Feast of the Holy Family
Holy Family Notre Dame Parish,
Port Alberni, BC

December 27, 2015

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"The family is the greatest gift that the world has, the greatest gift that society has and the greatest gift that a parish has. As the family goes, so goes the world. It’s not always easy; sometimes it’s hard-won and there are a lot of bumps in the road, but it is what makes the world go around."

~ Bishop Gary Gordon

My dear brothers and sisters,

    The Feast of the Holy Family is a beautiful time. It’s Christmastime. It’s beautiful for me to be here in your parish, Holy Family Parish, to be with you, my family. It’s beautiful to be with Fr. Stephen and Fr. Peter, my priestly family, and in such a beautiful church. It’s terrific that you all arranged to have snow falling when I got here. Wow, you are so wonderful! Merlin and I are just so thrilled.

    Christmastime is certainly a beautiful time to celebrate the gift of family, and the promise and hope of family, and it also brings about a fair number of challenges. Sometimes there’s little squabbles, and sometimes big family fights at Christmastime. And that’s why St. Paul tells us about some important gifts that are part-and-parcel of family life.

    One gift is: Forgiveness. Forgiveness and forgiveness some more. They never get it. Forgiveness. They always squeeze the toothpaste tube at the wrong end. Forgiveness. Forgiveness. Forgiveness. Mom, I don’t like Brussels sprouts. Forgiveness. Forgiveness. Eat your dinner. Forgiveness. Forgiveness. It goes on, and on, and on. Say “I’m sorry” to your brother. No! Go to your room. No! Wait ’til your father comes home! Forgiveness. Forgiveness and forgiveness some more. At least, that’s what I remember, from when I was a kid.

    As I reflect back, though we didn’t use the word forgiveness very often, it seemed to be at the heart of our whole family life, almost every day. I guess we weren’t perfect—how about that—and there was always a great need for forgiveness.

    Devotion was another gift. And here we find what the Holy Family shows us in today’s Gospel. They were devoted to one another, but just as importantly, they were devoted to God. It tells us that every year they would go up to the Temple: this was their practice, their devotion. They lived a devout life. They had a devotion to God. I’m sure that they went to the synagogue every Saturday, and once a year they went up to the Temple. That is where Jesus got lost. And they were so devoted they didn’t go on; they went back to look for him.

    Devotion. This is a key element that the Holy Family reveals to us in the Feast of the Holy Family. To live in devotion. And it comes about, usually hard-won, by practice. It’s called ‘virtue’. Virtuous devotion. It’s hard-won. My parents led by example. Sometimes they literally dragged my brother and I along, sometimes on a toboggan when it snowed as it has today! Not all the time, but we were boys, and we certainly had a whole lot more interest in playing hockey and soccer than we had interest in church.

    I’ll never forget the time I put it to the test. Let me share that story with you.

    I was playing hockey in Burnaby on a Rep team, and we were in a big tournament. It was just about the time when they were starting to play sports on Sundays. Imagine, there was a time they did not do that on Sundays. So, this tournament was going to be running over a Sunday, and there was a game that we were in. It was the third game of the playoffs, and it was going to take place on Sunday at 9 AM. Well, I just thought that I would go later (there weren’t any Saturday night Masses in those days). I would just go later, even though I had no idea whether there was a Mass later.

    When I grew up, we only attended one Mass; it was on Sunday at 8:30 AM. I had no idea that people would go to the church at 11 AM, in the middle of the day! One time I found out there was a later Mass, and my mother said, “Can’t we sleep in, Hugh?” And my dad said, “We go to church first thing in the morning so we can go fishing the rest of the day.” Dad was a very practical guy; there was no point in messing around. Also, the 8:30 AM Mass was the shortest because they didn’t do any singing, and Dad didn’t sing. So, that’s how I grew up. When I got ordained and found out that people actually went to church at noon, I was flabbergasted! I couldn’t believe it! Why would people do that? We were ‘early’ people.

    Anyway, back to the story … so I’m downstairs in the basement putting my hockey stuff in the hockey bag about 8:15 AM. My father calls down and he says, “We are leaving for Mass.” I said, “That’s great, Dad,” and I just keep putting my hockey stuff in the bag. Then he comes down the stairs. My goodness, how those stairs would squeak . 

    Somehow they squeaked more when he came down. There was this sort of heavy foot that would come down, even though he was a little guy. He came in, and he said, “What are you doing?”

    I said, “Well, I’m putting my stuff in my hockey bag, Dad.”

    He said, “I can see you are doing that. We’re going to Mass in about one minute. How come you haven’t got your shoes on? You’ve got your running shoes on. You can’t wear your running shoes to church; what are you doing?”

    I said, “Well, Dad, there’s a big game at 9 AM. One of the hockey moms is going to pick me up and I really need to be there because I’m the star defenseman on the team.”

    He said, “Well, that’s good, son; I’m glad. Somebody told me there was going to be a number of scouts there for the Junior A Team at the tournament.”

    I said, “That’s right, Dad, the scouts are there, this is the one shot, Dad. Scouts are coming, and I’m ready for it.” Of course, every little boy growing up, we all wanted to play in the NHL. And I was just like all the rest of them.

    So Dad says, “It’s a big game, isn’t it?” I said, “It sure is; I’ll go twice next week, Dad!” “Well, that’s good. We’re leaving, we’re going to go to church, and I guess you’re going to go play hockey.” I said, “Yeah, I think so, Dad. It’s a big game. The scouts are going to be there. This is the big shot, Dad.”

    Then he stopped and he just looked over at me and he said, “Well, you don’t have to live here either.”

    He was deadly serious. Deadly serious. I grew up in a family that had two rules. You could do anything else you wanted, but there were two rules. Never miss Mass, and Never talk back to your mother. I think our first Reading talks about respecting your mother and father. Boy, if you talked back to your mother that was World War III. You did not want to live there if that happened. I’d be grounded for eternity.

    Back to the story: I keep putting stuff in my bag. Then it hit me. Oh my Lord. Where am I going to sleep tonight? I think he’s serious. You should have seen it. I dropped that stuff, and I went up those basement stairs like a Cape Canaveral rocket. Straight up the stairs, and then through the kitchen. I don’t think I opened the door, I think I went right through the door because the screen door was broken when we came back. I went right through the door! The porch was a little patio about eight steps up from the ground. I just flew off the porch, landed in the grass, and ran.

    The car was gone from the garage. I bolted through the garage, and there it was going down the lane. And you have no idea how fast I chased that car. I got up to the car, and I hit the hood, and the back of the trunk. Dad stopped. The back door on the ’62 Chev was opened by my sassy little brother.

    And I jumped in. There wasn’t a word spoken. Except by my little brother. “I told ya!”

    I think that as I look back, it was probably the most important decision I ever made in my life. Dad never said another word. There was never any lecture or talk or anything else. It was pretty simple.

    Devotion. This is what the Holy Family shows us. It pays off. It gives great gifts, powerful dividends.

    The third thing is tenderness. And this is what St. Joseph exemplifies. We find it especially when he discovers that Mary is with child through the Holy Spirit. He’s all set to divorce her quietly, not wanting to expose her to public disgrace. This is certainly within the law. And he hears the message from the angel, that the child conceived in her womb is from the Holy Spirit. “And you are to take Mary as your wife.” At this point he’s just thinking, Are you kidding? This is going to be a disaster. My life is going to be turned upside down. You’ve got to go find somebody else, God, Angel, whoever you are in my dreams.

    But we find in Joseph a tenderness, a desire to take this on, and it’s not going to be an easy road. He has a desire to look after and take care his foster son, Jesus, and his wife, Mary. Joseph is called ‘a righteous man’ in the Bible. This righteousness, I think, is translated as tenderness. Joseph was tenderhearted. He was open to receiving the Word of God, and the message of the angel.

    I think these are two things that are probably most in need today in our families, and certainly in our world. One is devotion, old-fashioned devotion. You know, that used to be a beautiful word. We talked about wives being devoted, husbands being devoted, children being devoted, being devoted to God. It’s a good word and the Holy Family exemplifies that beautiful gift of devotion.

    I think our families and our world is in great need of tenderness. Tenderness, so our hearts are open, so we are able to say “I’m sorry” and ask for forgiveness, over, and over, and over again.

    Lastly, the first Reading speaks about taking care of our parents in their old age. It’s a beautiful thing. It’s something that is a great need in this day and time. The baby boomers are getting old. We seem to be getting older faster and faster. We have a lot of older people in our Diocese. I sometimes wonder, Where are the kids? Who is looking after these folks? Well, they’re in Toronto, they’re in Winnipeg, they’re wherever, we’re scattered all over.

    Anybody that works for the Diocese, works in one of our schools, or any of our priests, knows how I feel about taking care of parents. When Fr. William Hann’s mother was sick, I said, “Fr. William, you go home. We will take care of your parish. You can only be one place. You have to be home in Newfoundland.”

    He said, “Are you sure, Bishop?”

    I said, “I’m absolutely sure. You’ve only got one set of parents. You have to go home.”

    I have said that to employees since the day I was ordained a priest. If their parents are unwell, I say, “You get out of here, you go home, and take care of your parents as long as they need you.” I think this is really important. It’s really important. It’s something we need to do, to be a good example for the rest of our world, especially nowadays.

    I have received many gifts, but the greatest one I ever got was the gift of being able to take care of my Mom when she was ill with cancer. Dad was still alive, so he did most of it, but he was exhausted. My brother was married and had a family; he was too busy. But when you’re a priest, you get a little extra time, especially when you’re the pastor; you’re the boss. You can basically set the schedule you need. So I’d say to the Assistant, “You’re in charge. I’m going to look after my Mom.” It’s a wonderful gift when you’re a priest; you have that opportunity. That was a real blessing.

    The other real blessing was taking care of my Dad the last eight years of his life. I had him come live with me. And during the last year of his life, well, when you start to get up there, 85 year of age or so, parts just stop working as well as they used to. It’s just the way it is: your teeth don’t fit right, and you’ve got this ailment, and you’ve got that frailty. I spent the whole year making an appointment for the doctor with Dad, going to the doctor with Dad, or coming back from the doctor with Dad. It was just what I did. And it was a blessing that he lived with me. I don’t think I could ever do anything better in my life than look after my parents. What a grace. What an opportunity. It wasn’t always easy, but it was a gift. The privilege of looking after my Dad in the last year of his life: Wow. I thank God for that. I pray that we all get that opportunity. It’s a blessing.

    Happy Holy Family Day: the family is the greatest gift that the world has, the greatest gift that society has and the greatest gift that a parish has. As the family goes, so goes the world. Pope Francis knows that. That’s why he called a Synod just for the family. It’s not always easy; sometimes it’s hard-won and there are a lot of bumps in the road, but it is what makes the world go around.

    Our own holy family may not be perfect, but we can forgive, be devoted, and practice tenderness.

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Apr 3, 2017

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