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Reflections for the feast of Holy Family

Fr. Antony Kadavil reflects and comments on the readings at Mass for the feast of Holy Family. He says that St Luke (2:41-50) reports the event of the child Jesus being lost and then found in the temple.

(1Sm 1:20-22, 24-28; 1Jn 3:1-2, 21-24; Lk 2:41-52)

Central theme: On the last Sunday of the calendar year, we celebrate the Feast of the Holy Family.  On this feast day we are offering our own families and all their members on the altar to ask God’s blessing on them and to obtain for them the guidance of the Holy Family.

Homily starter anecdote # 1: Grandparents are a treasure: Pope Francis said that as a child, he heard a story of a family with a mother, father, many children and a grandfather. The grandfather, suffering from Parkinson’s illness, would drop food on the dining table, and smear it all over his face when he ate. His son considered it disgusting. Hence, one day he bought a small table and set it off to the side of the dining hall so the grandfather could eat, make a mess and not disturb the rest of the family. One day, the Pope said, the grandfather’s son came home and found one of his sons playing with a piece of wood. “What are you making?” he asked his son. “A table,” the son replies. “Why?” the father asks. “It’s for you, Dad, when you get old like grandpa, I am going to give you this table.” Ever since that day, the grandpa was given a prominent seat at the dining table and all the help he needed in eating by his son and daughter-in-law. “This story has done me such good throughout my life,” said the Pope, who celebrated his birthday on December 17. “Grandparents are a treasure,” he said. “Often old age isn’t pretty, right? There is sickness and all that, but the wisdom our grandparents have is something we must welcome as an inheritance.” A society or community that does not value, respect and care for its elderly members “doesn’t have a future because it has no memory, it’s lost its memory,” Pope Francis added. (

Scripture lessons summarized.  The first reading from the book of Samuel describes how Elkanah and Hannah presented their child Samuel in the Temple, consecrated him to the service of the Lord as a perpetual Nazarite and left him in the Temple under the care of Eli the priest. The reading instructs us   that we are to live as God’s children, "chosen ones, holy and beloved." In today’s responsorial psalm, the psalmist reminds us that happy homes are the fruit of our faithfulness to the Lord.  In the second reading, John reminds us that, as children of God the Father, we are members of God's own family, and, as such, we are expected to obey the greatest commandment of God,  “Love one another,” so that we may remain united to God in the Holy Spirit.  Today’s Gospel (Lk 2:41-52) describes how Joseph and Mary took Jesus to the Temple in Jerusalem at the age of twelve to make him “a son of the Law” so that he might take on the obligations of the Mosaic Law. After telling us how the boy Jesus got lost and found later in the Temple, today’s Gospel explains how the Holy Family of Nazareth lived according to the will of God, obeying all the Jewish laws and regulations and bringing up Jesus in the same way, so that he grew in wisdom as well as in the favor of God and men. Jesus’ obedience to his earthly parents flows directly from His obedience to the will of his heavenly Father.

Gospel exegesis: 41:Each year his parents went to Jerusalem for the feast of Passover, 42 and when he was twelve years old, they went up according to festival custom. 43 After they had completed its days, as they were returning, the boy Jesus remained behind in Jerusalem, but his parents did not know it. 44 Thinking that he was in the caravan, they journeyed for a day and looked for him among their relatives and acquaintances, 45 but not finding him, they returned to Jerusalem to look for him. 46 After three days they found him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions, 47 and all who heard him were astounded at his understanding and his answers. [48] And when they saw him they were astonished; and his mother said to him, "Son, why have you treated us so? Behold, your father and I have been looking for you anxiously." [49] And he said to them, "How is it that you sought me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father's house?" [50] And they did not understand the saying which he spoke to them. [51] And he went down with them and came to Nazareth and was obedient to them; and his mother kept all these things in her heart. [52] And Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature, and in favor with God and man.

The context: Today’s gospel describes the fifth joyful mystery in the Rosary prayer. Only St Luke (2:41-50) reports the event of the child Jesus being lost and then found in the temple. Jewish boys were made “sons of the Law” by presenting themselves in the Temple of Jerusalem when they become twelve years old. The straight distance between Nazareth and Jerusalem was 60 miles although the winding roads through the hills in Christ’s time made it 87 miles. On pilgrimages to Jerusalem, the Jews used to go in two groups -- one of men, the other of women. Children could go with either group. That is why Joseph and Mary discovered to their shocking agony that Jesus was in neither group after a day of rerun journey from Jerusalem to Nazareth. The boy Jesus was attracted to some Jewish rabbi teaching Scriptures to kids in the Temple Court.  Listeners used to sit at the feet of the teacher, asking questions and clarifications. This was what Jesus did. But his questions and answers attracted the teachers' attention, because the boy Jesus was so wise and well-informed.

Mary’s question and Jesus’ enigmatic response: "Son, why have you treated us so? Behold, your father and I have been looking for you anxiously." Mary asked him why Jesus caused her and Joseph so much agony by remaining in the Temple without informing them, while all his friends from Nazareth went back. Christ's reply was his first words to be recorded in the Gospel. They clearly show his divine Sonship; and his determination to fulfill the will of his Eternal Father. "How is it that you sought me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father's house?" Did you not know I had to be (Greek) en tois tou patros mou?” It means that Jesus' life involves an obedience to more than earthly parents. Mary has just referred to Joseph as Jesus' father, but Jesus uses the word pater of the Creator.  Jesus by his polite counter question teaches us that over and above any human authority, even that of our parents, there is the primary duty to do the will of God. Doing the will of his heavenly Father for boy Jesus entailed obedience to Mary and Joseph: “He went down with them, and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them.”

Navarre Bible Commentary explains that Mary and Joseph realized that his reply contained a deeper meaning which they did not grasp. They grew to understand it as the life of their Child unfolded. Mary's and Joseph's faith and their reverence towards the boy Jesus led them not to ask any further questions but to reflect on Jesus' words and behavior in this instance, as they had done so on other occasions. Without fully understanding Jesus or the events that were unfolding in her family, Mary was willing to believe and trust in the wisdom of God. According Bible scholars the infancy narratives of Jesus in Mathew and Luke gives us the “Christological moment.” It means that by their infancy narratives, both Mathew and Luke have pushed the moment of the revelation of Jesus as God’s Son back from the baptism (where Mark presents it: “you are my beloved son”, Mark 1:11) to the time of Jesus conception and birth.

Life Messages1) We need to learn lessons from the Holy Family: By celebrating the Sunday following Christmas as the Feast of the Holy Family, the Church encourages us to look to the Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph for inspiration, example and encouragement.   They were a model family in which both parents worked hard, helped each other, understood and accepted each other, and took good care of their Child so that He might grow up not only in human knowledge but also as a Child of God. Jesus brought holiness to the family of Joseph and Mary as Jesus brings us holiness by embracing us in His family. The Catechism of the Catholic Church gives the following advice to the parents: "Parents have the first responsibility for the education of their children.  They bear witness to this responsibility first by creating a home where tenderness, forgiveness, respect, fidelity, and disinterested service are the rule.  The home is well-suited for education in the virtues. This requires an apprenticeship in self-denial, sound judgment, and self-mastery - the preconditions of all true freedom. Parents should teach their children to subordinate the 'material and instinctual dimensions to interior and spiritual ones.'" The CCC adds: “Parents have a grave responsibility to give good example to their children.”(CCC #2223).

2) Marriage: a Sacrament of holiness. The Feast of the Holy Family reminds us that, as the basic unit of the universal Church, each family is called to holiness. In fact, Jesus Christ has instituted two Sacraments in His Church to make society holy – the Sacrament of priesthood and the Sacrament of marriage.  Through the Sacrament of priesthood, Jesus sanctifies the priest as well as his parish. Similarly, by the Sacrament of marriage, Jesus sanctifies not only the spouses but also the entire family. The husband and wife attain holiness when they discharge their duties faithfully, trusting in God, and drawing on the presence and power of the Holy Spirit through personal and family prayer, meditative reading of the Bible, and devout participation in Holy Mass.  Families become holy when Christ Jesus is present in them. Jesus becomes truly present in the parish Church through the Sacrifice of the Holy Mass.  Similarly, Jesus becomes truly present in a family when all the members live in the Christian spirit of sacrifice. This happens when there is mutual understanding, mutual support and mutual respect.   There must be proper care and respect given by children to their parents and grandparents, even after they have grown up and left home.

 3) We need to make the family a confessional rather than a courtroom.  A senior Judge of the Supreme Court recently congratulated the bride and groom in a marriage with a pertinent piece of advice: “See that you never convert your family into a courtroom; instead let it be a confessional. If the husband and wife start arguing like attorneys in an attempt to justify their behavior, their family becomes a court of law and nobody wins.  On the other hand, if the husband and the wife -- as in a confessional -- are ready to admit their faults and try to correct them, the family becomes a Heavenly one.” Thus, we can avoid the dangers we watch in dysfunctional families as presented on TV in the shows like Married with Children, The Simpson’s, Everyone Loves Raymond and Malcolm in the Middle.

4) Let us extend the boundaries of our family: The homeless man or woman today in the streets of big cities, fighting the cold and the snow, is part of our family. The drug addict in a den, or living in fear and aloneness this day, is member of our family. The sick person, dying, alone, dirty and maybe even obnoxious, is a member of our family. The person sitting in the prison cell for whatever reason is also a child of God, and as such, according to St. John, is a member of our family. All these, as well as the cherished intimate members of our family, are “family valuables,” and, as such, are worthy of safekeeping and reverence.

5) Parents need to examine their conscience: On the Feast of the only perfect Family that ever lived on this earth, all parents might examine themselves and see how well they are fulfilling the grave responsibility which God has placed on them. As they heard during their marriage ceremony: "children are a gift from God to you."  Children serve as the joy of their parents’ young years and the help and comfort of their old age, but above and beyond that, they are a gift for which their parents are accountable before God, as they must, in the end, return these, His children, to Him.  Let us pray for the grace of caring for one another in our own families, for each member of the parish family, and for all families of the universal Church. May God bless all our families in the New Year.  (Fr. Antony Kadavil).

27 December 2018, 14:16