1 Samuel 1, 20-28 X Psalm 128 X 1 John 3, 1-24 X Luke 2, 41-52
December 27, 2015 at Saint Peter the Apostle Parish in Naples, FL.
It was 1893. The industrial revolution a generation earlier had begun to affect family life as it was known then, and the consequent changes in morality were an increasing threat to family life. In response to this Pope Leo XIII established this feast to be celebrated shortly after Easter. While it has moved around in the Church’s calendar since then, it has become more and more widely celebrated on the Sunday after Christmas.
Today “family” has many cultural and moral connotations and challenges for us. We are now living in an age of blended families, single parent families, and even “same-sex” families. We live in an age when child abuse, pornography, and the internet reach into families disrupting and destroying family relations. As a result, the whole idea of The Holy Family of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph might seem to exist on another planet or be light years away from our 21st century experience. Yet, the Gospel truth we proclaim insists that the family, no matter how it is defined still is the primary school of deeper humanity penetrated by the spirit of Christ. It is a big challenge to live in mutual respect and love; for parents to honor the dignity of their children, and for children to respect the dignity of their parents, each one bound to the other in the love that God has lavished upon us, as John writes in the second reading today.
This familiar story from Luke’s Gospel provides a clue to understanding something that is essential to every human and every family relationship. The clue is found in the description of what Jesus is doing in the Temple. It is easy to miss because too many artists and story tellers have presented us with a precocious child Jesus haloed and white robed lecturing the religious teachers. What Luke actually says is that he was listening and asking questions which is what always leads to understanding. He was not talking, lecturing, correcting, or nagging. He was listening. With a little more good listening in our lives, things could be a lot more agreeable and peaceful. It is an art too rarely practiced in the noise of this age; but it is an essential skill for growing in Holiness.
While the feast and the age in which we live encourages us to look at family life in a personal and somewhat limited or narrow way, there is a larger family for us to consider as well: the Human Family which suffers just as great a challenge as our personal families. There is not enough listening to cries of the poor and refugees. There is not enough listening to those who seem different from us. If there was more, they might not seem so different.
Within the family, we find our identity. Adolescence is the search for and the gradual finding of one’s identity, which suggests that we might wonder what defines that identity. Is it family ties, culture, religious experience, a sense of vocation, a personal creed, or one’s dreams and ideals? Maybe all of them, but what we discover in the Gospel is that Jesus found his identity by affirming his relationship with God. Perhaps that might be a starting point for all of us.
For Mary and Joseph, as for all of you who have accepted the vocation of parenting, there comes a lot of pain in allowing your children independence, allowing them their identity, loving them and not possessing or punishing them when not fully understanding them. What better gift can any of us give for the building up of all family life and the whole human family than the gift of simply listening which in every age and culture is grace that will bear fruit in understanding and peace.