of the family.
We have to begin with the very dignity of the human person. Even before we look at the dignity of the human person in general, we need to recognize first and foremost the dignity of the one who is the foundation of the family, that is, the woman. In our society, women have been relegated to objects. They are not only just mere objects, but they are disposable objects in this disposable society. Little girls are being taught from all of the filth they see all over the place that they are created to be ogled. Little boys are being taught that it is perfectly acceptable to look at little girls in a way that is completely inappropriate. We now have young women running around wearing hardly anything because they believe that is what they are supposed to be doing. Everybody else, of course, is doing it, so that supposedly makes it okay.
We have young men who are addicted to pornography. The addiction to pornography is extremely serious, not merely that it is an epidemic, but it is more difficult to overcome an addiction to pornography than it is to overcome an addiction to drugs. And do not think this is some merely harmless thing, because, as I continually point out in the confessional, if you look at one woman as an object and you make her into a thing and violate her dignity, you cannot go home and treat your wife with the dignity of a person and love her. If one woman is an object, so is the next. Gentlemen, all you need to do is take the logic and run it out. If one woman who is allowing her own self to be violated by removing her clothing and allowing her pictures to be portrayed all over the place, that does not give any of us a right, just because she is presenting herself in an undignified way, to violate her dignity as well. She is still a human person made in the image and likeness of God, and she still has the full dignity that God has given to her, even if she herself is not upholding it. We do not have a right to fail to uphold it. But if that young woman is just a thing for us to be lusting after, then not only is your wife in that same position, but so is your daughter, and so is your mother, and so is every other woman.
It does not just stop with the idea that women are objects to be ogled because now they can be objects to be used. If a woman can be looked at in an impure way, she can also be approached and violated in an impure way. And our society is more than happy to present the opportunity to do so. Contraception is the single largest reason for the breakdown of marriage, and it is completely destructive of human dignity. What happens automatically when two people introduce contraception into their relationship is that the marital union becomes selfish, which is exactly the opposite of what God intended it to be. It becomes two people using one another for their own selfish pleasure, having no responsibility, and giving no gift.
In marriage, the way that God has given it to us, when two people are married their souls are united. There is a spiritual union of a husband and a wife, and the two become one. The marital embrace is the very sign of the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony. If that sign is undermined and destroyed, the marriage is going to be undermined and destroyed. Put it into a different context for a moment. The Mass is the greatest expression of the priesthood. What would you think if a priest were at the altar being completely irreverent, not properly vested, not using the proper matter and form for the sacraments, doing all kinds of foolish and unfortunate things at the altar of God? I would hope that you would be duly outraged by the sacrilege that is happening. If the union of husband and wife in their physical embrace is the very sign of their marriage, what does it say about how much they think of their marriage if they are going to destroy the very sign of that marriage?
On the day that a couple gets married, they vow to one another and to God that they will love each other every day for the rest of their lives. As soon as they contracept, it is no longer an act of love – it is an act of using one another – and it violates not only the dignity of the person, but it violates the marriage vows and it violates the very purpose of human sexuality as God has created it. It undermines everything in the marriage. If it is okay to use one another in that perspective, then it is perfectly acceptable to use one another in any other form. This is exactly what our children are seeing: two parents who have no respect for one another, two parents who do not love one another, because we have two parents who are being selfish toward one another.
What we need to do is get back to the very basics of what God Himself has given to us in marriage. We hear it at the end of the second reading today. After Saint Paul tells us that we are to practice patience, meekness, humility, and so on, he tells us then that we have to put all of this together and bind it up with love. And then he tells us what people in our society do not understand and do not want to hear: Wives, be subordinate to your husbands; and husbands, love your wives. This does not mean, “Women, you are now the slave of the household; and husbands, you can just snap your finger and think your wife should do anything you want.” But rather, the word subordinate means “to be under the order of”. That does not mean to be “under order to”, but rather “under the order of”. So what is the order that is given to the husband? To love his wife. That means to seek her good, to always serve her, to do what is the best for her. And so to be under the order of means “to be beneath the order of your husband”; in other words, to allow yourself to be loved and to love in return. It is a very different perspective than what most people think when they read these readings, but it is absolutely essential. If the two people love one another and allow themselves to be loved by one another, they build one another up and they help one another to grow in holiness.
The marital union of husband and wife must be a prayer. It is holy. It is the sign of your sacrament. Again, what would you say about a priest at the altar who is not praying? I would say the exact same thing about a married couple who is using one another, where their embrace is not something that is holy but just the opposite. Because the marriage is a spiritual union first and foremost, it must be built up spiritually. A couple has to pray together, and then that spiritual union is going to have a spiritual expression in the physical realm when the two are united in marriage. When the couple is accepting their own dignity – first of all, as male and female, when they accept and uphold the dignity of the other as male and female, when they are building up their marriage through spirituality and prayer, and when the expression of their marriage becomes something which is truly holy – there is going to be an unbreakable foundation and the children that issue forth from that union are going to see the example of two people who truly love one another, and they are going to understand who they are.
A child is the living, tangible, and fleshed sign of the love of a husband and a wife. When you look at your children as a married person, you should be able to see in that beautiful little face the love you have for your spouse and the love your spouse has for you in a living human form. That is why children are to be conceived in love, raised in love, and filled with love. They are to understand and experience love, not only by what their parents shower upon them, but especially by the example that they see in the marriage union in the relationship of their parents. That is the call that is given to married couples. That is the call that is given to the Christian family: to be holy, to help one another to become saints, and to raise up new saints for God. There is only one way that we can become saints, and that is to love, to become who God created us to be, and to raise up children to be the persons God created them to be.
So this Feast of the Holy Family is a time, once again, for married couples to renew their commitment, to look at the love of Our Lady and Saint Joseph, to model themselves after such perfect love, to accept their own dignity, the dignity of their spouse and the dignity that God has given to the two of them in re-creating them to become one on the day that they got married, to build up that unity through prayer and through true love, so that the end result will be two saints who are parents and a multitude of new saints who are their children.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.