Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ
On this day each year, the Church invites us to focus our attention on the universal common human experience of the family. At its best the family is a place of deep fulfilment, genuine joy and enrichment. At a General Audience in early October, Pope Francis speaks of the family at its best in these words:
“The family opens up its sons and daughters…… to life, representing a vision of the human relationship built on the free covenant of love…….it teaches them to honour one’s word, to respect each individual, to share within one’s personal limitations and those of others.”
There are, however, moments when our experience of family is very different. It can sometimes be a very confusing place to be. We sometimes find it hard to understand the actions of others within the family or maybe feel that our own actions are misunderstood. Occasionally, perhaps, we even find the family a hurtful place to be.
The gospel story for today’s feast of the Holy Family would suggest that it wasn’t very different for the Holy Family of Nazareth. Luke’s account of the finding of Jesus in the Temple is of great importance to us as the only reference to the childhood of Jesus. He tells us that Jesus stayed in Jerusalem unknown to Mary and Joseph who had set off on the journey back to Nazareth. At this point you may think that Mary and Joseph showed poor parent skills by not keeping a closer eye on their young son. However, to do so would be to forget the local custom of the day.
At that time whole villages would travel together to and from feasts in Jerusalem. On the journey, the men and women would keep their own company. Hence, it was not until the end of the first day’s travel that Mary and Joseph discovered that Jesus hadn’t joined the caravan back to Nazareth. Then, there was a day’s journey back to Jerusalem and the search for Jesus there.
Meanwhile it would seem that, like many a twelve year old, Jesus was asserting his independence from his parents. Typically, too, perhaps, he couldn’t see what all the fuss was about. While each of the parents assumed that he was with the other, he assumed that they would know that he was in the temple, his Father’s house.
When Mary and Joseph eventually arrive at the temple there was an exchange between the parents and the child that sounds very familiar, I am sure. There is, first of all, a sense of relief: “They were overcome when they saw him.”Lk 2:48. Then there comes the expression of hurt: “Why have you done this to us? Lk2:48. See how worried your father and I have been looking for you everywhere?” And Jesus, for his part, typically responds with an excuse: “Did you not know that I must be busy with my father’s affairs.” Lk2:49. Thankfully, it all ends amicably with no lasting harm done and Jesus journeying on with his parents. “He then went down with them and came to Nazareth and lived under their authority.”Lk2:51
Today we celebrate the lives of Jesus, Mary and Joseph under the collective title of the Holy Family of Nazareth. Today’s gospel story would suggest that their way of holiness did not come from their living perfectly together with one another, in every circumstance. Rather, it is rooted in the fact that they rejoiced in and treasured the moments of deep fulfilment and enrichment that their lives together brought to one another. They made the effort to understand the confusing moments of life together and, finally they worked through the hurtful moments and difficult times in a spirit of mercy and forgiveness. And therein lies the way of our holiness, too.
Family members can so easily drift apart and become estranged and even find themselves in real conflict with one another. I pray that the door to every home this year will be a door of mercy to welcome back those who are estranged so that “the balm of mercy may reach everyone … as a sign that the Kingdom of God is already in our midst.” MV5.
Yours sincerely in Christ, the Redeemer