1 Samuel 1:20-22, 24-28
Psalm 84:2-3, 5-6, 9-10
1 John 3:1-2, 21-24
As we continue to celebrate the joyous coming among us of the Son of God and contemplate the reality and the meaning for us of His assuming our very flesh, we are today reminded by Holy Mother Church that Christ came among us not as an isolated individual, not as one entirely set apart, but as a member of a family – one who had an earthly mother and father, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins. Just as in taking on our flesh he elevated the nature of humanity itself, so also in coming among us as a child in a family he elevates the meaning and value of family in our world. Blessed John Paul II, of happy memory, spoke often about the reality that the family is the basic unit of society and that is families grow in holiness, the world itself grows in holiness. He, as well as many saints throughout the centuries, also spoke of the family as the ‘domestic church’ in which the faith is first taught. As the ritual for Baptism reminds us, it is the parents – and the family inclusive – who are the first teachers of the faith for their children. It’s not primarily the priest who should be conveying the faith, but the family in which the children live, learn, and develop both materially and spiritually. The family, because it is the foundation of society, is absolutely vital for our world and for ourselves and for that reason Mother Church recalls that reality and places before us the perfect model for us in the Holy Family – Jesus, Mary and Joseph.
Now, I have to admit that I laughed a little bit when I began to pray with the scriptures for this feast day in that we hold up the Holy Family as the model of families and yet the gospel we read is the one where they lose their child in the largest city in their region. At first glance it could seem that they’re not that perfect after all, but even this story of finding the Lord shows us just how wholesome they were.
All of us, when we reflect on things, do so from our own personal lived experience. Our past shapes the way we see the present and future. When I think about going as a family to a certain place – to visit another family member, for instance – it always happened that when you left I got in the car with my parents and whatever other siblings were with us and we went together back home. The Jewish custom was different though. They often travelled in large groups for feasts like this and in those caravans the women would all gather together and start walking first with the young children. Following them would be the men of the group at the back of the caravan with whatever supplies were needed. As Luke also points out, Jesus was 12 years old, which was the age of transition for a boy from being a child to an adult. Thus it would have been easy for Mary to think Jesus being now an adult would travel with Joseph and for Joseph to think that Jesus simply hadn’t remembered his new status in the community and continued to travel up front with His mother. That’s entirely possible, but going even more deeply, our Holy Father, Pope Benedict, points out in his new book ‘The Infancy Narratives’ that this event shows that Jesus was an obedient son who had so earned the trust and freedom from His parents that they knew He wouldn’t do anything wrong intentionally. Even losing their son in Jerusalem, he points out, shows that they were incredibly intimate as a family. But in this intimacy the Lord Jesus now challenges them to a new understanding of their relationship as a family when He points out that He ‘must be in His Father’s house’ – He uses the word ‘must’ to show His awareness of His Divine Sonship and the relationship that it requires of Him in prayer and faith. And just as He challenged His parents, so He wants to challenge us to live as families in a new way.
From the example of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph we can glean much wisdom. The simplicity and poverty that characterized their lives, the love they shared with one another, and the ordinariness of life that is the background of holiness are all helpful in us understanding our own relationship with the Father and our families. But even more, they provide for us a witness that faith is most important of all. The scriptures tell us in other places that each of them was always open to God’s Divine Will. As soon as they heard the Lord or His angel speak, they went to action to fulfill that desire. This shows us that they faith that they lived was not an external faith but one that was deeply ingrained in them. The gospel tells us that they regularly made trips to Jerusalem for the feast and that Mary, who was not obliged to go, also made the trip as a sign that they went together as a family to meet the Lord God in His Temple.
The challenge is for us to become families in imitation of that Holy Family. To do so we must first be families. Too often today parents and children both get so caught up in the latest gadgets, sports event, club meeting, or activity that family time is almost entirely lost. In order to be a holy family then, we must each in our own way make that conscious effort to be a family – to turn off the TV, put away the phones, have dinner together and simply make time to talk with one another. The next step is to come together as a family before the Lord. This can happen in a whole variety of ways – and it should since our families are different and need different things. It could be simply praying before and after meals, spending an evening in the week to pray with the scriptures for the coming Sunday or make a brief visit to the Adoration Chapel. Even simple things like listening to Catholic Radio on AM690 or talking about a neat story of faith we heard can be beautiful ways to join ourselves to the Lord in imitation of the Holy Family. So let us especially in this Year of Faith and coming New Year work to indeed become Holy Families. Let us turn to Jesus, Mary and Joseph, whose images we have in each of our parishes, and ask them to help us grow as individuals and as families, that in the end the whole world would be set ablaze with love for Christ as He so greatly desires it to be.