Feast Of The Holy Family, Year B.
Genesis 15:1-6; 21:1-3 – Hebrews 11:8, 11-12, 17-19 – Luke 2:22-40.
Let me ask you this: what picture comes to mind at the mention of The Holy Family? While you’re thinking about yours, I’ll tell you about one that’s quite common. Many people tend to have an idealised image of the Holy Family, with its three members – Jesus, Mary and Joseph – sitting peacefully together in a rural haven of uninterrupted calm, with chubby cherubs fluttering around their heads and whispering words of advice into the ears of Our Lady and St. Joseph. Many people tend to perceive the three of them living in a perfect bubble, in perfect harmony with each other and in perfect unity. Maybe they did. Certainly they do now. After all, all three of them are holy, two of them were conceived without Original Sin, and one of them is perfect and sinless. But I wonder if the idealised image misrepresents the reality of what they had to go through together on earth? The Feast we celebrate today (officially instituted by Pope Benedict XV in 1921) doesn’t contrast the perfection of the Holy Family with the shortcomings of the human family; rather, it provides us with an annual opportunity to reflect on how our individual families (which suffer greatly from internal and external pressures) are doing, and how the wider human family (which has been scarred by a blizzard of torments) is coping.
Scripture doesn’t tell us much about the life of the Holy Family, but the glimpses we are given give us a picture of a family that had to weather more than its fair share of storms. That wasn’t unexpected, with the Prince of Lies raging against the presence of the divine Child on earth and having determined to destroy Him. We know of some examples of these storms. When Jesus was about to be born, Joseph and Mary were denied accommodation at a time when they most needed it. The experience of having doors shut in our faces is not nice, is it? Their joy at the birth of Mary’s first-born son (Mt 1:25; Lk 2:7) was short-lived. When the news reached Herod’s ears that a king of the Jews had been born, Herod’s murderous thugs targeted the infant males in the area, and as head of the household, Joseph took the decision to flee with Mary and the Child to a foreign country (Mt 2:13ff). When the family came back home to Nazareth, they settled into family life and work.
When Jesus was 12 (in Judaism, boys come of age when they are 12), He went missing on the way back from the annual visit to Jerusalem. For Mary, losing her only child (Mk 6:3; Lk 2:41) must have been a desperately worrying experience. Just imagine how frantic you would be at “losing the Messiah!” [what on earth would you say to God the Father?] and only finding Him on the third day.
Where else have you heard of Jesus being gone until the third day? Correct!
During Jesus’ three-year public ministry, Mary saw her Son being plotted against by the civil and religious authorities because they declined to accept divinely-revealed Truth in Person. (Nothing new there, then!) Mary was there for Him from His conception to the very end of His human life: she was there for Him as He carried the Cross, she was there for Him at the foot of the Cross, she witnessed His death and received His Body in her lap before His burial by Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus. No wonder that Tradition has it that Our Lord visited her first after His triumphant resurrection from the dead.
Recalling that even the Holy Family was not exempt from worry and pain helps us to appreciate that every family has its ups and downs. Mary pondered in her heart (Lk 2:19) Simeon’s words that: this child is destined for the fall and rising of many in Israel and for a sign that is spoken against (and a sword will pierce through your own soul also), that the secret thoughts of many may be revealed (Lk 2:34f). Tough words indeed! The Holy Family was, however, a three-in-one unit, mirroring the Godhead, that never gave up on each other or on God. They loved and worked and prayed their way through Jesus’ upbringing. The Holy Family is a model for us. People quip “there’s no place like home” because ‘home’ is an idealised place where we are always welcome, where there is tolerance, understanding, forgiveness and love always waiting for us. Do our families float through life untroubled by misunderstandings and problems of one kind or another? No! Of course, there are squabbles and misunderstandings, fallings-out and feuds, mental and physical illnesses to be faced, and practical, emotional, financial and spiritual problems to be dealt with. Sometimes, problems at home can pile up to such a horrendous extent that families divide or break up. The example of the family unit of Jesus, Mary and Joseph encourages us to ‘hang on in there’. Besides, there is depth to relationships that have weathered storms. Bearing burdens of sorrow together, and tackling problems together, can bond family members and bring them out the other side stronger than ever.
In the First Reading, Abram and Sarah had their own sorrows to bear in Abram’s ongoing childlessness and the prospect of having no family heritage. The Lord came to Abram’s help and the problem was solved. How come? What did Abram do in an effort to remedy the situation? He prayed. Prayer, whether formal or informal, spoken out loud or in the heart, at length or in arrow prayers, is a shield against the sharp sword of grief. Despite the intensity of his fears, Abram’s attitude was of faith. In the Second Reading, the writer to the Hebrews underlines how it was faith that carried Abraham and Sarah through to victory in their lifetime. Every family in our world today needs the gift of faith (Eph 2:8; Heb 11:1). Fidelity to God is essential for families who desire peace and joy in their home.
Have you got a picture of The Holy Family in your mind now? I hope so. Let us all draw inspiration from The Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph to help us to grow in grace and favour with God and with one another. Amen. God bless you.