The Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph
The older I get the more appreciative I become of my now deceased parents and how much I value the opportunity of having grown up within a particular family, with a certain structure, but most importantly clear values and expectations. Looking back I can’t recall a time when I did not equally identify my existence as a member of a particular earthly family, and that family which is the Church, the family of God. We were raised with the expectation that we would work hard to succeed in education and eventually in some professional work, but equally there was the overriding sense of responsibility before God.
As we celebrate the Solemnity of the Holy Family the scriptures remind us of our twofold status as members of particular families as well as members of the family and household of God. At the heart of the feast is the reminder that in becoming man, God in human flesh, Jesus Christ, grew up under the direction of an appointed Mother, Mary, and a foster Father, Joseph, since his conception was accomplished with no human Father. The Father who gave Jesus life in human flesh is only the divine Father, God the Father, the first person of the Blessed Trinity.
The Gospel passage gives a glimpse of the puzzling tension of a God in human flesh, a divine person with a full human nature. We don’t have absolutely precise answers regarding the interplay or Jesus’ humanity and divinity as He grew and learned in His humanity. Nor do we know exactly how Mary understood how the life of her divine Son would play out. And so the Gospel incident described today plays both sides of the tension. Jesus’ parents were legitimately concerned about his being left behind. His response to their finding Him was direct but not a rebuke. It was a reminder of His special place as God’s Son; He would have a special work to do, even though it would not be fully engaged for perhaps another 18 years. And indeed, after this brief introduction to His future, He went home with them, where He was obedient to them, and He grew in wisdom, in age and favor before God and man.
The Feast of the Holy Family, the reminder that Jesus was nurtured within a particular family, is a punctuation mark on the mystery of the Incarnation. It further affirms God’s plan in creation for the fundamental role of the family, a loving relationship between a man and a woman through which new life is cooperatively brought into the world and nurtured. While we know that many children are nurtured without the full benefit of an intact family with both a loving mother and father, it remains fundamental to God’s plan. We must endorse that plan and stand ready to help those unable to enjoy the richness of God’s plan for the loving intact family.
The specific direction of this year’s scriptures assigned to the feast is that two-fold family membership, the human family and the divine family. The Gospel demonstrates Jesus two fold obedience to His heavenly Father and His assigned earthly parents.
The Old Testament presents the example of Hannah, who after petitioning God, was blessed with the birth of her son Samuel. While she rejoiced in the gift of her child, she recognized that he belonged to God as well, and so she eventually took him to the shrine of God in Shiloh where he would be raised for a lifetime of service to God.
The vocation of parents today is somewhere in the middle. Parents are not entrusted with care of God incarnate. Nor are parents literally expected to turn their children over to the Church for a life of fully dedicated service. However, parents are entrusted with nurturing their children to become children of God in baptism, and further raising them to appreciate what that means. Parents are entrusted with the task of raising their children to realize that whatever choices their children make, they are called to serve God in the world as members of His Body the Church.
John reminds us that our becoming “children of God” was a great act of love by the Father. Indeed, we are only able to become children of God because the Father sent His Son to redeem us, have our sins washed away and have the new life of the Holy Spirit planted in our souls. And it is this reflection of God, grace and the Holy Spirit that must be maintained throughout one’s earthly life. And that is so, as John reminds us, we become that greater being that gets to see God as He truly is in heaven.
The formation of children in faith, good character and right moral behavior is the special vocation of parents. But as we are all together in the family of God, which is the Church, we all share in that formation. We participate by all we do to encourage and assist families, especially as we do so through our education, service, spiritual and social activities that comprise our school and our parish faith formation program. We can support parents in their work by our own example of faithful and prayerful living, especially as we gather alongside families still working to form their young children as worshipers. And most importantly we pray for them. We pray for the families of our own parish, even as we pray for those families of our children, grandchildren and other friends and family.