[HOMILY] American Individualism and the Holy Family
My sister moved to Butte a few years ago. She told me a story that shortly after arriving, she was introducing herself to an elderly woman at her workplace. She only introduced herself by her first name and the woman immediately asked, “What is your last name?” She told her, the woman thought for a bit then asked, “What’s your maiden name?” My sister told her that as well, she thought for a while, surely climbing all around on that mysterious Butte family tree all the way out to the smallest branches, then concluded: “I don’t know those names.” The conversation was over, she lost interest in my sister- she did not know her.
It’s interesting to think of names, why they matter, what they mean. I have been pondering this a lot since coming to Butte because of how incredibly important they are here. I have concluded that it is a very good thing to care about names. My name matters because my family matters. If there is one thing the city of Butte knows well, its family. I grew up caring very much for my family but somehow simultaneously wrapped up in the individualistic culture of America which told me “family is great but you need to make it on your own, buddy.” It is as though our culture presents the idea to us that we all ought to be lone wolves, always carving our own path.
There is, of course, some truth to the idea that we need to make our own way, claim our lives as our own. But the impression that our family is not a crucial part of that process — that it isn’t essential to who we are — is foreign to the whole history of humanity! Alexis De Tocqueville had a funny critique of Americans saying we are a country of free men and women standing side by side, yet refusing to hold hands.
I love Butte because this town transcends the individualistic mess. You care deeply about your family. I don’t want to make Butte out to be some utopia, but I have noticed the tremendous importance family life has in your lives- and not just the nuclear family, but the extended family, all the way out the shirttail relatives. Family pride is so strong here, and that points to something deep, something I think we learn from contemplating the holy family.
When we ponder on the Holy Family- what do we think? What do we imagine their home life looked like? It’s hard to wrap our minds around it but I think we can gain a few insights from the Scriptures we are given. First, Jesus was obedient to his parents. One thing we know for sure is that there could never have been a prideful moment of parenting in that Nazareth home, if for no other reason than the knowledge of who you are guiding. This makes for a wonderful contemplation- How often do you make parenting decisions based on pride? How often are you unwilling to be corrected- by spouse, friend, or even child- when you’re wrong? It is always better to take the road of humility.
In the Holy Family, there was always careful consideration for the good of the other. This circle of three were always concerned with each other’s good and not their own. We see in our gospel the great moment in the temple, the great prophecy that left the child’s father and mother amazed at what was said about him. Yet, even amidst the miraculous moments of parenting the Son of God, the Messiah, there were surely 1000s of totally mundane moments. Fulton Sheen points out that Jesus spent three hours on the Cross, three days in the tomb, three years teaching, 30 years being obedient.
That is parenting- the daily grind. Yet, amidst that daily grind there are so many beautiful moments where you are forced to act outside yourself, forced to put your own needs aside for the one you love, and this is the road to holiness. Remember these moments, don’t let them pass you by, learn something from them. Do as Mary and Joseph and ponder all these things in your heart.
Another wonderful thing we can learn from the Holy Family is the true meaning of spousal love. Joseph, out of love of Mary, remained chaste. She was destined from the beginning to be consecrated to God and Joseph accepted that. He is the model of the chaste father- which is why he is also such a great model for me as a priest- but through this self-sacrifice, he teaches us to love our spouse for their own sake, not for our own gain. Sometimes this requires heroic sacrifice.
Also, Joseph teaches to always take a posture of humility in marriage- you as spouses are responsible to get one another to heaven, that is your mission. That is a mission beyond your capacity, you by yourself are incapable of doing the primary task of your vocation. This ought to give you a sense of humility. Yet, whenever God demands something great, he gives us the tools to accomplish the task. No matter the situation in which you find your marriage, no matter how difficult it seems to be now, God is giving you the grace to live it out heroically.
You are Butte people, you know family is worth fighting for, work to live the interior life of the Holy Family, really work for it. Jesus knows us, he knows the struggle it is for us to love our family well, so we can be assured that the favor of God is upon us in this endeavor- take courage and live this heroic vocation well!