Sunday, December 29, 2013

the example of the Holy Family

May my words be in the Name of the Holy & Undivided Trinity: + Father, Son, & Holy Spirit. Amen.

It is a tradition of the Western Church that the first Sunday after Christmas Day is generally one where we reflect in particular on the Holy Family, the child Jesus, his blessed mother, and Joseph his foster father. Truthfully, we don't have a great deal of information to reflect upon. Scripture gives us very few details upon which to build a picture of that little family.

So let us begin with what we do know. We know that they completed the necessary Jewish rituals after the birth of a Son, taking our Lord to the Temple in Jerusalem where they met both Simeon and Anna. Not long after that they had to flee to Egypt for a few years soon after. How did they manage there? Joseph was a carpenter, so it is to be presumed that he found work to support them. And when it was safe they returned and lived in Nazareth. The only other incident reported in the Gospels concerns the time when Jesus was twelve years old and he went with his parents to the festival in Jerusalem where he stayed behind with the teachers in the temple courts when it was time to return home and his parents had to spend three anxious days searching before they found him.

Clearly as parents Mary and Joseph were good and holy people. Both were obedient to God's will, as is shown by their immediate resolve to do what was asked of them by the angels he sent them; both were observant to the demands of their faith, as is demonstrated by the few pieces of information we are given in the Gospels. So we can say with complete assurance that our Lord grew up in a house where the practice of the faith was central to their lives.

And as Joseph was a carpenter and Jesus must have had some way of earning his keep in the years between childhood and when he began his public ministry at the age of around thirty as it tells us in Scripture, the tradition that his foster-father passed on his skills to him seems to be most reasonable. As the culture was one where the extended family was of great importance,

we can imagine also that the small unit that was the Holy Family would have been part of a much wider group of various relatives; and also looking to the culture, we can expect that the upbringing of our Lord would have been fairly typical for the time and place that he was in, being educated by the local rabbis as to how to read and write, learning scripture, and the history and traditions of Jewish religion people.

All quite unremarkable, perhaps: a life where Joseph worked hard at a demanding physical job to put food on the table and keep a roof over their heads; where Mary did the endless round of domestic tasks from when she first rose in the morning until she lay down again at night to look after her home and family; where Jesus would have helped out around the house, learned his lessons, and learned his trade; all the while participating in the cycle of events of their small community, both social and religious.

As I said, unremarkable – and yet, this was the life that our Lord chose to prepare himself for what was to come. The Gospels focus on around three years of our Lord's life on earth; and of those short accounts, each spend a third or more detailing the last few days of that life. But the greater part of his life, thirty years out of thirty-three, was spent in that unremarkable setting of home and family.

Unremarkable – yet also very remarkable. Think of the parents in that home, Mary and Joseph … holy people, saintly people. The Word made Flesh chose to spend not just his early years but the greater part of his life with them. Knowing that Our Lord taught us by example in so many ways, should we not ask ourselves what he seeks to teach us by this example? The importance of the family in God's plan for all people? The requirement of parents, both mother and father, to be good, holy, hardworking people themselves so that by their quiet faithfulness they may teach their children the importance of the faith and doing God's will? The necessity for children to be obedient to their parents and learn from them, not just the skills to cope with the mundane world, but the values that will prepare them to travel through this life to eternal life in the next?

Important lessons gleaned from such little information. But the fact that our Lord spent so many years living in the bosom of that little family trumps the few words that the evangelists gave to it. Actions speak louder than words, especially in a case like this. And our Lord's actions tell us that the Holy Family should be taken as a model for the families of those who would be his followers; a place where he is at the centre of everything, and where holiness and obedience to the will of God is as natural as breathing … and so I pray that the example of the Holy Family will inspire you to try to make your home such as theirs, even as I ask that you pray the same for me. Amen. 

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