Dec 29, 2012

The Holy Family and holy obedience

The Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph

1 Sam 1: 20-22, 24-28
1 Jn 3: 1-2, 21-24
Lk 2: 41-52

Since Thanksgiving countless people have gone “over the river and through the woods,” not to mention airports of course, and covered thousands of miles to visit family and friends during this holiday season, including myself.  For most it has been likely a wonderful time to reconnect but for some there was surely tension and perhaps even those who may have said: “A little bit of family goes a long way.”

The sharing of gifts and memories, gorging out on food, drink, and laughter, family activities both indoors and outdoors are an essential way to bond and to form lasting ties through the human community.  Hopefully, at some point in all the frantic movement, Church attendance and worship as a shared family experience was more than just a rare visit.   

This Sunday after Christmas is the Feast of the Holy Family and it too reminds us about the fundamental bond that existed between Jesus, Mary and Joseph.  For all time we know this “holy” family was unique among all human families. Yet, I sometimes wonder what this family, with such an extraordinary child by mysterious angelic intervention, might have to say to families who find themselves faced with more mundane earthly problems. Jesus, Mary and Joseph may appear more as plaster statues or icons or invoked in the “good old days” of Catholic School when we wrote: “J – M – J” at the top of each paper we turned in to Sister. But the truth is that the Holy Family may have much to say.

Our first reading on this beautiful feast in the Christmas season speaks about a child dedicated to God (1 Sam 1). As Hannah brings her son Samuel to the Temple with an offering that may seem to us a bit primitive: “. . . a three year old bull, an ephah of flour, and a skin of wine . . .” as parents of today don’t bring bulls, bread, and wine at the moment of their child’s baptism, that sacrament of new life is the moment in which the parents, like Hannah, offer their child to God.  As Hannah states, “As long as he lives, he shall be dedicated to the Lord . . .” So too in Baptism, we are signed, sealed, and washed clean – for God.  Thus, every child given to a couple is seen as gift from God to be dedicated back to him. While most children are not the great Samuel and certainly not Jesus, the example of Hannah, Mary and Joseph is one for every faithful Christian couple.  

Likewise, in the Gospel from Luke we see a moment in which, according to Jewish custom, Mary and Joseph as faithful Jews, fulfill their yearly celebration of the Passover.  Jesus in transition to Jewish adulthood for young males, accompanies them.  It was twelve years previous that Mary and Joseph brought the infant Jesus to the same Temple to be dedicated to God. The Temple was not a strange place for them but a familiar location of sacred worship and a living out of their dedication to God. Such regular habit of worship is an example for family life. It does make a difference.

Considering all this, we may see here for all families the characteristic of a virtue not particularly popular these days: Obedience.  Our own modern spirit of independence might push aside a rich opportunity for growth in learning a faith-centered obedience.

Mary was obedient to the angel who brought her the good news of God’s choice to be the human mother of his Son.  Joseph was obedient to that same Angel Gabriel who assured him that it was right to take Mary as his wife for the child she bore was by God’s mysterious intervention. 

While the temptation to focus on Mary’s fearful reprimand in our familiar Gospel story, “Son, why have you done this to us? . . .” may be strong, in the end we see here a family who’s dedication to their faith is inspiring.  Yes, Jesus may have been a bit precocious to say the least when he appears like teenagers who seek a somewhat rebellious freedom, Luke implies more that Jesus was fulfilling his future mission with exceptional wisdom. Still, Jesus was obedient to his own parents who searched frantically with great concern: “He went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them . . .”

Thus, Mary and Joseph are presented as good and righteous Jews who continued to obey the dictates of their faith but yet felt a distinctive responsibility for their even more exceptional child and his future destiny. 

Perhaps, then, at the foundation of healthy family life is an underlying responsibility to obey.  Not out of any slavish sense of submission to control another’s life but rather out of a higher obedience to God’s will.  For Mary and Joseph their lives must have been ones of daily discernment.  What is our place and responsibility with this child entrusted to us? Where must his loyalty lie since he has come to us through such unforeseen divine intervention?  What is God asking of us?

Further, “what is God asking of us” is a question to be sought by every parent who has been gifted with children. The future of each child is hidden to every parent but in that family – in that house – Jesus himself wants to abide. 

In the family unit, which is so threatened these days, a place for healthy discernment should be created.  The family life of Mary, Joseph and Jesus is hidden from us but we could safely assume that Jesus was allowed to explore that same question, “What is God, my Father, asking of me?” So too parents could encourage their children to explore that fundamental question:  “What is God asking of me?”

Here are some questions that I wonder how many well- meaning parents invite their children to consider: Is this the man or woman God is asking me to marry? Am I called to married life or is there another way that I could serve as “parent” – perhaps to priestly service or religious life in the Church? How could I use my talents and gifts as talents and gifts from God and not just opportunities to be famous or wealthy? Such questions offer the opportunity for parents not only to interact with their children but also, like the Holy Family, be open to a greater will than their own; in short, to obey and then find a beautiful peace and freedom.

May this Holy Family challenge us all to become holy ourselves and watch over both marriage and family life in this age with all its wonders also poses a great challenge to some fundamental core values centered around faith and family.

Almighty God,
Bless our families, our parents and marriages.
Help us to discern what is your will for us
as mothers, fathers, and children
and to create a place in the home for you.  
Heal those who are hurting or broken
and help them to find joy and peace.