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Novena Sermon – Becoming Holy Families

WEDNESDAY       JUNE 24, 19.30

“Becoming holy families”

Celebrant of Holy Mass: Archbishop Brislin.

Solemnity of the birth of St John the Baptist

Preacher:         Fr Gerard McCabe, C.Ss.R.


One of the great pleasures of children is to hear their responses to being asked what they would like to become when they grow up. Of course children today are much more sophisticated than when I was a child, but I do remember saying at different times I wanted to be a train driver, and then a sailor on a submarine, and then progressed to the idea of playing for Arsenal! I am sure that some of my Redemptorist confreres wish that I had stayed with one of those earlier desires.

But when children tell us what they want to become, they indicate to us that they are all natural philosophers. Because the truth of life, is that our being is not something static or fixed. From the very beginning of our lives to its very end, we are always in a state of becoming. And this is true not simply in biological terms but in spiritual terms too.

We are either becoming more aware of our faith, or less aware. We are becoming more aware of the loving presence of God in our lives, or less aware. We are learning to grow in compassion and mercy towards others, or becoming more selfish and self-focussed and spiteful. We are either becoming holy or becoming more sinful. Such is the nature of each of our personal lives. And it will continue to be so for as long as we live.

But this is not simply true of our own personal lives, but even more the case in our family life. By our very nature, we are shaped by the quality of our family life. Indeed, for those of us who have been given the grace of being disciples of Jesus, our main way of coming to know and love and serve God is through the ordinary daily events and circumstances of our family life. It is in this sense that we can speak of the Archdiocese, or our parish of Holy Redeemer as a family of faith. So that the gift and the task of every one of our families is to strive to become holy families. This is the vocation of all those who believe in Christ.

We are of course blessed already because deep within the tradition of our faith lies a deep love of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph. They will always be for us the perfect model of a family that is holy, forever listening to the Word of God, and seeking ways to discover the will of God in their lives.

Fortunately for us, we have a rich tradition within the history of our faith and our Church, of having  other models of holy families, to inspire and encourage us in our own family journey of faith. We are all aware of the holiness of St. Therese de Lisieux, the Little Flower. But  it is a wonderful grace for the Church that in October of this year, her parents will both be canonized as saints. This will be the first time ever that a married couple are canonized as saints together. So here again we are given a very clear expression of the truth that the vocation of every family is to become holy.

Today we celebrate the solemnity of the birthday of St John the Baptist. We recognise his significance as the one who pointed the way to Christ as our Redeemer. And it becomes very clear in the writings of the Gospels that John the Baptist, his mother Elizabeth, and his father Zechariah were themselves also a holy family, and one deeply related to the perfect Holy Family. We know of course that immediately after the Annunciation, Mary went to visit her cousin Elizabeth, who was the first to recognise the amazing news that Mary was to be the Mother of the Lord. When Mary arrived at the home of Zechariah and was greeted by Elizabeth, the child in her womb leapt with joy. Mary remained in their home for about three months before she returned home.

When John the Baptist was born, his father was filled by the Holy Spirit and prayed one of the most famous prayers of the Bible, known to us as the Benedictus: Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel.

Years later, John the Baptist would be the one who prepared the way of the Lord, and announced the coming of Jesus as the Messiah. He is one of the great figures of humility, proclaiming to the world that he was unworthy to undo the sandals of the One whom he had come to announce. Later, of course, John the Baptist would lose his life for his public proclamation of the coming of the Lord, and in that sense to become the first martyr to the Truth of Christ.

So here we have two families who are related by blood. But far more importantly, they are related in faith, in trust in the Word of God, in humble faithfulness and service to the truth of God in the world. They are the best examples we could ever hope for as two holy families, and they can always inspire and encourage us as we reflect on our own vocation to become holy families.

Here at Holy Redeemer, as you know, we have recently elected a new Pastoral Parish Council. One of the major goals of the new Council is to do everything that we can to create the conditions where each of our families and indeed the family of the Parish may become holy families.

We are being invited through our family life to grow together precisely as families who are continually growing closer to the love of God, and in the process to be given the gift of becoming holy families.

We are all perfectly aware of the many stresses that confront all Catholic and Christian families today. Society, with so much focus on status and selfishness and commercialism presents an ever living threat to our Catholic values of love and compassion and mercy. We are often laughed at for the simple fact of taking our faith in Jesus seriously.

All families know too, at different times, the stress of conflict and indifference, the suffering of illness and death and bereavement, the hurts and pain that we often inflict upon each other. So, although family life is not always easy or full of joy, it still remains for us the path that leads us to God and to family holiness.

So today we have been given a wonderful feast to begin our Triduum in honour of Our Blessed Mother of Perpetual Help. We are also blessed in that we have the Archbishop here to join us, who is the spiritual leader of the family of the Archdiocese of Cape Town.

It is my hope and prayer as we begin this very special year within our Redemptorist family, in preparation for the 150th anniversary of us being given the Icon of Our Mother of Perpetual Help by Pope Pius IX, that we dedicate each of our families to the inspiration of the holy families that we have just been reflecting upon.  We pray that the family of Holy Redeemer parish and the family of the Archdiocese will do all it can to reflect the beautiful love of the holy families of the Gospel.  May we be guided by the holy families who have lived lives of peace and joy and compassion, so that we too might grow more and more into holy families, that are so much needed in order to bring the Good News of the Gospel to the world. This is the beauty of Catholic family life; that through our fidelity and love and care for each other we too become icons of the love of God to the whole world.

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