The Holy Family (Year C)
First Reading: 1 Samuel 1:20-22, 24-28 Second Reading: 1 John 3:1-2, 21-24 Gospel Reading: Luke 2:41-52
There is a story told of Emperor Cyrus, the founder of the Persian Empire. Once he had captured a prince and his family. When they came before him, the monarch asked the prisoner, "What will you give me if I release you?" "The half of my wealth," was his reply. "And if I release your children?" "Everything I possess." "And if I release your wife?" "Your Majesty, I will give myself." Cyrus was so moved by his devotion to his family that he freed them all.
As they returned home, the Prince said to his wife, "Wasn’t Cyrus a handsome man!" With a look of deep love for her husband, she said to him, "I didn’t notice. I could only keep my eyes on you - the one who was willing to give himself for me."
In the story above, the prince's family appears to be a good and a loving family, which despite a terribly desperate and extremely difficult situation that they are in, the husband loves his wife so very much, so also the wife deeply loves her husband and values him above all; there is love of the parents for their children who are important and precious to them as if they are their whole possession. Actually, it is at bad, hard and adverse times, so to say, that the strength of a family is really tested.
Families are part of God's plan. They are the essential cells of society in which parents and children are sustained and grow into maturity. Triune God (Father, Son & Holy Spirit), who is a Family in Himself, chose a human family to come into this world to bring salvation to humankind and thus sanctified all human families. This mystery of the Incarnation, just a few days ago we celebrated during Christmas.
Today, we celebrate the feast of “the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph,” which is the model for all Christian families and it is customary to celebrate this feast on the Sunday immediately following our celebrations on the birth of Jesus at Christmas. It is a time when we can reflect on the quality of our own family life in the light of the Church's (if not the world's) ‘First Family’.
For a large part of his life Jesus was part of a family. We always imagine that the Holy Family must have been an extremely happy family. Yet, like every other family, it too had from time to time its ups and downs, its joys and sorrows, its problems and difficulties. In fact, challenges faced them right from the very beginning.
When we turn to the Gospels we find that this so called the Holy Family isn't a very normal one. The mother is a virgin and the father is not the biological father of the child. And they are not living in some ideal family setting but rather being so hounded by the megalomaniac Herod that they must find safety in Egypt fleeing as refugees. But this is the family God had chosen, the one in which His Son would mature. Mary had already heard the mind-blowing invitation to be the mother of God. She had listened to the Word of God, accepted it and now in a sense was doing it, living out the consequences. Then there is Joseph her husband. He had already been surprised by the news of Mary's pregnancy, who was betrothed to him and proved himself just in the way he had respected the law but shown kindness and compassion to her. Again he was faced by another upheaval. He had to listen to God's word in a dream and had to take the responsibility of guiding his wife & child through the dangers of a journey to Egypt and back.
Now, most of Jesus’ childhood is shrouded in mystery, but today’s Gospel Reading from St. Luke brings us to Jesus, who at the age of twelve is on the threshold of manhood. His upbringing has obviously been deeply religious for he and his family have gone on pilgrimage to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover. After the departure of Mary and Joseph, Jesus remains behind in the Temple. There he amazes the religious teachers with his wisdom and intelligence. When Jesus' parents discover him missing, they are upset. The moment of realizing that Jesus was not among the group and could not be found would be an incident that would sear itself onto any parent’s soul. So, they search for Jesus; and when they do find him in the temple, his mother, as any mother would, asks him what he thought he was up to, causing all this worry for her and his father? His response must have confounded her, presumably the up-until-that-point obedient son suggests that he had another Father and a greater mission than carpentry in Nazareth. Jesus here explains the importance of putting God first in our lives and when we do this, everything else in life will fall into place.
In the Second Reading of today from the First Letter of St. John we are told that God is our Father too and we all are His children - “Beloved, See what love the Father has bestowed on us that we may be called the children of God. And so we are.” There's then the Family of God, the Heavenly Family and we all are called to be its members – it is our ultimate destiny too.
Now again, why is it that we call this Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph – “Holy?” This family is holy because God is present in it and also it is responsive to the demanding word of God spoken in the very trying circumstances of their daily lives. The measure of a holy family is not found in what does - or does not - happen to its members. Rather, a holy family is one that demonstrates a certain grace and confidence when faced with the events of daily living, especially the unexpected ones. While the ups and downs, the joys and pains of Jesus, Mary and Joseph have something to teach us, the real lesson for us who try to maintain and nurture holy families in our own lives is how the Holy Family faced life's tribulations. We must therefore consider the great peace and serenity of mind and heart of the Blessed Virgin and St. Joseph, shown in their constancy amid all the unexpected events that befell them.
In the First Reading of today from the First Book of Samuel, we are told of yet another exemplary and God fearing family of Hanah and Elkanah, and Samuel their child of old age, blessed by God as Hanah was barren, whom they dedicated to the Lord in the temple of Jerusalem. They always trusted God and lived their life fulfilling His will.
So, what we are celebrating today is that the God who created the institution of the family, despite its shortcomings, chose to transform it through the Incarnation of His only Son Jesus Christ and make it one of the ways by which he saved us. We can learn in the example of the Holy Family that, despite all our failures and difficulties, we too are called to become holy through living out God's word in the midst of our families. We must imitate the Holy Family in our own relationships when we impress upon our minds and hearts that the world does not revolve around us, that things do not always go our way, that our plans are frequently not the last word. We cannot always control what happens to us: we can, however, choose how to respond to the unexpected in our lives in ways that promote faith, tranquility, strength and courage.
There has only been one “Holy Family” upon earth, and it is now re-united in heaven. But scattered all over the earth there are no doubt many people and many families who try in their own way to reproduce the life of Nazareth by putting God first in everything and doing His holy will, whatever happens. They will never make much noise in the world, nor take up much space in our newspapers. But they are, so to speak, 'the pillars of the earth'; and when everything is made known then we shall surely be amazed to discover them, just as the inhabitants of the world would have been amazed to discover who it was that was living in that little house in Galilee.