December 31, 2017 — The Holy Family of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph
We celebrate today the Feast of the Holy Family so it is natural that the readings have to do with how family members relate to one another. Most are probably not aware that the calendar which we follow as Catholics is the result of revisions which occurred in 1969. After all, that is almost 50 years ago. In any case, this feast is always celebrated in what is called the Octave of Christmas, or now on the first Sunday after Christmas. The feast was instituted by Pope Leo XIII in 1893.
Today is a day to celebrate not only the Holy Family, but the idea of family in general. No matter how we may define ourselves we are a part of a family. What is important to know is that this Feast is dedicated to the entire Holy Family. Each in their own right (Jesus, Mary, and Joseph) has their own feasts. This feast commemorates the life of the Holy Family together and the focus is, or should be, on religious family life.
Jesus, son of Sirach, wrote his wisdom as a text book to train young men. Written about 180 BC, this book (Sirach) contains praises for wisdom and advice for moral life, especially in relationship to family relationships. These particular verses in our First Reading address the duty of a son to his parents. Cultures at the time this was written were very family-oriented, as well as being centered on the elderly. However, the advice offered is as meaningful today as it was more than 2,000 years ago. Honoring and respecting one’s parents creates not just strong families, but strong societies as well.
For example, Sirach declares “…kindness to a father will not be forgotten.” It certainly will not be forgotten by the father, but it is also not forgotten by God. As this reading reflects the commandment to “Honor thy father and mother,” it is a reminder to us of how we need to treat our parents, an important aspect of family life.
We have cited the Second Reading from St. Paul’s Letter to the Colossians previously as it outlines what is required for a stable family life. Paul says, “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.” It is not easy, of course, but if members of a family can be compassionate, kind, humble, gentle, patient, and forgiving, then the family is bound to be more unified, more stable, and more of a unit.
And then Paul makes his most definitive statement about family relationships: “And over all these put on love, that is, the bond of perfection.” Love is the summary of all things St. Paul recommends. If each member of a family loves the others, that fulfills what God requires of us in all relationships.
We do not know much about Jesus as a child through holy scripture, but we can certainly draw conclusions from what we do know. Mary and Joseph were devout Jews and parents. They obeyed God’s commands. The circumcision and purification ceremonies were necessary as reminders that all were born in sin. Jesus, of course, was born without sin, and might seem to be excused from this tradition, but even as an infant He identified with sinners, just as He later did at His baptism, and on the Cross.
Note the statement in the Gospel that “Every male that opens the womb shall be consecrated to the Lord, and to offer the sacrifice of a pair of turtle doves or two young pigeons.” It is clear in the Old Testament (Leviticus 12) that at the birth of a son a lamb is to be offered as part of the purification and dedication ceremony. However, it was allowed for a family to offer two birds if they could not afford a lamb. The offering of two birds instead of the lamb was technically called “the offering of the poor.” Jesus was born into a humble and poor family, another reminder to us that He and His family might be very much like us. The Gospel goes on to proclaim that “The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom.”
“Growing in wisdom” is a sign that Jesus developed spiritually. Admittedly, He is not like all others. As a five year old, He must have had a grasp of life and reality that some of us still do not have. We may not know much of Jesus’ life or His family from this time until He was 12 years old. Nevertheless, we do not need to know all the details to fully appreciate that this family was special, different, Holy. The Holy Family should continue to be an inspiration and an example to us.