Dec 29, 2018

Feast of the Holy Family - In our Father's house

"I must be in my Father's house"

Luke 2: 41-52

We priests are constantly searching for good homily material. In the ordinary events of life, we often find them.

About thirty years ago one Sunday after the last Mass and the usual coffee and donut fellowship, I said my “goodbye” to the largest family in the parish who had 15 children of various ages from young adult on down to the youngest who was a little girl about two years old at the time.  Yes, 15 children and all from the same set of parents with no twins!

Well, after they left, we suddenly noticed that out of the restroom comes their little two year old girl on the verge of tears looking for her mother!  Everyone knew who she was and casually stated: “O, they’ll be back soon to get her.”  One of the women stood by the child and sure enough, within about ten minutes, her mother came rushing into the hall with a smile and a tone of embarrassment said, “Sorry, we thought she was in the other car.”

She bent down, gently picked up her daughter and quickly left the room with a laugh and wave.  Everyone took this in stride without any real concern. I stood there not quite sure how to interpret this humorous family scene. One could understand how in the midst of their family chaos and shared responsibility such a thing might happen. I’m sure there was a bit of family discussion among the older siblings as to who was supposed to care for her.

Later I thought what great homily material that moment would make.  Sure enough, our Gospel this Sunday on this beautiful Feast of the Holy Family provides us with a very human scene.  It reveals not only ancient Jewish culture but also how holiness is lived out in the everyday realism of life.

Jesus is twelve years old, the age of transition from being raised primarily by his Jewish mother and the company of women, responsible for his education and formation, to enter the world of adult men under the tutelage of his father. It would not be uncommon for a twelve year old Jewish boy to no longer seek the company of women as when younger but to now join the men and to learn from them certain skills and trades. 

Yet, in the familiar Temple scene we see both parents who are filled with anguish and deep concern after not finding Jesus for three days. Perhaps Mary may have assumed Jesus was now among the men of the caravan returning to Nazareth after Passover celebrations. 

Not finding him there, they both return in a desperate search for three days. Mary’s comment to Jesus on finding him, more of a scold we might imagine, as to “Why have you done this to us?” is met by Jesus’ somewhat na├»ve remark: “Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” This seems on one level to be a bit dismissive of his parent’s obvious anguish. In fact, Mary and Joseph were puzzled by Jesus remark.  His mission is yet to mature both in his own awareness and that of Mary and Joseph.  Still, in the end, Jesus submits to their authority and returns with them to Nazareth where he continues to advance in wisdom and favor before God and man.

This reveals how human a story this is; how ordinary with all the parent and child dynamics of growing up and learning to adjust to one another’s positions and responsibilities.  As God embraced humanity in its fullness, except for personal sin, he even accepted a limited human understanding that needed to mature.  Yet, it is far more than just a personal family story from the life of the young Jesus; about the only thing we know for certain of his formative life during the Nazareth years. 

In our first reading from Samuel we see that Hannah, beyond child bearing years, has been praying for a son.  God answered her prayer and she gave birth to a son whom she named Samuel.  Filled with gratitude, she makes an oath to dedicate Samuel to God at a young age.  She returns to the Temple, at this time at Shiloh, and the priest Eli.  There she leaves the young Samuel at the Temple in service to the Lord.  Unlike the mother I described at the parish and Mary and Joseph in the Gospel, Hannah leaves the child rather than taking him. 

But, the point is that these are parents who knew their life was focused around the Lord in whose plan they had participated.  Hannah’s sees the bigger picture beyond herself as where that child should truly be; in service of God.  We all have a place and our mission in life is to know where God is calling us and to carry that out.  To know this and to do it is holiness. 

For Mary and Joseph, they knew what God asked of them yet not all.  They lived a life with Jesus in which God remained the center of their identity in obedient practice as faithful Jews.  In spite of their lack of full understanding at times, the gradual awareness of their mission and even more of their mysterious child, they still walked in lives of trust and love and remained faithful.   

For the young Jesus, he too needed to come to an awareness of his identity and what his Father was asking of him.  How the mystery of God is at work in these scenes seems a combination of both human limitations and Divine plan but isn’t that what in the end we all are facing?

Jesus had understood that he had a greater call beyond his own earthly family life yet he submitted to the authority of his parents.  How and where we learn and work out our place in God’s plan is both a combination of human experience and Divine intervention for us. 

Mary and Joseph knew that Jesus was human yet mysterious.  The entire purpose of his mission was hidden from their understanding as well but they carried on.  They remained consistent in their faith, following what had been revealed to them and trusting in a plan that was still larger than themselves.  It is clear their holiness, and ours, lies in this.  For Mary, Joseph, Hannah, and Jesus himself God was the center of it all. 

The same call is here for all families.  How many couples on the day of their wedding know what their future will be? As organized and predictable as we may try to arrange our lives, we must live with the reality that life provides very few guarantees.  If we order our lives with God at the center, all will go as planned. 

For this Holy Family, proper worship was essential and to see themselves as connected to the larger Jewish tradition gave them direction and purpose; so for us in the Church and our connection to the larger picture.  To participate in a cause greater than ourselves, God’s plan for each of us is the path to holiness. 

May we be holy through lives of faithfulness in the state of life we find ourselves even when we find ourselves in doubt.  Let God be center stage and allow him to direct the action. That is a path to be holy in our Father’s house.  

 O God, who were pleased to give us
the shining example of the Holy Family,
graciously grant that we may imitate them 
in practicing the virtues of family life and 
in the bonds of charity, 
and so, in the joy of your house, 
delight one day in eternal rewards. 
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, 
who lives and reigns with you
in the unity of the Holy Spirit, 
one God for ever and ever. 

(Collect of Mass)

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