Feast of the Holy Family (B)
December 31, 2023
Fr. John Colacino C.PP.S.








O God, who were pleased to give us
the shining example of the Holy Family,
graciously grant that we may imitate them
in practicing the virtues of family life and in the bonds of charity,
and so, in the joy of your house,
delight one day in eternal rewards.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
God, for ever and ever. Amen.

First Reading Gn 15:1-6;21:1-3

The word of the LORD came to Abram in a vision, saying:
"Fear not, Abram!
I am your shield;
I will make your reward very great."
But Abram said,
"O Lord GOD, what good will your gifts be,
if I keep on being childless
and have as my heir the steward of my house, Eliezer?"

Abram continued,
"See, you have given me no offspring,
and so one of my servants will be my heir."
Then the word of the LORD came to him:
"No, that one shall not be your heir;
your own issue shall be your heir."

The Lord took Abram outside and said,
"Look up at the sky and count the stars, if you can.
Just so," he added, "shall your descendants be."
Abram put his faith in the LORD,
who credited it to him as an act of righteousness.

The LORD took note of Sarah as he had said he would;
he did for her as he had promised.
Sarah became pregnant and bore Abraham a son in his old age,
at the set time that God had stated.
Abraham gave the name Isaac to this son of his
whom Sarah bore him.

Responsorial Psalm Ps 105:1-2, 3-4, 5-6, 8-9 

Second Reading Heb 11:8, 11-12, 17-19 

Brothers and sisters:
By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place
that he was to receive as an inheritance;
he went out, not knowing where he was to go.

By faith he received power to generate,
even though he was past the normal age
—and Sarah herself was sterile—
for he thought that the one who had made the promise was trustworthy.
So it was that there came forth from one man,
himself as good as dead,
descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky
and as countless as the sands on the seashore.

By faith Abraham, when put to the test, offered up Isaac, 
and he who had received the promises was ready to offer
his only son,
of whom it was said,
"Through Isaac descendants shall bear your name."
He reasoned that God was able to raise even from the dead,
and he received Isaac back as a symbol.

Gospel Acclamation Heb 1:1-2 

Gospel Lk 2:22, 39-40 

When the days were completed for their purification 
according to the law of Moses, 
they took him up to Jerusalem
to present him to the Lord. 

When they had fulfilled all the prescriptions
of the law of the Lord, 
they returned to Galilee,
to their own town of Nazareth.
The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; 
and the favor of God was upon him.

Catena Nova

We see Emanuel as a newborn infant lying in a manger. In his human condition he is wrapped in swaddling clothes, but in his divine nature he is hymned by angels. Angels brought the shepherds the good news of his birth, for God the Father had given those who dwell in heaven the special privilege of being his first heralds. Today we also see him submitting to the law of Moses; or rather, we see God the lawgiver subject as man to his own decrees. … It was fitting that Christ should do everything that justice required…. When you see him keeping the law, then, do not misunderstand it, or reduce one who is free to the rank of household slaves, but reflect rather on the depths of God’s plan….The wise Evangelist helps us, then, by teaching us all the Son of God made flesh endured for our sake and in our name, and that he did not disdain to take upon himself our poverty, so that we might glorify him as Redeemer, as Lord, as Saviour, and as God; for to him, and with him to God the Father and the Holy Spirit, belong glory and power for endless ages. Amen. (St. Cyril of Alexandria)
It was not surely worldly happiness that the prudent Simeon was waiting for as the consolation of Israel, but a real happiness, that is, a passing over to the beauty of truth from the shadow of the law. For he had learnt from the sacred oracles that he would see the Lord's Christ before he should depart out of this present life.  And the Holy Spirit was in him, (by which indeed he was justified,) and he received an answer from the Holy Spirit. (St. Gregory of Nyssa)
Symeon the priest, when he took Him up in his arms to present Him before God, understood as he saw Him that he was not presenting Him, but was being himself presented. For the Son was not presented by the servant to His Father, but the servant was presented by the Son to his Lord. For it is not possible that He, by Whom every offering is presented, should be presented by another. So that He Who receives offerings gave Himself to be offered by another, that those who presented Him, while offering Him, might themselves be presented by Him.  (St. Ephrem the Syrian) 

There are remarkably few extraordinary events in the exterior life of the holy Virgin. At least there are none recorded in Holy Scripture. Her life is pictured as outwardly very ordinary and simple. She did what others in a similar state of life might do, and suffered what they might suffer. She went to visit her cousin, Elizabeth. Other relatives do that, too. She took shelter in a stable as a result of her poverty. She returned to Nazareth, from which she had been driven by the persecution of Herod, and lived there with Jesus and Joseph, who supported themselves by the work of their hands.

Such was the daily bread of the holy family. But what a divine nourishment Mary and Joseph received from this daily bread for the strengthening of their faith! It was like a sacrament to make all their moments holy! What treasures of grace lay concealed in these moments under the guise of the most commonplace events. That which was visible might happen to anyone, but the invisible, when understood and discerned by faith, was no less than God himself working great things. Bread of angels! Heavenly manna! Pearl of great value! Sacrament of the present moment! You bring God under the poor and humble appearance of the manger, the hay, and the straw! But to whom do you give him? “He has filled the hungry with good things,” (Luke 1:53). God reveals himself to the humble in the lowliest things; but the proud, who attach importance only to outward appearances, cannot find him even in great things and are sent away empty. (Jean-Pierre de Caussade)

A Song for Simeon
Grant us thy peace.
I have walked many years in this city,
Kept faith and fast, provided for the poor,
Have taken and given honour and ease.
There went never any rejected from my door.

Who shall remember my house, where shall live my children’s children
When the time of sorrow is come ?
They will take to the goat’s path, and the fox’s home,
Fleeing from the foreign faces and the foreign swords.

Before the time of cords and scourges and lamentation
Grant us thy peace.
Before the stations of the mountain of desolation,
Before the certain hour of maternal sorrow,
Now at this birth season of decease,
Let the Infant, the still unspeaking and unspoken Word,
Grant Israel’s consolation
To one who has eighty years and no to-morrow.

According to thy word,
They shall praise Thee and suffer in every generation
With glory and derision,
Light upon light, mounting the saints’ stair.
Not for me the martyrdom, the ecstasy of thought and prayer,
Not for me the ultimate vision.
Grant me thy peace.

(And a sword shall pierce thy heart,
Thine also).

I am tired with my own life and the lives of those after me,
I am dying in my own death and the deaths of those after me.
Let thy servant depart,
Having seen thy salvation.

(T. S. Eliot)

There are cultures which manifest a unique veneration and great love for the elderly: far from being outcasts from the family or merely tolerated as a useless burden, they continue to be present and to take an active and responsible part in family life, though having to respect the autonomy of the new family; above all they carry out the important mission of being a witness to the past and a source of wisdom for the young and for the future.  Other cultures, however, especially in the wake of disordered industrial and urban development, have both in the past and in the present set the elderly aside in unacceptable ways. This causes acute suffering to them and spiritually impoverishes many families. The pastoral activity of the Church must help everyone to discover and to make good use of the role of the elderly within the civil and ecclesial community, in particular within the family. In fact, "the life of the aging helps to clarify a scale of human values; it shows the continuity of generations and marvelously demonstrates the interdependence of God's people. The elderly often have the charism to bridge generation gaps before they are made: how many children have found understanding and love in the eyes and words and caresses of the aging! And how many old people have willingly subscribed to the inspired word that the 'crown of the aged is their children's children' (Prv. 17:6)!" (Pope St. John Paul II)

In imitation of the Holy Family, we are called to rediscover the educational value of the family unit: it must be founded on the love that always regenerates relationships, opening up horizons of hope. Within the family one can experience sincere communion when it is a house of prayer, when the affections are serious, profound, pure, when forgiveness prevails over discord, when the daily harshness of life is softened by mutual tenderness and serene adherence to God's will. In this way, the family opens itself to the joy that God gives to all those who know how to give joyfully. At the same time, it finds the spiritual energy to be open to the outside world, to others, to the service of brothers and sisters, to collaboration in building an ever new and better world; capable, therefore, of becoming a bearer of positive stimuli; the family evangelises by the example of life. (Pope Francis)

Homily (Updates with corrections)

     In these days of store closures due to inflation,  supply chain issues  and online shopping — you never know who's going to be next.  A while back a big box vendor — BuyBuyBaby — shut down at a local plaza.  Right next to it, however, the place had a "Now Hiring" sign in the window — PetSmart — replete with a Pet Hospital and a Pet Hostel.  I thought to myself what an interesting juxtaposition and what it might say about our culture. 
     I don't know for sure, but it seems like everyone has a dog these days.  The pandemic had something to do with it.  It was — and still is — all the craze.  Forbes reports that 66% of U.S. households own a pet.  Dogs outnumber cats 4 to 1.  And in 2022 Americans spent almost $137 billion dollars on their pets (https://www.forbes.com/advisor/pet-insurance/pet-ownership-statistics/).  Nearly all pet owners — 62% of the American population — see them as members of the family and some of those consider their pets on an equal footing with humans (https://www.pewresearch.org/short-reads/2023/07/07).  No wonder they're hiring at PetSmart.
     Maybe it's the relative cost of children versus pets.  Dogs cost anywhere between $20,000 and $55,000 over a lifetime to maintain while cats are in the $15,000 to $45,000 range (https://petwisevet.com/lifetime-cost-of-pet-ownership/). While children are racking up a bill of $237,482 over 18 years (https://www.livenowfox.com/news/how-much-costs-raise-child-in-your-state).  And pets don't go to college— not yet, at least!
     Now the United States experienced a small increase in human population last year due in part to migration and to the largest increase in births since 2007.  That little statistic, however, hides the fact that between 2007 and 2022 the nationwide birth rate dropped 23% (https://www.axios.com/2023/10/04/birth-rate-fertility-rate-decline-data-statistics-graph-2022). So I dug a little further to see whether BuyBuyBaby should change the spelling of their company to ByeByeBaby!
     Seems like population growth is projected to slow over the next 20 years according to the Congressional Budget Office and this will be due almost entirely to net immigration.  (Craven politicians might therefore do well to stop speaking of immigrants "poisoning our blood" and be grateful instead for a much needed blood infusion).  The Census Bureau reports that by 2080 the U.S. population will have peaked before edging downward by the end of the century (https://www.census.gov/newsroom/press-releases/2023/population-projections.html).  Even today, only 40% of American families have their own children under 18 living in the household (https://www.census.gov/newsroom/press-releases/2022/americas-families-and-living-arrangements.html).
     According to economist Melissa Kearney writing in the Financial Times, we are below replacement level fertility in this country — from 2.1 to 1.66 children — something that's been going on in pretty much every other affluent country.  Contrary to popular belief, the global population is expected to peak by the end of the century and then register a steadily steeper decline due to falling global fertility rates from 2.5 children to 1.9 (https://www.pewresearch.org/short-reads/2019/06/17/worlds-population-is-projected-to-nearly-stop-growing-by-the-end-of-the-century/ Among those not planning to contribute to the U.S. population are 55% of Millennials and Gen Z claiming as their main reason "wanting more time to themselves" (https://unherd.com/thepost/why-doesnt-gen-z-want-children/).  
     And there will be economic fallout as fewer workers will mean lower economic output per person resulting in a a lower standard of living, not to mention the challenges this will pose to things like Social Security and Medicare (https://www.ft.com/content/8c151cc8-811a-416c-b4ac-f22c2d2e80a3).  For example, in 2020, there were 3.5 people of working age for each retired person in the United States and by mid-century that ratio will drop to 2.6 (https://www.businessinsider.com/great-labor-shortage-looming-population-decline-disaster-global-economy-2022-10).
     Of course, there are those who welcome the prospect of depopulation.  An article in the Scientific American is titled, for instance, "Population Decline Will Change the World for the Better" — largely for environmental reasons — (https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/population-decline-will-change-the-world-for-the-better) while the less sanguine authors of EMPTY PLANET: The Shock of Global Population Decline point out how the economic fallout will itself take a heavy toll.
     Now I always feel a bit odd speaking about such things. I am, after all unmarried.  I grew up in a comfortable middle-class household.  Compared to today, my education came at a modest cost, with my religious community paying for post-graduate studies.  So no decades-long student debt.  Nor do I have concerns about Social Security and Medicare being solvent, although the average age of my order's members is 65 — we too are below replacement level — making our own seniors' future less secure.  And finally, I not have have to worry about having an annual household income of $81, 396 — which is what it costs in New York State for a family of 4 to be considered "middle-class" (https://www.consumeraffairs.com/news/are-you-still-in-the-middle-class-090823.html).
     Perhaps there is a little guidance in all of this from the two couples highlighted on this Feast of the Holy Family beginning with Abraham and Sarah.  God promised them quite a bit: land, protection, and descendants.  A lot for a man and his wife to expect in their old age.  They laughed at the thought of it.  Yet God promised, so Abraham put his faith in the Lord. (I)  And sure enough, along came Isaac.  So it was that there came forth from one man, himself as good as dead, descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as countless as the sands on the seashore. All because Abraham thought that [God] who had made the promise was trustworthy — even after the prospect of facing the loss of his son Isaac. (II)
     And of course, we have Mary and Joseph, who could only afford what the poor offered when their Child was presented in the temple — a pair of turtledoves to two young pigeons (G).  No middle-class types these. More poignant were the fateful words Simeon prophesied about the Child and his Mother: the one would be a sign that will be contradicted while the other a sword would pierce (cf. G).  Not the happiest prospects facing the young couple.  Still, they, like Abraham and Sarah, knew the favor of God was upon them (G).  As well might we, lest the whole human race lament with Abraham, O Lord GOD, what good will your gifts be? (I)


For the church: that God will form us into a family of faith that encourages and supports one another in living the Gospel more fully each day.

For all senior citizens: that like Simeon and Anna, they may continually build up their community by prayer, witness, and loving service.

For families who are suffering: that God will reunite families that have been separated at the border, help those in refugee camps to support one another, and keep parents in prison in communication with their children.

For all who have no families: that those who have been orphaned, alienated, or rejected by their families may experience love, acceptance, and belonging through this Christian community.

For families wounded by addictions: that God will free those bound by addictions and heal the wounded relationships in their lives.

For greater communication and listening: that God will open our hearts to truly hear one another and give us the courage to share our deeper selves with those to whom we share a commitment.

For families burdened by poverty or under economic stress: that God will sustain them, help parents find work, and guide them to the resources that will relieve their burdens.

For peace in Jerusalem: that the Holy City for Jews, Muslims, and Christians maybe a place of dialogue, respect, and peace.

O God, you cradle us at the beginning of life and embrace us at our journey’s end,  for you love us as your own.  Bind our families together  and deepen our faith, that, like the Holy Family of Nazareth, we may grow in wisdom, obedient to your word. We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen.

Offertory (Anton Bruckner)

Virga Jesse floruit:
Virgo Deum et hominem genuit:
pacem Deus reddidit,
in se reconcilians ima summis.

The rod of Jesse hath blossomed:

a Virgin hath brought forth God and man:
God hath restored peace,
reconciling in Himself the lowest with the highest.

Communion Antiphon

Closing Hymn

In the bleak midwinter, frosty wind made moan,
Earth stood hard as iron, water like a stone;
Snow had fallen, snow on snow, snow on snow,
In the bleak midwinter, long ago.

Our God, heaven cannot hold Him, nor earth sustain;
Heaven and earth shall flee away when He comes to reign.
In the bleak midwinter a stable place sufficed
The Lord God Almighty, Jesus Christ.

Enough for Him, Whom cherubim, worship night and day,
Breastful of milk, and a mangerful of hay;
Enough for Him, Whom angels fall down before,
The ox and ass and camel which adore.

Angels and archangels may have gathered there,
Cherubim and seraphim thronged the air;
But His mother only, in her maiden bliss,
Worshipped the beloved with a kiss.

What can I give Him, poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb;
If I were a Wise Man, I would do my part;
Yet what I can I give Him... give my heart.