In accordance with the new Roman Calendar, the Feast of the Holy Family is celebrated as part of the Christmas Season on the first Sunday after the celebration of the Nativity of the Lord (Christmas). And it seems only fitting, because it is the addition of a child that turns a couple into a family. And it is that family experience that serves as the basic formation of that child. Just as we are, in part, a product of our own family experience, Jesus too was a product, in part, of his family experience. Both Mary and Joseph said "yes" when they were approached by the angel of the Lord, and the three of them together, as family, give us a model of family life.
Psalm 105:1-2, 3-4, 5-6, 8-9
1 John 3:1-2, 21-24
Our first reading is from the first book of Samuel. Samuel, as we may recall, was the last of the Judges of Israel and a pivotal figure in their transition from a tribal structure to a monarchy. So what does a story about Samuel have to do with the Holy Family? As our passage would suggest, Samuel's parents, Hannah and Elkanah, shared something in common with Mary and Joseph... their devotion to God and their willingness to say "yes" to God's plan for their son. In Hannah's case, she had prayed to God to have a son. By way of giving thanks for having her prayer answered, she willingly gave up her son to the service of God by handing him over to Eli the great priest and prophet. Hannah, like Mary, understood her son was destined by God for great things, and willingly followed. Hannah's story is reflected in our Psalm as we sing, "blessed are those who fear the Lord and walk in his ways."
Our second reading takes us from being parents to that of being children. In a passage from the first letter of Saint John, we are reminded that we are all "children of God." By following Jesus and by following his commandments, we become like him. Further, it is the Holy Spirit that reveals this truth to us. In his letter John calls us "beloved." Many of the first Christians who heard John's letter were considered outcasts for their belief in Christ, but he provides comfort to them (and us) by revealing that though Christ we are part of a new family, a greater family.
In our celebration of family, our Gospel from Luke give us a unique view into the family life of Jesus. Jesus is now twelve years old, and as is the family custom, they journey to Jerusalem for the Passover festival. As Joseph and Mary are with the caravan returning back to Nazareth, they discover that Jesus is missing., so like any concerned parent, they back-track their way to Jerusalem to find him. They eventually find him at the temple where he has been conversing with the teachers. Jesus, like the boy he is, doesn't understand his parent's anxiety, but neither do his parents understand him when he assumes they should know why he has stayed behind at the temple. All ends well as they all return to Nazareth, but this story, unique to Luke's gospel, gives us a special story in which we can, as both children and parents, can relate to our own family experiences.
Family life is not always easy. As children we find ourselves challenged by parents, teachers, care-givers, and siblings. As parents we find ourselves challenged by our children, our spouses, our careers. Yet even with all its challenges, our family lives give us purpose and teach us love. The family unit is the most basic element of humanity and is one of those aspects of our humanity that we share with Jesus. The blessings of family life, and the challenges of family life. This feast day is a reminder that Jesus is our brother, and through him we are all children of God.