Updated: Jan 21
The readings for this day can be found: [HERE].
Today we celebrate the feast of the Holy Family. We traditionally celebrate this day on the Sunday during the Christmas Octave, which refers to Christmas day, and the seven days after that.
It's beautiful that we celebrate this feast in close proximity to Christmas. It reminds us that children need more from their family than to just be born. Our parents conceive us, but their role doesn’t end there. Even God had a human family before his return to heaven. That’s how significant the human family is.
We believe in a God who chose to enter into the human family, not in the appearance of someone human, but rather as someone truly human, who was conceived, born, raised in a family, who took his place in society, who lived and died and rose again. It’s a great mystery that we can never fully fathom; how God could be both human and divine, without separation or confusion, and without one nature violating the other in some way.
I want to mention just two things about our gospel passage that I feel we ought to ponder and try to relate to ourselves. The first involves the relationship that Jesus had with Mary and Joseph. The second involves the relationship that Jesus has with God the Father. We’ll begin with his relationship to Mary and Joseph.
As we heard in our gospel passage, after Jesus was believed to have been missing for three days, Mary and Joseph found him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions, and all who heard him were astounded at his understanding and answers.
Now, it wouldn’t surprise me in the least if Mary and Joseph, when finally discovering Jesus, had overheard him speak words to the elders that they themselves had taught Jesus in their home at Nazareth. And when they marveled at the wisdom and understanding of Jesus, they were inadvertently marveling at the wisdom and understanding of Mary and Joseph.
I’m sure we’re all familiar with how children can take after their parents. Children can adopt their parents’ mannerisms, choice of words, culture, values, and so on. When Jesus was born, he didn’t come out of the womb with a fully developed intellect and the capacity to speak perfect Hebrew. That’s not how human beings are. Being human means learning as a matter of process; by receiving an education that unfolds over time, and in the context of one’s relationships. As someone truly human, that’s how Jesus needed to learn.
But he’s God, one might say. God knows everything and is all powerful. Yes. That’s true. But not at the expense of his humanity. God chose to become human, while remaining God. We know much of what it means to be human. But perhaps we don’t know what it means to be God. Perhaps that's why this [gesture to the Crucifix] image of the Almighty God can be so confounding to many.
There will be a time when Jesus ventures out on his own as an adult, and becomes the true judge of all things, whose words are spoken with authority, who knows his true identity and mission, and is able to cast out demons, cure the sick, raise the dead, and command the forces of nature. But all of that—and more—happens after his years of formation in Nazareth under Mary and Joseph. As we heard later in our passage, he went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them… And Jesus advanced in wisdom and age and favor before God and man.
In our own lives, many of us are baptized. And so, we already belong to the family of God. We already are united to God in Christ. That’s who we are. But we may not yet have fully grown into our identity.
Like a child born in a family, who needs to learn what it means to be a son or daughter in a family, we need to learn what it means to be a Christian. Baptism marks our birth into God’s family. But we still need to be raised in this family. And that’s where Mary and Joseph can help us too. When we cultivate a prayerful relationship with Mary and Joseph, we’re certain to grow into our identity in Christ.
Regarding that second point, briefly: Jesus’ relationship to God his Father, we heard a very telling statement by Jesus when responding to Mary and Joseph: “Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?”
This is what it means to be the Son of God—to always relate everything to God his Father. Everything that Jesus learned from Mary and Joseph—and from his other relationships—was all part of his relationship to his Father. Everything that Jesus experienced in his humanity fit within that context; even his suffering and death. When tempted by another to turn away from the path chosen for him by the Father, Jesus replied, “Shall I not drink the cup given to me by the Father?”
That posture should be ours as well. Everything that we experience relates to our relationship with God in some way. When we are blessed in great ways and small, that is part of our relationship with God. When our lives begin to look like this [gesturing to the Crucifix], and we’re suffering, even (and especially) this is part of our relationship with God.
Through the grace of the Mass, may our hearts be opened to being fully formed and initiated into the faith of Christ through Mary and Joseph, and may we recognize all of our experiences in the context of our relationship to our loving Father.