DECEMBER 31st, 2017: HOLY FAMILY
God sets a father in honor over his children;
a mother's authority he confirms over her sons.
Whoever honors his father atones for sins,
and preserves himself from them.
When he prays, he is heard;
he stores up riches who reveres his mother.
Whoever honors his father is gladdened by children,
and, when he prays, is heard.
Whoever reveres his father will live a long life;
he who obeys his father brings comfort to his mother.
My son, take care of your father when he is old;
grieve him not as long as he lives.
Even if his mind fail, be considerate of him;
revile him not all the days of his life;
kindness to a father will not be forgotten,
firmly planted against the debt of your sins
—a house raised in justice to you.
Brothers and sisters:
Put on, as God's chosen ones, holy and beloved,
heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience,
bearing with one another and forgiving one another,
if one has a grievance against another;
as the Lord has forgiven you, so must you also do.
And over all these put on love,
that is, the bond of perfection.
And let the peace of Christ control your hearts,
the peace into which you were also called in one body.
And be thankful.
Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly,
as in all wisdom you teach and admonish one another,
singing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs
with gratitude in your hearts to God.
And whatever you do, in word or in deed,
do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus,
giving thanks to God the Father through him.
Wives, be subordinate to your husbands,
as is proper in the Lord.
Husbands, love your wives,
and avoid any bitterness toward them.
Children, obey your parents in everything,
for this is pleasing to the Lord.
Fathers, do not provoke your children,
so they may not become discouraged.
When the days were completed for their purification
according to the law of Moses,
They took him up to Jerusalem
to present him to the Lord,
just as it is written in the law of the Lord,
Every male that opens the womb shall be consecrated to the Lord,
and to offer the sacrifice of
a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons,
in accordance with the dictate in the law of the Lord.
Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon.
This man was righteous and devout,
awaiting the consolation of Israel,
and the Holy Spirit was upon him.
It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit
that he should not see death
before he had seen the Christ of the Lord.
He came in the Spirit into the temple;
and when the parents brought in the child Jesus
to perform the custom of the law in regard to him,
He took him into his arms and blessed God, saying:
"Now, Master, you may let your servant go
in peace, according to your word,
for my eyes have seen your salvation,
which you prepared in sight of all the peoples,
a light for revelation to the Gentiles,
and glory for your people Israel."
The child's father and mother were amazed at what was said about him;
and Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother,
"Behold, this child is destined
for the fall and rise of many in Israel,
and to be a sign that will be contradicted
—and you yourself a sword will pierce—
so that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed."
There was also a prophetess, Anna,
the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher.
She was advanced in years,
having lived seven years with her husband after her marriage,
and then as
a widow until she was eighty-four.
She never left the temple,
but worshiped night and day with fasting and prayer.
And coming forward at that very time,
she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child
to all who were awaiting the redemption of Jerusalem.
When they had fulfilled all the prescriptions
of the law of the Lord,
they returned to Galilee,
to their own town of Nazareth.
The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom;
and the favor of God was upon him.
One of the most difficult things for some Catholics to admit is that no Christian biblical author seems to argue that the “contemplative life” is the ideal way to live one’s faith. That doesn’t prove such a life style isn’t valid – electric lights aren’t in the Bible either – but it often overlooks what our sacred writers actually contend is essential to the way we’re to live out our faith. Perhaps that’s why we should carefully listen to today’s three Holy Family readings.
In both the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures true faith revolves around how we relate with others. Though we’re to have a correct relationship with God (or the risen Jesus), the first step in forming that relationship is to connect correctly with the people around us – especially those closest to us: our family.
Like you, I grew up with ridiculous holy card pictures of the Holy Family, usually depicting Joseph sawing a piece of wood, Mary spinning wool, and the boy Jesus playing on the floor with miniature crosses. (I presume the parents of any child engaging in similar behavior today would immediately make an appointment with the nearest child psychologist!) The image is as far from real life as it would’ve been had the artist included zombies in the room.
If, as Luke states in today’s gospel pericope, the newly born Jesus eventually “grew and became strong, filled with wisdom, and the favor of God was upon him,” his maturing must have paralleled our maturing. During that formative period, some “things” work; some don’t. There’s probably as much hit and miss in the holy trio’s relationship as there are in our relationships. This is especially true if you remember what I said about the historicity of angelic annunciations on the Fourth Sunday of Advent. Everything Joseph and Mary (and perhaps even Jesus) later learned about their special bond wasn’t known by them at the beginning of that relationship.
We’re especially grateful for the nitty-grittiness of today’s first and second readings. Sirach, for instance, probably speaks from personal experience when he counsels his readers, “Even if (your father’s) mind fails, be considerate of him; revile him not all the days of his life.” Nothing is more frustrating than trying to communicate with a loved one experiencing dementia. Were it an option, I imagine some caretakers would gladly volunteer to spend a few months in a cloistered convent or monastery. Yet our sacred author leaves no wiggle room. How we go one on one with others is an essential part of our faith.
After 2,000 years of “hit and miss” I presume most married couples – especially the wives – would challenge the writer of Colossians’ advice, “Wives, be subordinate to your husbands, as is proper in the Lord.” The Pauline disciple responsible for this letter is certainly coming from a different environment than the one modern Christians normally encounter. After reflecting on human relations over the centuries, most followers of Jesus would honestly testify that basing a husband/wife relationship on subordination isn’t the best way to imitate the risen Jesus. Some things work; some don’t.
But it’s important in all relationships to have hope.
Scholars presume Simeon and Anna were constant fixtures in the Jerusalem temple. They probably asked for parental permission to hold each child that came in for the purification rituals. Both spoke about what this child could one day become. They believed every newborn had the possibility of developing into someone who’ll give “glory” to Israel.
Of course, that will only happen if the child’s parents are willing to endure the pain – the sword – which comes from forming deep relationships with one another and their child. No matter how high our hopes, eventually every family must “return to Galilee.”