May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be always acceptable in your sight our rock and our redeemer. Amen.
Today is one of those interesting days in the lectionary where there are a lot of choices regarding the readings for Mass. As usual my message this morning is going to be on the gospel however I had to make a choice. Both of the reading options today focus on the same event in the life of Christ and are in fact from the same section of the Gospel of Luke; the difference is that one is 18 verses long and the other 3. I have chosen the latter for today and whilst it may be easy to assume I have done this to make my job easier that’s not the case. Rather, I want to focus on the core of the message today as it relates to the Feast of the Holy Family and I today I think that is better served by the short reading.
For those of you who haven’t heard or read the Gospel for today I’d like to share it with you (Luke 2:22; 39,40):
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.
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.
As I already mentioned this is a very short reading, one of the shortest Gospel readings I’ve ever encountered for Mass; however in its short few verses it is full of such grace and a message that all of us with our own families should heed.
Throughout the history of the Church the Fathers and other believers have gone to a great effort to preserve for us the memory of the Blessed Virgin Mary and her role in the life of Christ, the Church and our Salvation. I have been asked many times by people outside of the Catholic faith why we do this, why we focus on the Blessed Virgin and why she is so important to us. For me the answer is rather simple, the Blessed Virgin was the first Christian, she was the first person upon the face of the Earth to welcome the mission of the Messiah who would be born of her womb. As such, her yes and her entire life are the perfect model for what it is to be a Christian. If we, as individual followers of Christ were to model our lives on that of the Blessed Mother we could be assured that we would be following the path laid out by Christ that leads to eternal life within the beatific vision. However, today, I want to take this one step further.
Since the dawn of time God has highlighted for us that we are made to be social beings; we humans are made to exist in units called families. Adam was not created alone to walk the Earth but was rather given a companion and this expanded into family life after the fall and the birth of Cain and Abel. And so it is with us today, and just as God has given us a great witness in Mary of the life we should lead as followers of Christ, so he has given us an example of what our lives as families following the Gospel path should be; the very Holy Family themselves, Jesus, Joseph and Mary.
Now I’m sure some of you are wondering why on earth I chose the short reading to highlight how the Holy Family is a model for us in our own family lives, it says so little. You’re right, when it comes to sheer volume of words the Gospel reading today doesn’t seem to say much at all. However, if we stop and contemplate the meaning behind the events recorded we can see clear message for how our lives as Christian families should be.
Firstly, the reading begins with Mary and Joseph taking Jesus to the Temple to be dedicated and for Mary to be purified. This tradition is something that continued throughout many of the branches of Catholic Christianity but has somewhat fallen by the wayside in the West. Traditionally 40 days after the birth of a child mother and baby would come to Church and receive special blessings. Now to many this may seem archaic and may imply that the mother was not clean and worthy without the blessing; however, this is far from the truth. Rather, this event marks a special witness to the joy that the congregation feels over the birth of another Christian soul; it gives them the opportunity to welcome mother and child with open living arms and gives the family the chance to welcome the Church and Christ into their newly expanded family.
So what can we take from this? What message and model do we see in these actions for ourselves? The Holy Family, by following the precepts of the Law of Moses show us that if each and every one of us are going to be followers of Christ we need to ensure that He is at the centre of our family. It is not the Father or the Mother, or the Children who should stand as the focus of family life but rather the redeemer. If we place Jesus and his precepts within the centre of our family life our family will be a happier and stronger place. Now this doesn’t need to mean that our every thought and word is only about Church or Jesus; rather it means that we should always make Christ a part of our daily lives. As a family we should pray together often, we should attend Mass or other worship services together and above all we should always be comfortable talking of Christ and our faith with each other. If we as families can do this, just like the Holy Family, we will be blessed in the sight of God and I’m sure we will be happier and healthier individually and corporately.
To me, the second half of the reading is a curious thing; it tells us that the Holy Family went home and that Jesus become strong, wise and found favour with God. So, does this mean that Jesus wasn’t always wise, strong and in God’s favour?
This is an interesting question as it would be easy to entertain these thoughts from these words. However, I think the Gospel writer had a deeper meaning in mind here. Right now we are in the middle of the celebration of Christmas, those twelve days where we celebrate the incarnation, God becoming man. And I think it is this that the Gospel is hinting at. These words don’t indicate the Jesus was a simple human who through growth and development became our redeemer, rather, I think it is being highlighted for us that though God himself descended from heaven in total perfection He still emptied himself and subjected himself to normal growth and development to witness to us that in Jesus we have a something unique, that we have a redeemer who is at once both totally God and totally man; this is the beauty and mystery of the incarnation.
So this Christmas Season as we contemplate the birth of the Christ Child and the mystery that is the incarnation I want us all to remember the importance of our families and the role that we play in the Church, in society and in fostering love. It is my humble and constant prayer that all Christian family will but Christ at their centre and foster a life of faith and devotion so that all may return to our Heavenly Father when this mortal life is through.
Let us pray:
Jesus, Mary and Joseph, in you we contemplate the splendour of true love, to you we turn with trust.
Holy Family of Nazareth, grant that our families too may be places of communion and prayer, authentic schools of the Gospel and small domestic Churches.
Holy Family of Nazareth, may families never again experience violence, rejection and division: may all who have been hurt or scandalized find ready comfort and healing.
Holy Family of Nazareth, may…[we ever be] 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.
(Prayer written by Pope Francis)