The Feast of the Holy Family (Readings from Year B)
Dear Sisters and Brothers,
… the child’s father and mother stood there wondering at the things that were being said about him …
How many parents must have found themselves in this position, standing there wondering at the things that were being said about their child? “Yes, what a bright engaging child you have! So ready to help,.. so full of initiative..”. Are they talking to me? Are they referring to our child – bright, engaging, ‘helpful, full of initiative? I suppose she is; perhaps I have taken her for granted “He’s out of control; you need to take him in hand, he has no respect for anyone, all he thinks about is himself”. Surely not our child?.. Out of control, with no respect and totally selfish?.. Why have I not noticed, not done something to help him?
Wonder can be both positive and negative, awesome or depressing. And I am sure that parents experience both a lot of the time.
Today is the Feast of the Holy Family. We are still enjoying the warm glow that the celebration of the Nativity of Our Lord should bring us. We gather round the Crib in church or at home and most of us can’t help but recall good memories, especially of childhood. The baby in the manger brings out the best in us. However, if we are not careful we can be wafted away on Disneyesque dream-like clouds and forget that … the child’s father and mother stood there wondering at the things that were being said about him….. Just like us.
Even as we reflect on the awesome wonder of Christmas, already, through the voice of Simeon, the Church is facing us with the reality of Christ’s life and destiny and with the pain that will inevitably touch Mary’s heart. “ You see this child: he is destined. for the fall and for the rising of many in Israel, destined to be a sign that is rejected – and a sword will pierce your own soul too – so that the secret thoughts of many may be laid bare“. As with us, the life of the Holy Family was not protected or sheltered from reality. This is the big difference between the winter-wonderland version of the Nativity and the truth of the Incarnation.
What kept Mary and Joseph true to God’s calling for them and committed to his will? Perhaps we have a strong hint in our first and second reading referring to Abraham and Sarah our forebears in faith. In the first reading both Abraham and Sarah are getting on in years. They were childless and in their eyes and the eyes of their family and friends this would be seen as both a disgrace and a punishment from God. So they would be experiencing a little bit of negative wondering. Hence Abraham’s question: “See, you have given me no descendants; some man of my household will be my heir” Then God makes this solemn promise to him: “Look up to heaven and count the stars if you can. Such will be your descendants” he told him. Abraham put his faith in the Lord, who counted this as making him justified.
The author of the Letter to the Hebrews reiterates this same conviction by simply stating: It was by faith that Abraham….set out without knowing where he was going….. offered to sacrifice his only son ……was confident that God had the power even to raise the dead….. that Sarah was made able to conceive.
Although their faith was tested many times, Mary and Joseph, like Abraham and Sarah before them, trusted that what the Lord had promised would be fulfilled. And this was not in the winter-wonderland version of the Nativity but in the truth-filled reality of the Incarnation. They had faith and that faith justified them and carried them through all their wondering and pondering, their fear and uncertainty.
Could it be the same for you and me? Absolutely! Faith is not a blind, stubborn conviction, it is a supernatural gift from God which enables us to believe as true what God has revealed – to trust in his promises and enable us to live our lives accordingly. If your faith is weak, then like the apostles (Luke 17.5) ask the Lord to strengthen your faith. If you feel you lack faith, ask to know Jesus so that you may believe in him (John 9.36).
This year in October there will be a Synod of Bishops entitled, “Jesus Christ reveals the Mystery and Vocation of the Family”. As we continue wondering at our families, as we ask for the gift of faith and that our faith might be strengthened, let us keep the work of this Synod in mind and prayer.
Jesus, Mary and Joseph, may the approaching Synod of Bishops make us once more mindful of the sacredness and inviolability, of the family, and its beauty, in God’s plan. Jesus, Mary and Joseph, graciously hear our prayer. Amen.
Yours in blessed hope
+ Terence Patrick
Bishop of Middlesbrough