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12/30/18 Holy Family Homily - Fr. Reggie

It is easy for us to forget that the Holy Family of Joseph, Mary, and Jesus, whose feast we celebrate today, was a real family. We have all seen paintings and holy cards that depict them in a super-pious, unrealistic, sometimes surrealistic, way. But they were real human beings, just like us, and they lived in the real world, the fallen world, just like us. The fact that Mary and Jesus were unaffected by original sin and that Joseph was a saint doesn't change the reality of their family life and their struggles.

In today's Gospel, we actually see Mary scolding Jesus. She says that she and Joseph were "looking for him with great anxiety." In other words, they were worried sick about him! That's reality. We have all experienced “great anxiety” in relation to our families, our relationships, and the problems that constantly bombard us as we journey through this fallen world.

But Jesus responds to Mary's scolding in a surprising way. He doesn't apologize for having gone off on his own without telling them. Instead, he simply says that they should have known that they could find him in the Temple, which he calls "his Father's house."

What’s going on here? Jesus is part of the Holy Family, an earthly family. But he is also part of a differentheavenly family, that of the Holy Trinity. This is the lesson he teaches Joseph and Mary on this occasion. And it's also the lesson he wants to remind us of today, because ever since we became his brothers and sisters at baptism, we too have been members of two families: one natural, and the other (the Church) supernatural.

Keeping this in mind can be a huge help in our day-to-day living, for three reasons.

In the first place, it helps us keep our priorities straight.

This Gospel passage can be confusing, because it seems as if Jesus is actually breaking the Fourth Commandment (honor your father and mother) by going off on his own.

But in the cultural context, that's not the case at all. St Luke reminds us in this passage that Jesus was twelve-years-old. That was the age at which Jewish boys were welcomed into the company of Jewish men; from that age on they were considered adults, and they were expected to act like responsible adults. And so, by staying back in Jerusalem to attend to his heavenly Father's business, Jesus is showing Joseph and Mary (and us) that our primary responsibility in life, our primary mission as human beings, is to find and follow God's call. Nothing, not even the strong, deep ties of family affection and loyalty, should interfere with our obedience to God.

When St Francis of Assisi discovered God's call in his heart and decided to dedicate his life completely to God's service, his father, a successful businessman, threatened to disown and disinherit him. His father did everything possible to discourage his son from following God's call in his life. And in order to be faithful to his heavenly father, St Francis was forced to live with the violent rejection of his earthly father.

In our lives too we sometimes feel the opposition between what would please our family members and what we know God is asking of us. We can face this opposition in little things, like the inconvenience of coming to Mass on Sunday mornings, or of taking time to pray together as a family, for example. Or we can face the opposition in big things, like the apparent inconvenience of adhering to solid moral truths about artificial contraception, divorce and remarriage, and a host of other hot topics. It is not always easy to follow God's wisdom when those closest to us don't agree with it, but it is always the best and surest path to peace of mind and interior freedom.

Staying close to our heavenly Father must be our first priority.

Secondly, keeping in mind that we are part of two families helps keep us on track in the midst of life's storms.

We can only imagine Mary and Joseph's conversation when, at the end of a day's journey, they realized that Jesus was not with their caravan. In those days, pilgrims who came to Jerusalem for the holy days came in large groups that included extended families and neighbors. Traveling together was safer, and it also helped create the festive atmosphere required by the holy days. And usually the caravans were divided into groups of men and women. This is why it's understandable that Mary and Joseph lost Jesus. Joseph would have thought Jesus was somewhere with the women (the children often traveled with the women), and Mary would have thought he was with Joseph (after all, he was now twelve-years-old, so he could officially join the men's group). Only at the end of the day's travel, when each individual family got back together for the night, would they have realized that Jesus wasn't with them. That's when the "great anxiety" clamped down on their hearts. The anxiety would have included fearangeruncertaintysadness, frustration, a sense of helplessness – all the disturbing emotions that our own family troubles so often cause us. We can even imagine Joseph and Mary playing a little bit of the blame game as they discovered what happened (though I am sure it didn’t last long).

And the amazing thing is that God permitted this. He had a reason for allowing them to suffer in this way. He was preparing them for Christ's Passion. This is why St Luke points out specifically that they only found Jesus again on the third day since they lost track of him. In the same way, Mary would find Jesus again after his passion only on the third day, the day of his resurrection.

Many times, God guides us in the same way.

He allows sufferings to cross our paths, not because he likes torturing us, but because he wants to purify us, to make us grow in wisdom, to prepare us to meet the Risen Jesus, to draw us closer and closer to his own suffering heart.

We cannot eliminate moments of "great anxiety" from our family lives.

But when they come, we can remind ourselves that Jesus hasn't forgotten about us, rather, he is tending to his Father's business, which is the salvation of our souls.

Finally, remembering that we are members of both a natural family and a supernatural family helps us overcome temptations to selfishness, which is poison for all family life.

When Mary and Joseph finally found Jesus, teaching all the scholars and rabbis in the Temple, they expressed their frustration. It could have been a moment of conflict. It could have been a moment when one of the three, or all of them, lost their temper and lashed out at the others for not understanding or respecting them. It could have been an explosion – and we all know what those can be like.

Why wasn't it? Because of what Jesus said and how Mary and Joseph responded. Jesus makes his comment about "his Father's house," and that reminded Mary and Joseph to try and see the difficult situation from God's perspective. And that reminder defused the tension, anger, frustration, and high emotion. St Luke tells us that although Mary didn't understand fully what Jesus meant, she "kept all these things in her heart." That means that she thought and prayed about Jesus' words. That's what enabled her to avoid a selfish explosion, and it's also what will enable us to do the same.

If we make an effort to read and reflect on Jesus' words each day, and then if we make an effort to try to follow them in how we live our lives, the Holy Spirit will protect us from the poison of self-pity and self-centeredness.

As we continue with this Mass, let's thank God for our natural family and our supernatural family, and ask for the grace to be as faithful to each of them as Jesus was.

 

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