Feast of the Holy Family

December 26, 2021

Sister Jan Ginzkey, OSB reflects on the scripture readings: Sirach 3:2-6, 12-14; Colossians 3:12-21; Luke 2:41-52

I come from a fairly large family. My parents were strong in their faith. Both Mom and Dad were hard workers, intelligent and generous. They instilled in my four brothers, my sister and me solid foundations of faith, values, and principles to become caring adults. As most large families, we all had responsibilities to help the household run smoothly. Academics, service to the church, and school were also priorities.

We grew up in the 50’s and 60’s. Life was simpler then. We learned to entertain ourselves playing outside with the neighbor kids. We went swimming in the summer and

sledding in the winter. One year we had enough snow to build an igloo in the front yard.

(Mom couldn’t find a trash can in the house, we were using them all to make snow bricks.) The movies were family oriented with little violence. The drive-in theatre was a great summer treat. We piled into the station wagon and took our own popcorn, drinks, and some lawn chairs so that everyone could see the screen.

Sure, we had some disagreements and arguments. We teased one another. But we were a family. Spending time with the family playing games, hiking, sharing a bike, attending church, sitting quietly while reading were ways that helped build a strong family. There develops a mutual understanding and commitment to each other.

The readings for today describe what traits or characteristics of a family were important for the era and to the people the writer was addressing. In Sirach, a wisdom book written between 200 and 175 B.C., the emphasis is on obeying the law and tradition.  It was a patriarchal society. Sirach said, God sets a father in honor over his children. A mother’s authority God confirms over her children. Children are to honor, respect, and obey their parents. Sirach says, take care of your parents when they are old. Be considerate even if their mind fails. Kindness to parents will not be forgotten.

Paul’s letter to the Colossians is more specific about the character traits that are to be part of a healthy family. He reminds the Colossians that they, and we, are God’s chosen ones. We are all one family in Christ Jesus, holy and beloved. We are called to be compassionate, kind, humble, gentle, patient, and bear with one another and forgive one another. Above all, love one another. 

The Gospel story is an example of how even Mary, Joseph, and Jesus were just an ordinary family like yours and mine. I invite you to put yourself in the story as I tell it.

It was common for families, neighbors, and friends to travel together for the high holydays and festivals. Traveling together for safety also meant going at a pace that was comfortable for the oldest and youngest to keep up. It would take at least two days to walk from Nazareth in the north in Galilee to Jerusalem in the south of the country.  Some farmers may have a wagon or donkey to carry the best of their crop as an offering. The shepherds may lead the finest of their flock for a sacrifice. They would have to carry water, wine, food, blankets or bedding, and some cooking pots and utensils. The children would be able to play games, take turns leading the animals.

It would have been normal for Mary and Joseph to walk with other adults and discuss

the torah or politics or just catch up with relatives they didn’t see regularly. I’m sure they believed Jesus was with a group of cousins and friends. It wasn’t until they stopped in the late afternoon to set up the campsite and began to prepare a meal that they realized

Jesus was not with the caravan. 

Like all parents they experienced panic and had so many questions. Had Jesus gotten hurt? What if a wild beast attacked him? What if he strayed in a game and was now lost in the wilderness? What if? What if? Their imaginations would typically go to the worst-case scenario. The impulse would be, we have to retrace the distance traveled that day.  Was it only 5 miles or 10 miles? It would be getting dark. Was it safe to travel at night?   Would friends and family urge them to wait until morning? Would a relative or neighbor offer to accompany them and help search? Can you imagine the kaleidoscope of emotions going through their minds? They were responsible to care for Emmanuel, God with us. Jesus was lost!

Even if they traveled that night, it would take longer to cover the same distance as they

would be searching the ravines, the places a child might seek shelter. When they reached Jerusalem would the gates be open for the new day?  Where would they look?  Had they stayed with a distant relative or at an inn? How would they describe Jesus so a stranger might be able to tell them if he had been seen? (There were no photographs or posters, or social media available to ask for help to find Jesus). There were so many alleys and marketplaces to search. Was it in desperation or the guidance of the Spirit that led them finally to the temple?  Mary would have to go to the areas where women were allowed to gather and pray. Joseph might go to the money changers and the courtyard for men to gather. Each desperately asking everyone they met if Jesus had been seen. Did they plan to meet at the covered portico where the scholars met to debate, to teach, to preach? 

What a relief to see Jesus sitting there debating with the scholars! But all the emotions of the search, the worry, the anxiety would also erupt. Can you imagine Mary and Joseph rushing up to hug Jesus, kiss him and check to be sure he was physically alright? Then the questions; Why have you done this to us?  We have been searching for you for three days! 

I’m sure they were bewildered and did not understand the questions Jesus responded with. “Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” No wonder Luke tells us that Mary ponders this in her heart.

Luke does not give us details of the family life of Mary, Joseph, and Jesus in Nazareth.  He simply says Jesus went with them back to Nazareth and advanced in wisdom, age, and favor with God and man. May we all go home and appreciate our families with all the quirks and habits that may irritate us. Remember what Paul said, “Be compassionate, kind, gentle, forgiving and above all love one another”!  We are all called to become a holy family or at least try our best to be.

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