Readings for December 30
Feast of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph
Sirach 3:2-6, 12-14 or 1 Samuel 1:20-22; 24-28; Colossians 3:12-21 or Colossians 3:12-17; Luke 2:41-52
In modern day Jerusalem, the only portion of the Temple mentioned in today’s Gospel that still stands is the Western Wall, otherwise called the “Wailing Wall.” It’s the place of the iconic image from the Jubilee year 2000 of a bent and aged Pope John Paul II praying and, as is traditional, placing a bit piece of paper with a prayer written on it in a crevice of the wall. His prayer was found to be a prayer asking God to forgive for any past mistreatment of Jews by Christians.
To this day, it is a Jewish custom for elders to take boys turning 12 to the Wailing Wall and ask them with questions about their Jewish faith. Scholars cannot identify precisely when this rite of passage originated, but it is the first time the boy leaves the security of the family and stands before the Jewish community of faith to bear witness to his knowledge of and adherence to the faith in which his family reared him.
This custom helps us understand the nature of the event in today’s Gospel, which is called by our tradition, The Finding of Jesus in the Temple, memorialized in the fifth Joyful Mystery of the rosary. Having been brought to Jerusalem by St Joseph and the Blessed Mother, Jesus elects not to return home with them but is found after three anxious days in the Temple, “sitting in the midst of the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. All who listened to him were amazed at his understanding and answers.”
As then-Cardinal Ratzinger wrote in 1984, “the Lord Jesus changes the nature of the examination, instead of being questioned, he becomes the questioner, subjecting the learned doctors of Israel to an examination of the Law and seeking by his questions to lead them into a deeper understanding of the law that they will later fail to comprehend, and to open the gates of the law in order to make visible the one to whom it points, himself.
He mounts the cathedra (chair) of Moses, the temple, as something properly his. He remains a child; he asks questions; yet he reveals himself as the Lord by the very fact that he tests them.” (Coworkers in the Truth, 17)
Thus the first lesson of today’s Gospel is an illustration of the wonder of the Incarnation — God becomes a man without ever ceasing to be God.
At Christmas when we come to the crib to adore the babe in swaddling clothes, our hearts are moved by the merciful love and humility of God who becomes a little baby in order to redeem us sinners. But our adoration and wonder increases all the more when we consider that in becoming man, the Son of God never for one instant ceases being God.
This truth is the prism through which we look at the next aspect of this Gospel reading. The Blessed Virgin Mary asks the boy Jesus: “My child, why have you done this to us? Your father and I looked for you in sorrow.”
Jesus replies: “How is it that you sought me? Did you not know I must be about my Father’s business?” The Lord pointedly reminds Blessed Mother and Joseph that he in fact has only one true Father, his Father in heaven. Jesus Christ makes clear today, that as much as he loves his mother and foster father, there is one whom he will always love more, always put first, and that one is God the Father.
Thus the feast of the Holy Family teaches us that the bond that ties family members together, the profound filial love between spouses, parents and children, is purified and elevated by being subject to the love of God. As great a force as “family love” is, it, like every other natural love, if not purified by being subject to the love of God, will in the end become turned in upon itself and become possessive, jealous and fretful.
A mother’s love, or a father’s love, or a son or daughter’s love, will only become most perfectly itself, if it is subjected to the overarching love of God. A good example of this in action is the close family who nonetheless supports and encourages a son in becoming a missionary priest or a daughter in becoming a cloistered nun. This is loving our family members rightly, wanting above all for our family members their salvation and sanctification, not pleasure, ease and worldly success.
In assuming a true human nature in Jesus Christ, the Lord willed to be born into a real human family. Jesus willed to “advance in wisdom and age and grace before God and man,” in the context of a simply family life.
As one spiritual writer put it: “the first thing that Jesus sanctified with his presence was a home.” In so doing, Jesus Christ sanctified family life so that we his children can live holy lives in our families. We must try to keep God as the center and the heart of our families. “The family that prays together, stays together,” was a favorite saying of Mother Teresa of Calcutta. Most critically, the family should attend Sunday Mass together as much as possible.
In my family, we kids went to Mass with our parents every Sunday so long as we were under their roof, even if we were in our 20-somethings.
In his magnificent Letter to Families, Pope Blessed John Paul II said: “Only by praying together with their children can a father and mother-exercising their royal priesthood-penetrate the innermost depths of their children’s hearts and leave an impression that the future events in their lives will not be able to efface.”
The family that prays and worships together invites God into their home in a special way and will know the peace that only he can bring.
Father Grimm is pastor of Holy Spirit Parish in New Castle.