Bishop Anthony B. Taylor delivered this homily at the Come and See retreat in Little Rock Dec. 29.
Today we celebrate the feast of the Holy Family and each year at this time we have the opportunity to thank God for the families he gave us.
There are ways in which our families of origin resemble the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph and ways in which we fall short of the holiness we see in them.
Mary was a woman who heard God’s call to become the mother of our Savior the day of the Annunciation and with that, her vocation story began. She told the angel, “Yes, let it be done according to thy word.” She didn’t know how it was all going to work out, but if that was what God wanted, she would do it.
In today’s Gospel Joseph, who already had responded to God’s initial call in a dream that he should take Mary as his wife, despite her hard-to-explain pregnancy, now responds to a call within the call in another dream, telling him that they should flee to Egypt and live there as refugees for the protection of their child until it was safe to return.
They created a family that lived by faith and in which Jesus, already from childhood, was supported in carrying out the mission for which he was born. As a 13-year-old in the Temple he said, “Don’t you know that I must be about my Father’s business?” His vocation. His role in God’s plan.
My own family resembled the Holy Family in that my parents provided us a family that lived by faith and in which each of us was supported in carrying out the mission for which we were born — some as married people in secular professions, me as priest and now bishop, all still active in the Catholic faith.
I came to know God’s call in my life gradually, already in some ways from childhood, but much more explicitly starting in about 11th grade. I had been an altar boy in Latin starting in third grade and had to transfer to public school in fifth and sixth grade due to my mother’s illness. It was there that as a fifth grader I had to explain my faith to non-Catholic schoolmates for the first time, which really firmed up my Catholic identity and understanding of our beliefs.
I talked my parents into letting me ride my bike across town in seventh and eighth grades so I could go to the Catholic school again, but my faith had been strengthened by those two years away. Through the death of Dr. Martin Luther King in eighth grade the Lord got me reflecting on the fact that being a faithful Christian required more than me just saying my prayers, avoiding sin and trying to get my own soul into heaven. Rather it also required that I do my part to make the world a better place like Dr. King did, doing my part to build the Kingdom of God here already on earth.
Indeed, if I didn’t participate in building the Kingdom of God now in this life, how did I expect to share in the life of the Kingdom of God in the life to come? And with that my journey of discernment was launched consciously and for real.
I went to a Come and See retreat in Oklahoma City. I looked into the Jesuits but felt that the Lord was calling me to be a parish priest. In 12th grade in public high school I wrote a paper about celibacy, much to the surprise of my teacher.
At this time, I had the implicit support of my family for whatever I felt called to do, but I also experienced a lot of initial reluctance due to their fear for me because they loved me and didn’t want me to be hurt.
My mother in particular had known some unhappy priests, and this was the early 70s, when priests were leaving the ministry in droves.
I said, “Well Mom, haven’t you known any unhappy married people?” And I could have pointed out that at that same time married people were getting divorced in droves too.
There is a whole lot more I could say, this is only chapter 1 of my story, but it is the chapter that I think most relates to where I was at my own Come and See retreat, especially as this relates to today’s feast of the Holy Family — our great model for how to respond to God’s call, to say yes to his will and to walk by faith as you embrace your role in what you pray for every day in the Lord’s Prayer: “thy kingdom come” — not my kingdom or yours; “thy will be done” — not our will, but his; “on earth” — by us, here and now; “as it is in heaven” — meaning completely.
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