30 December 2012. Sunday. Feast of the Holy Family
1 Sam 1:20-22: Hannah conceived and bore a son
Lk 2:41-52: The finding of Jesus in the Temple.
First Reading: 1 Samuel 1:20-22:
In due time Hannah conceived and bore a son. She named him Samuel, for she said, “I have asked him of the Lord.”
The man Elkanah and all his household went up to offer to the Lord the yearly sacrifice, and to pay his vow. But Hannah did not go up, for she said to her husband, “As soon as the child is weaned, I will bring him, that he may appear in the presence of the Lord, and remain there forever; I will offer him as a nazirite for all time.”
Gospel: Luke 2:41-52
Now every year his parents went to Jerusalem for the festival of the Passover. And when he was twelve years old, they went up as usual for the festival. When the festival was ended and they started to return, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but his parents did not know it. Assuming that he was in the group of travelers, they went a day’s journey. Then they started to look for him among their relatives and friends. When they did not find him, they returned to Jerusalem to search for him. After three days they found him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. And all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers. When his parents saw him they were astonished; and his mother said to him, “Child, why have you treated us like this? Look, your father and I have been searching for you in great anxiety.” He said to them, “Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” But they did not understand what he said to them. Then he went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them. His mother treasured all these things in her heart.
And Jesus increased in wisdom and in years, and in divine and human favour.
Inspiration for Christian families
The poet Wordsworth, writing about the French Revolution as it appeared to enthusiasts said,
“Bliss was it that dawn to be alive,/but to be young was very heaven.”
The same perhaps could be said about Christians in the Apostolic Age, which had a vitality about it that inspired people to acts of heroism in spreading the gospel and living up to its demands. But as early as 100 A.D. things were beginning to change. The thrill of the first years, to a certain extent, had passed. Christianity had become a thing of habit, the wonder had faded, and there were some who wanted to adapt the teaching of Christ to the secular philosophy and outlook of the day. What’s new, you might say. The infant Church was in real danger of breaking up into opposing factions under the influence of emerging heresies.
St John, the only surviving Apostle, saw only one remedy for this, and in his First Letter to the Christian communities he expressed it in this rather surprising sentence, “If God has loved us so much, then we also ought to love one another” (4:11). Note he did not say “we also ought to love God,” but rather “we ought to love one another.” In other words the immediate response to God’s love as it envelops each one of us should be to have respect and consideration and love for one another. This is the way we manifest our love for God.)
On this, the Feast of the Holy Family, we could find no more apt advice for all Christian families, especially those which are in danger of splitting up under the stresses and strains of this modern age. Following the advice of St John, we can say that from the moment husband and wife are joined together in marriage, the only way for them to be faithful to God is by being faithful to each other; the concrete way they express their love for God is by the pure and steadfast love that they have for each other. If this love between a husband and wife persists, then their children will grow up in God’s love. We can even say that when the children respond to their parents” love for them, then they too are responding to God himself. That which sustains the married relationship of such a couple will be, not so much the house they live in, or the material things they possess, or the securities they have built up for the future, but rather this true love, which they show to each other, and the children God grants them.
The perfect model for any family has got to be the union of Mary and Joseph, who had no possessions, no securities, not even a house to call their own, during the period covered by today’s gospel story. We find the protective instinct of Joseph trying to shield Jesus and Mary from the hostility of King Herod. And just as the day would come when Joseph would no longer be there to supply this protection, so no modern father or mother can hope to control indefinitely the situations in which their children find themselves. After all Jesus was only twelve when, lost in the Temple, he began to see the will of his Father for himself in a way completely incomprehensible to both Mary and Joseph.
Mary in the Incarnation being disturbed, Joseph in his dreams being urged to go against traditional custom, Jesus in the Temple acting as he did, all these show that tensions did exist within the Holy Family, tensions which were in no way the consequence of sin, but rather an indication of evolution and growth. It is within the family that spiritual and moral values, attitudes towards each other, towards life, towards God himself, are being passed on, and this not so much by a process of indoctrination, as by a free and natural initiation.
We can only guess as to the extent to which the attitudes of Jesus were formed by Joseph, the man of inner vision, the man of respect for the law, of seeing love as greater than the law, and by Mary, not the meek, male-dominated woman portrayed by commentators in the past, but the one, who could make such far reaching decisions as she did at the Annunciation, the mother who did not try to hold on to her Son, who displayed such remarkable inner strength and calm in the face of all kinds of adversity, in standing by her Son to the end, even to his death on a Cross.
May families always look to Jesus, Mary and Joseph for guidance, for inspiration, for courage, in the glorious but demanding task to which God has called them. Not only will the Holy Family be a model, it will be a source of grace to them as well.