Sunday, Dec. 30, is the feast of the Holy Family.
Sirach 3:2-6, 12-14; Psalm 128:1-5; Colossians 3:12-21; Luke 2:41-52
Today is the feast of the Holy Family, and the readings give a good overview of what makes for strong families. Ultimately, what our families need turns out to be something totally outside the family itself.
The readings start out with very human advice to families.
In the first reading, we hear that parents deserve honor and authority from children, and, when they are old and frail, they deserve kindness and care. If this advice was ever obvious, it certainly isn’t today. Parental authority is probably more tenuous than ever, and aged parents are more alone than ever.
The second reading is probably not as shocking as it often sounds to our ears. The basic message is that wives should not try to manipulate or domineer their husbands and that husbands should not take their wives for granted or bitterly dismiss them. This is once again very timely advice for modern men and women. And the family qualities St. Paul calls for are also as relevant as ever: kindness, humility, gentleness, patience and forgiveness.
It’s the Gospel reading that gives a spiritual perspective. The story of the Finding in the Temple tells how, ultimately, our happiness in life — here and eternally — will not come from our family. It will come from God.
First of all, notice the setting: a family pilgrimage. This isn’t just a family vacation — it’s a family vacation with a spiritual purpose. It is important to take our families on such journeys.
But the whole story unfolds in a close-knit family. Notice the way the boy Jesus is lost. He isn’t forgotten or neglected by Mary and Joseph — they “think he is in the caravan,” the extended family group that accompanied them on this journey. Remember, these were the days when cousins were so close they were called brothers.
Once Jesus is finally found in the Temple, he asks, “Did you not know I must be in my Father’s house?” He then returns to Nazareth and is obedient to Mary and Joseph. The lesson is clear: Human families are extremely important, but our spiritual family is even more important.
Look at the story analogically, and the lesson deepens.
We can easily put ourselves in Mary and Joseph’s place. They have had Jesus in their lives, but now they have lost him. So often we lose him, too, in one way or another. We might assume he will always be with us automatically and stop making the effort that is so necessary in the spiritual life.
When we discover he is missing, we might do what they did.
First, we might underestimate what it will take to bring Jesus back into our lives. They “journeyed for a day,” thinking he was somewhere nearby, just out of sight.
Second, we might look for him in a merely human way. They “looked for him among their relatives and acquaintances.” But as important as our families and communities are, they are not sufficient to deliver what we need. We have to take a step outside our family if we hope to find Christ.
Finally, “they returned to Jerusalem to look for him.” They went to the place where they were guaranteed to find God: For them, it was the Temple; for us, it is the Church.
If we go to the Church to look for Jesus, we, too, will find him. We will find him in the Church’s teachings, in its mission and in the tabernacle, where he still sits, asking questions and giving “astounding answers.”
And once we have Jesus in our lives again, we can return to our families, enriched and ready to live the rewarding relationships that come with God’s grace.
Tom and April Hoopes write from
Atchison, Kansas, where
Tom is writer in residence at