30Dec 30 Dec. The Holy Family

Today we celebrate the domestic life of  Jesus, Mary and Joseph, an an inspiration for all families everywhere.

1st Reading: 1 Samuel 1:20-22

Hannah dedicates her son, Samuel, to God

In due time Hannah conceived and bore a son. She named him Samuel, for she said, “I have asked him of the Lord.”

Her husband 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.”

When she had weaned him, she took him up with her, along with a three-year-old bull, an ephah of flour, and a skin of wine. She brought him to the house of the Lord at Shiloh; and the child was young.  Then they slaughtered the bull, and they brought the child to Eli.  And she said, “Oh, my lord! As you live, my lord, I am the woman who was standing here in your presence, praying to the Lord.  For this child I prayed; and the Lord has granted me the petition that I made to him.  Therefore I have lent him to the Lord; as long as he lives, he is given to the Lord.” She left him there for the Lord.

OR: Sirach 3:2-6, 12-14

Honour your parents when they are old

The Lord honors a father above his children,
and he confirms a mother’s right over her children.
Those who honor their father atone for sins,
and those who respect their mother are like those who lay up treasure. Those who honor their father will have joy in their own children,
and when they pray they will be heard.

Those who respect their father will have long life,
and those who honor their mother obey the Lord;
My child, help your father in his old age,
and do not grieve him as long as he lives;
even if his mind fails, be patient with him;
because you have all your faculties do not despise him.
For kindness to a father will not be forgotten,
and will be credited to you against your sins

Responsorial Psalm
Ps 83: 2-3, 5-6, 9-10

R./: How happy they who dwell in your house, O Lord

How lovely is your dwelling place,
Lord, God of hosts.
My soul is longing and yearning,
is yearning for the courts of the Lord.
My heart and my soul ring out their joy
to God, the living God. (R./)

They are happy, who dwell in your house,
for ever singing your praise.
They are happy, whose strength is in you;
they walk with ever growing strength. (R./)

O Lord, God of hosts, hear my prayer,
give ear, O God of Jacob.
Turn your eyes, O God, our shield,
look on the face of your anointed. (R./)

2nd Reading: 1 John 3:1-2, 21-24

As God’s love is lavished on us, we are called to pass on this love to each other in our families

See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are. The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is.

Beloved, we put our trust in God; and we receive from him whatever we ask, because we obey his commandments and do what pleases him. And this is his commandment, that we should believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us. All who obey his commandments abide in him, and he abides in them. And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit that he has given us.

OR: Colossians 3:12-21

The kindness there should be in a Christian family

As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.

Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly; teach and admonish one another in all wisdom; and with gratitude in your hearts sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

Wives, be subject to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord. Husbands, love your wives and never treat them harshly. Children, obey your parents in everything, for this is your acceptable duty in the Lord. Fathers, do not provoke your children, or they may lose heart.

Gospel: Luke 2:41-52

The finding of Jesus, after being lost for three days

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.


Closer to us than we know

As a boy growing up, I didn’t like this particular feast. The sermon every year on the supreme virtues of the Holy Family of Nazareth made me feel that my good but imperfect family was simply not in the same league. Pictures and statues of the Holy Family only reinforced the distance between that household and mine. In their simple but immaculately clean home, there was a place for everything and everything in its place. Joseph, Mary and Jesus looked so calm and serene and unruffled, like they never had any difficulties to deal with. They didn’t seem to have money worries or fears for their safety or their future or anything else. Fortunately the Gospel tells us something quite different about the childhood of Jesus, in a down-to-earth way, especially today’s story about the loss of the child Jesus.

Lots of parents have felt the anguish of losing a child, if only for a few minutes. The child was with you at the shopping centre when you turned for a moment to look at something on a shelf, and when you turned back around, it had wandered off, without a trace. You felt fearful for their safety, and in your panic you wondered if you’d ever find them again. Jesus went missing for three whole days. If it was today, his parents might be charged with child neglect. But the Gospel hints at how it could have happened. In those days, the men on pilgrimage walked with the men’s group, and the women with the women. Only in the evening would the two groups come together. Mary assumed that the boy was travelling with the men, and Joseph assumed that the boy was with his mother, a classic case of family misunderstanding! After a whole day’s travel, Joseph and Mary discover that the boy has gone off on his own. They searched for him all along the road back to Jerusalem, and only two days later did they find him in the Temple in the city centre, sitting with the teachers, listening to them and questioning them.

They were ‘overcome‘ when they saw him? I wonder what exactly that word means. Were they crying? Were they annoyed? Were they angry? Mary’s response suggests they were exasperated: ‘My child, why have you done this to us? See how worried your father and I have been, looking for you.’ His reply does nothing to reassure them and settle them down: ‘Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be busy with my Father’s affairs?‘ No surprisingly, ‘they did not understand what he meant.’ His answer must have seemed odd or even provocative, from a boy of twelve years old.

In this story of misunderstanding, we can feel quite close to the Holy Family of Nazareth. They are real people, after all, who had their ups and downs as a family, just like your family and mine. They had their problems, their struggles and their challenges, just like your family and mine. But they survived as a family, just like yours and mine. They survived, because there was enough love, acceptance and forgiveness between them, and enough trust in both God and one another. Indeed the Holy Family can be closer to our lives than we realise. Today we pray for their guidance in our own family life.

A family tried and tested

Even though we call them the Holy Family that does not mean they never had problems to face, as every family must. To put it another way, just as each follower of Jesus has a cross to carry, so also the holy family had to experience the cross in their shared life. To mention just a few examples, we can imagine how misunderstood both Mary and Joseph must have been about the conception of Jesus before they came to live together. Joseph was even planning to divorce Mary privately before being assured that it was the work of God. Nine months later, the birthplace of Jesus was an animal shelter, since no better lodgings could be found. Then the family had to flee as refugees to Egypt because the child Jesus’ life was in danger from king Herod, in much the same way as refugees from war-torn countries have to flee to save their lives.

Later, when Jesus was twelve, they were shocked to lose him for three days and then had to deal with the unsatisfactory explanation that he “had to be about his Father’s business.” Still, he returned with them to Nazareth and was subject to them, in the quiet rhythm of family life in their village. We do not hear of Joseph any more after that so we presume that he had died before Jesus began his public ministry. Then too, the public life of Jesus must have taken its toll on Mary. In the Temple when he was an infant, old Simeon had predicted that a sword of sorrow would pierce Mary’s soul. How she must have been pained to hear his enemies say that Jesus was a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax-collectors and sinners, and at the end, when Mary watched her son die in public disgrace, on the cross.

What sustained the family of Nazareth through all of these trials and crosses? What holds families together in times of difficulty is love and trust. Whenever families are happy, it is because love and respect are valued by them. A major threat to family nowadays is if we don’t spend enough time together. We are so busy working, meeting our friends, using our electronic gadgets or watching TV that we never seem to have time to listen to each other.

A wealthy, successful woman lived some distance from her old, widowed father. Months passed since she had seen him and when her father called to ask when his daughter might visit, she detailed lots of reasons that kept her too busy to see him, court schedules, meetings, new clients, research, etc. Her father then asked, ‘When I die, do you mean to come to my funeral?’ The daughter was indignant. “Dad, I can’t believe you asked me that. Of course, I’ll come!” He smiled and said, “Good. Then forget my funeral and come to see me now. I need you now more than I will then.” She got the message and began to visit him regularly after that.