December 23, 2005

Faith and Family / Sean Gallagher

Family life was redeemed at Christ’s birth

In a Christmas homily delivered some 1,500 years ago, Pope St. Leo the Great, reflecting on the magnitude for humanity of the Son of God taking on human flesh, exhorted his listeners, “Christian, remember your dignity.”

Indeed, the Incarnation is the hinge of history. From the time of our first parents’ fall onward, humanity was shut out of heaven, our ultimate homeland, the highest goal of all our strivings.

But when Jesus was born, our Redeemer appeared on the earth. By becoming one with us, he returned to us our dignity, renewing in our souls the divine image in which we are all created.

Now to we who believe, this truth may seem so commonplace that it might be hard for us to find the motivation to truly celebrate it with joy.

Maybe that’s one reason why so many of us (myself included) have in the past focused so much on material things at Christmas. With so many beautiful decorations and wondrous gifts before us, it can be easy to forget that all of this finds its ultimate meaning in the gift given to all of us by Christ when he was born.

But there are other things that take center stage at Christmas that might more easily turn our hearts and minds to what is truly important in the feast.

I am specifically thinking about our families. Each year, Christmas finds people taking cars, planes and trains to destinations across the country in order to spend time with their families.

When Jesus came among us, he didn’t simply drop down out of heaven fully grown. He was born into a family. Mary was his mother. Joseph, in the care he gave, is a model for all fathers.

The redemption of all humanity came through a family. And surely just as Jesus brought redemption to humanity in general in the Incarnation, he also renewed the life of the family for all time to come when he was born and grew up under the direction of his parents.

Perhaps this is a reason for the Church’s tradition of honoring the Holy Family on the Sunday following Christmas.

In his homily from so long ago, St. Leo the Great could have just as easily said, “Families, remember your dignity.”

At the same time, we can’t ignore that while redemption came with Jesus’ birth, the effects of original sin remain.

We can’t ignore it because this fact often stares us in the face most starkly in the lives of families marred by conflict, selfishness, abuse and division.

So while on the one hand the focus we place on our families at this time of year can remind of us the importance of Christmas, on the other hand we recognize that our families are far from holy.

This fact need not lead us to despair, however. For with the redemption that came to all humanity and all families in Jesus’ birth also came the divine grace that we need to overcome the sad effects of sin.

This victory will happen slowly. There will be setbacks. And we will only completely triumph when we are brought to the fullness of heaven.

But even in the midst of the small and large crosses of family life, we can take joy this Christmas in knowing that, by grace, we are able to move step by step closer to the great dignity of our families restored to us by Jesus when he was born into a family.

So at Christmas this year, pray for your own family, that the grace opened to us in Christ’s birth may bless it more and more in the year to come. Pray, too, for all other families this Christmas, that they may be blessed as well. †


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