Holy Family, Hidden Years

User’s Guide to Sunday, Dec. 30

Bartolomé Esteban Murillo The Holy Family, between 1675 and 1682
Bartolomé Esteban Murillo The Holy Family, between 1675 and 1682 (photo: Public domain)

Sunday, Dec. 30, is the feast of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph. Mass Readings: Sirach 3:2-6, 12-14; or 1 Samuel 1:20-22, 24-28; Psalm 128:1-2, 3, 4-5; or Psalm 84:2-3, 5-6, 9-10; Colossians 3:12-21; or Colossians 3:12-17; or 1 John 3:1-2, 21-24; Luke 2:41-52.

This week as Christmas continues, we celebrate also the feast of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph.

The Gospel passage tells the story of the finding of Jesus in the Temple. Jesus, 12 years old, had accompanied his parents to Jerusalem for the feast of Passover; but unknown to them, he had remained behind as they started the journey home.

His mother must have assumed that, being now considered a young man, Jesus was with Joseph and the other men. Joseph thought he was with his mother, and since men and women traveled separately, it was a full day before they realized he was gone.

Full of anxiety and worry, they hurried back to Jerusalem and spent three days searching the crowded, bustling city. With growing anguish, they retraced their steps and finally found him in the Temple, astonishing the teachers there with his wisdom.

Then, it is his parents’ turn to be astonished, as he answers his mother’s question, “Why have you done this to us?” with one of his own: “Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” We may remember that it is at Mary’s word at the Wedding of Cana that Jesus begins his public ministry.

But this is not that hour — she makes no such overture now. Rather, she tucks these mysteries into her heart, placing them alongside the sobering prophesy Simeon had made in the very same Temple 12 years before. And Jesus follows them obediently back home, where he would remain for many more years. “God sets a father in honor over his children; a mother’s authority he confirms over her sons” (Sirach 3:2).

This is the one small but eternally significant glimpse we have into all the years of Jesus’ childhood — and most of his adulthood — in Nazareth. The 30 years before his public ministry were lived quietly, full of work, much prayer, humility and poverty. There were days full of sawdust and wood shavings in the shop, simple meals, Saturdays in the Temple and surely many hidden acts of mercy in the homes of the poor and sick of the town.

Perhaps what should be surprising isn’t that young Jesus was in the Temple, but that for the majority of his life, he was not. It is amazing that the Son of God, born to reveal the love of God the Father, lived most of his life in the secret, sacred every day. But he did this in order to redeem it, to sanctify all of the quiet and even mundane parts of life.

Every part of our daily family life has been given a new depth and meaning because he became one with us in it.

And there is something else, something incredible: Not only is the Christian life redeemed in all its moments by a God who entered them to make them holy, but it is also meant to mysteriously extend Christ’s own life, through time, in our own.

“We must continue to accomplish in ourselves the stages of Jesus’ life and his mysteries and often to beg him to perfect and realize them in us and in his whole Church. … For it is the plan of the Son of God to make us and the whole Church partake in his mysteries and to extend them to and continue them in us and in his whole Church. This is his plan for fulfilling his mysteries in us,” said St. John Eudes, as quoted in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, 521.

Rather than being meaningless, then, our day-to-day lives, especially the small acts which no one may ever recognize, actually make present again the sacred, hidden Nazareth years of the Holy Family.

Claire Dwyer blogs about saints, spirituality and the sacred every day at EventheSparrow.com and contributes regularly to WomenofGrace.com

CatholicMom.com  and EndowGroups.org.

 She is editor of 

SpiritualDirection.com and coordinates adult faith formation at her parish in Phoenix, where she lives with her husband and 

six children.

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