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December 30, 2012 - Feast of the Holy Family

Sir 3:2-6, 12-14; or 1 Sm 1:20-22, 24-28; Col 3:12-17 or 3:12-21 or 1 Jn 3:1-2, 21-14; Lk 2:41-52

December 27, 2012

Before turning to the readings, it might be helpful to know a bit about the history of this feast. Interestingly enough, Pope Leo XIII initiated the Feast of the Holy Family in 1893, and Pope Benedict XV extended the feast to the universal church in 1921. Leo's well known encyclical, Rerum Novarum on the Rights of Workers, addressed the justice issues of factory workers in the midst of the industrial revolution. One of the consequences of the time was the break-down of the nuclear family. Thus, Leo held up the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph to serve as a model for family life and unity.

Here at the end of 2012, how do we understand and experience family? It was a question that Jesus asked as well: "Who is my mother? Who are my brothers?" Jesus' own reply is: "Whoever does the will of God in heaven is my brother and sister and mother." (Mt 12:46-50). How do we define family? Of course, we each have a family of origin, the one into which we are born. Some of us are blessed with loving, nurturing parents and siblings who are close friends. Others of us are not so blessed. One of our primary needs is that of belonging; so we might conclude that family is comprised of those with whom we belong. Peter, Paul, and Mary have a wonderful ballad entitled 'Home is Where the Heart Is'. Thus, another description of family may be those with whom we share our hearts.

We have a choice of reading from Sirach or First Samuel - only one will be chosen - for the first reading of this Feast. We may hear both and reflect on them with comfort and with challenge.

Sirach highlights the relationships of parents and children, and even when children become caretakers of aging parents. The bond is one of honor, of mutual respect and care. How many of our elders go without such remembrance in their declining years?

Hannah's story is recounted in the text from First Samuel. Having prayed to conceive and then giving birth to Samuel, she returns to the Temple to dedicate him to God. We are reminded that children - all children - are a gift from God, and remain God's own for their lives. It is certainly a sad reality that too many children face a far different environment in our world, without family, without nurturance, and with abuse. What might we be called to do in the face of this reality? 

The choices of texts we are given for the second reading include a shorter or longer reading from Colossians, and from 1 John. In Colossians, we hear the virtues and qualities that become the glue - indeed, the "perma-bond" of family/community life: forgiveness, love, thankfulness. "And whatever you do, in word or in deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus." Our response to hearing these words must be much deeper than simply: "That sounds nice." We must live lives forgiving, loving, and thanking one another, all in the name of Jesus and the Gospel. We must not only talk the talk but walk the walk. May this message from Colossians give us new resolve, and shape our resolutions as we enter into the New Year of 2013.

1 John addresses all of us who hear it as "Beloved." It is unlikely that we in our families/communities address one another as "beloved." Yet, that is what we are: beloved of God! We experience the love of God "with skin on" when we are loved or when we love another. We may be the only experience of a loving presence that another has.

The familiar gospel of the day from John recounts the story of Jesus being lost in the temple. Some may question why this particular story is told on the feast of the Holy Family - parents leaving their child behind in a crowd? Life happens. No individual event or family crisis diminishes the fundamental relationships of a holy family.

In this particular story, perhaps the unspoken message is that the family/community provides the foundation for one to follow their vocation, their life's work - as Jesus found himself "at home" in the temple with the teachers discussing the Scriptures. We might conclude that there was foundation for that "at home" with Mary and Joseph. He returns to that first home, where he becomes more deeply grounded, "in wisdom, age and grace."

On this Feast of the Holy Family, may the readings be our guide to reflect on our understanding of "holiness" and "family." But even beyond such reflection, what do these readings call us to be, to do, "in the name of the Lord Jesus."

Sallie Latkovich, CSJ
Director of Bible Study and Travel, Director of the Summer Institute, and Adjunct Professor

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