Bishop Anthony B. Taylor delivered this homily Dec. 31.
When you and I say “family” we usually think of the nuclear family of a husband, wife and children, even though only 36 percent of American households fit that pattern.
Twenty-eight percent of our children are in single-parent households, 30 percent of adults are unmarried, some are widowed, others divorced or never married, and unfortunately, there are many who cohabitate outside of marriage. Ten percent of our children are being raised by someone other than their natural parents, 6 percent by grandparents.
Families have become very complicated, and not just for unfortunate reasons — for instance, the joy of families who have adopted children. When it comes right down to it, a shared bloodline is not what makes a family, that’s just our pedigree. What makes a family is commitment to each other, marriage and parenting rooted in faith in each other, which for a believer is rooted also in our commitment to the Lord.
That’s why marriage is sacred and the breakdown of family unity so troubling, not only for sociological reasons, but above all for reasons of faith.
Today we celebrate the feast of the Holy Family, which we usually think of as the nuclear family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph. But we know from Jesus’ own words that he considers part of his family everyone who does the will of God: Who are my mother, brother and sister? Anyone who hears the word of God and keeps it.
So, membership in Jesus’ family has nothing to do with a shared pedigree — Joseph himself was Jesus’ foster father, not a blood relative at all. Jesus’ Holy Family writ large is based not on bloodline but rather on a commitment to the Lord.
Jesus’ Holy Family writ large is, of course, the Church, the community of believers in which we are all brothers and sisters of Jesus, and thus also of each other, which is what makes all the disputes and divisions within Christianity so scandalous to believers and non-believers alike, and is our greatest obstacle to the spread of the Gospel.
We Catholics are by far the largest part of Jesus’ family of believers — well over half of all Christians worldwide are Catholic — but the rest of Jesus’ family is very fragmented and we ourselves are not as united as we ought to be. The World Almanac lists 137 distinct Protestant and Orthodox denominations in the United States alone, not counting the many thousands of non-denominational one-of-a-kind churches that are not united with anyone else.
We clearly have the best pedigree — founded directly by Jesus on Peter, 2,000 years of unbroken apostolic succession — but what is most important is our commitment to the Lord, and these separated brothers and sisters are believers in Jesus too, thus part of Jesus’ Holy Family too. So just as we pray and work for the unity of our own individual families, so also should we pray and work for the unity of Jesus’ family — our family —the Church.
What makes us Church is our commitment to the Lord and each other. That’s why Christian unity is sacred and the fragmentation of Jesus’ family — our family — so troubling, not only for sociological reasons, but above all for reasons of faith.
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