Today we celebrate the Feast of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph. It’s a day when we can assert with confidence that the unconditional love God has for us is the foundation of familial love. However, there seems to be to be something of a challenge in this idea. The danger is that we might be tempted to think of this love in some pious way, or as nothing more than a spiritual platitude that is really not connected to our lived human experience at all. Family life, for as wonderful and as grace-filled as it can be, is also very messy, and often fraught with challenges and difficulties that would overwhelm any mere mortal… yet mere mortals we are. So perhaps this is why such a gospel as today’s is offered to us for our considered reflection.
In this day and age, given that I am a “mandated reporter,” there are a number of details in this gospel passage that are alarming. First of all, there’s the initial decision to travel to Jerusalem with Jesus. He’s only twelve, after all, and by all accounts, the family haven’t spent much time away from home since his birth. The questionability of the parent’s decision to travel the length of the country and to bring him to the big city is troubling from the outset. There are too many things that can go wrong. And, of course, it does go wrong. Despite their love for Jesus and their attentions, Mary and Joseph lose track of their son in the city. Worse, they don’t seem to have exercised good parental skills and instead appear to have abdicated parental responsibility to each other, with the result that neither parent seems responsible for losing the child. Predictably, the child goes his own way.
If a gospel is about the Good News of God in Jesus Christ, then this particular passage can’t be considered a good example. There’s a certain sense in which the unfolding of this narrative holds all the potential in the world not for good, but for harm to the child, and what kind of God would allow that to happen!?!?
But the gospel does allow us to see into the realities of a time that across the years may seem so very strange to us. It’s foolish in the extreme to attempt to judge what happened then by the standards of today. Yet still, this gospel has wisdom and insight for us. While the problems and challenges that threatened in the Middle-East of the First Century are not ours today, we have our own challenges and family messes to work through. Our threats are usually not grounded in the heavenly call that challenged the Holy Family. Our family holiness is worked out in much different challenges. Perhaps we are confronted by an inner thirst for satisfaction that seeks to sate itself with anything other than the true love of the heart? Perhaps our family is struggling with the threats that come with poverty? Perhaps we are so wounded in our family life that our hearts tend more to dullness with and for one another rather than to joy and delight? Maybe we’ve grown weary of the struggles that come with relationships and our silences have become preferable enclaves to the honesty of conflict?
On this Feast of the Holy Family, and as we stand on the threshold of a New Year, our gospel invites us trust on the overwhelming goodness of God, and the desire of the Divine for our Holy Good. Whatever struggles or challenges that may be ours in our family lives, we can trust this enduring and abiding goodness of God. If we resolve to engage the difficult conversations, or to undertake the challenges that come our way, and if we intentionally and prayerfully invite God’s grace and blessing into our efforts, then I am convinced that holiness in our lives will follow. There is no shortcut, and such choices are sure to bring us wading through all manner of mess, but we will be the better for it together, as families, and as individuals. We “mere mortals” will be the holier for our efforts by the grace of God.
This is indeed, Good News. Happy Feast Day!
From my family - with whom I am celebrating today, to your family, and to our shared family at Lourdes, blessings and peace.