27/12. The Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph

1st Reading: Sirach 3:2-6, 12-14

Honour your parents when they are old

The Lord honors a father above his children,
and he confirms a mother’s right over her children.
Those who honor their father atone for sins,
and those who respect their mother are like those who lay up treasure. Those who honor their father will have joy in their own children,
and when they pray they will be heard.

Those who respect their father will have long life,
and those who honor their mother obey the Lord;
My child, help your father in his old age,
and do not grieve him as long as he lives;
even if his mind fails, be patient with him;
because you have all your faculties do not despise him.
For kindness to a father will not be forgotten,
and will be credited to you against your sins

2nd Reading: Colossians 3:12-21

The kindness there should be in a Christian family

As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.

Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly; teach and admonish one another in all wisdom; and with gratitude in your hearts sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

Wives, be subject to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord. Husbands, love your wives and never treat them harshly. Children, obey your parents in everything, for this is your acceptable duty in the Lord. Fathers, do not provoke your children, or they may lose heart.

Gospel: Luke 2:41-52

The finding of Jesus, after being lost for three days

Now every year his parents went to Jerusalem for the festival of the Passover.  And when he was twelve years old, they went up as usual for the festival.  When the festival was ended and they started to return, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but his parents did not know it.  Assuming that he was in the group of travelers, they went a day’s journey. Then they started to look for him among their relatives and friends.  When they did not find him, they returned to Jerusalem to search for him.  After three days they found him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions.  And all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers.  When his parents saw him they were astonished; and his mother said to him, “Child, why have you treated us like this? Look, your father and I have been searching for you in great anxiety.”  He said to them, “Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?”  But they did not understand what he said to them.  Then he went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them. His mother treasured all these things in her heart.

And Jesus increased in wisdom and in years, and in divine and human favour.


Kieran O’Mahony has some excellent notes on the Scripture texts for today at http://www.tarsus.ie/resources/2015/HolyFamily16C.pdf. He has also drawn my attention to a lovely homily for this feast, delivered by Pope Paul VI in Nazareth, in 1978:

Nazareth, a school for family life

Nazareth is a kind of school where we may begin to discover what Christ’s life was like and even to understand his Gospel. Here we can observe and ponder the simple appeal of the way God’s Son came to be known, profound yet full of hidden meaning. And gradually we may even learn to imitate him.

Here we can learn to realise who Christ really is. And here we can sense and take account of the conditions and circumstances that surrounded and affected his life on earth: the places, the tenor of the times, the culture, the language, religious customs, in brief, everything which Jesus used to make himself known to the world. Here everything speaks to us, everything has meaning. Here we can learn the importance of spiritual discipline for all who wish to follow Christ and to live by the teachings of his Gospel.

How I would like to return to my childhood and attend the simple yet profound school that is Nazareth! How wonderful to be close to Mary, learning again the lesson of the true meaning of life, learning again God’s truths. But here we are only on pilgrimage. Time presses and I must set aside my desire to stay and carry on my education in the Gospel, for that education is never finished. But I cannot leave without recalling, briefly and in passing; some thoughts I take with me from Nazareth.

First, we learn from its silence. If only we could once again appreciate its great value. We need this wonderful state of mind, beset as we are by the cacophony of strident protests and conflicting claims so characteristic of these turbulent times. The silence of Nazareth should teach us how to meditate in peace and quiet, to reflect on the deeply spiritual, and to be open to the voice of God’s inner wisdom and the counsel of his true teachers. Nazareth can teach us the value of study and preparation, of meditation, of a well-ordered personal spiritual life, and of silent prayer that is known only to God.

Next, we learn about family life, Nazareth serving as a model of what the family should be  and exemplifying its basic function in society: a community of love and sharing,  in sum, the perfect setting for rearing children – and for this there is no substitute.

Finally, in Nazareth, the home of a craftsman’s son, we learn about work and the discipline it entails. I would especially like to recognise its value – demanding yet redeeming – and to give it proper respect. I would remind everyone that work has its own dignity. On the other hand, it is not an end in itself. Its value and free character, however, derive not only from its place in the economic system, as they say, but rather from the purpose it serves.

In closing, may I express my deep regard for people everywhere who work for a living. To them I would point out their great model, Christ their brother, our Lord and God, who is their prophet in every cause that promotes their well being. (Paul VI)

Closer to us than we know

As a boy growing up, I didn’t really look forward to the Feast of the Holy Family. The problem was the sermon given every year on the virtues of the Holy Family of Nazareth which left me feeling that my good but imperfect family was simply not in the same league.

Pictures and statues of the Holy Family only reinforced the distance between their family and mine. In their simple but immaculate home, seemingly there was a place for everything and everything in its place. Joseph, Mary and Jesus looked so calm and peaceful and unruffled, like they never had an argument, or even a misunderstanding. They didn’t seem to have any money worries or fears for their safety or their future or anything else. Fortunately the Gospels tell us something quite different about the childhood of Jesus, in a down to earth way, especially today’s story about the loss of the child Jesus.

Many of you who are parents no doubt have had the anguish of losing a child, if only for a few minutes. Your little one was with you at the shopping centre when you turned for a moment to look at something on a shelf, and when you turned back around, they had wandered off, without a trace. You felt fearful for their safety, and in your panic you wondered if you’d ever find them again.

Jesus went missing for three whole days. If it was today, his parents might be charged with child neglect. But the Gospel hints at how it could have happened. In those days, the men on pilgrimage walked with the men’s group, and the women with the women. Only in the evening would the two groups come together. Mary assumed that the boy was travelling with the men, and Joseph assumed that the boy was with his mother, a classic case of family misunderstanding! After a whole day’s travel, Joseph and Mary discover that the boy has gone off on his own. They searched for him all along the road back to Jerusalem, and only two days later did they find him in the Temple in the city centre, sitting with the teachers, listening to them and questioning them.

The text says they were ‘overcome’ when they saw him? I wonder what exactly that word means. Were they crying? Were they annoyed? Were they angry? Mary’s response suggests they were exasperated: ‘My child, why have you done this to us? See how worried your father and I have been, looking for you.’ His reply does nothing to reassure them and settle them down: ‘Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be busy with my Father’s affairs?’ We’re told that ‘they did not understand what he meant.’ Maybe his words even came across to them as a bit bratty, a cheeky back-answer from a precocious child!

If we focus on the details of this story about Jesus, and when we read between the lines, we can feel quite close to the Holy Family of Nazareth. They are real people, after all, who had their ups and downs as a family, just like your family and mine. They had their problems, their struggles and their challenges, just like your family and mine. But they survived as a family, just like yours and mine. They survived, because there was enough love, acceptance and forgiveness between them, and enough trust in both God and one another.

Indeed the Holy Family can be closer to our lives than we realise. Let me illustrate this with a true story about how one particular family faced a real challenge which came their way. I quote the mother’s actual words.

Our youngest daughter became pregnant out of wedlock and for our family this last twelve months was make-or-break time, emotionally, physically and faith-wise. But with God’s help and grace we have all come through this crisis in one piece. From anger to acceptance. From disappointment to unconditional love. From betrayal to peace. From hurt to holding this precious baby, who is now the joy of all our lives. God certainly moves in mysterious ways, and while this is not how we wanted to have our grandchildren, this little child of God is loved by all.  [Brian Gleeson]

Family life tried and tested

Even though we call them the Holy Family that does not mean that they did not have problems and difficulties, just as every family must. To put it another way, as each follower of Jesus has a cross to carry, so also the holy family had to experience the cross in their shared life. To mention just a few examples, we can imagine how misunderstood both Mary and Joseph must have been about the conception of Jesus before they came to live together. Joseph was even planning to divorce Mary privately before being assured that it was the work of God. Nine months later, the birthplace of Jesus was an animal shelter, since no better lodgings could be found. Then the family had to flee as refugees to Egypt because the child Jesus’ life was in danger from king Herod, in much the same way as refugees from war-torn countries have to flee to save their lives.

Later, when Jesus was twelve, they were shocked to lose him for three days and then had to deal with the unsatisfactory explanation that he “had to be about his Father’s business.” Still, he returned with them to Nazareth and was subject to them, in the quiet rhythm of family life in their village. We do not hear of Joseph any more after that so we presume that he had died before Jesus began his public ministry. Then too, the public life of Jesus must have taken its toll on Mary. In the Temple when he was an infant, old Simeon had predicted that a sword of sorrow would pierce Mary’s soul. How she must have been pained to hear his enemies say that Jesus was a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax-collectors and sinners, and at the end, when Mary watched her son die in public disgrace, on the cross.

What sustained the family of Nazareth through all of these trials and crosses? What holds families together in times of difficulty is love and trust.  Whenever families are happy, it is because love is highly prized. A major threat to family life nowadays is that we don’t spend enough time together. We are so busy working, socialising, using our electronic gadgets or watching TV that we have no time to talk to each other.

A wealthy, successful woman lived some distance from her old, widowed father. Months passed since she had seen him and when her father called to ask when his daughter might visit, she  detailed lots of reasons that kept her too busy to see him, court schedules, meetings, new clients, research, etc. Then the father asked her, ‘When I die, do you intend to come to my funeral?’ The daughter was indignant. “Dad, I can’t believe you’ve asked that. Of course, I’ll come!” To which he replied, “Good. Then forget the funeral and come now. I need you more now than I will then.” She got the message and began to see him regularly after that!

Learning the faith of our fathers

The gospel today shows a devout Jewish family, when Mary and Joseph bring Jesus to the Temple in Jerusalem to present to the Lord as their first-born. The parents were very observant Jews, who introduced Jesus to their religious tradition soon after his birth. Jesus was shaped by that tradition from his earliest days. It was in and through his family that he came to know the God of Israel, that he learned to pray, in particular the psalms, that he first heard the stories of the Jewish Scriptures. He was immersed in the Jewish tradition by his parents. Yet, as he grew older he made that tradition his own and took it in a direction that, at times, his parents and family found very difficult to understand. Simeon hints at that in his words to Mary in today’s gospel, “a sword will pierce your own soul too.”

Most of us will have picked up the faith from our parents; they introduced us to the religious tradition that was important to them. As Joseph and Mary brought Jesus to the temple to present him to the Lord, our parents brought us to the church for baptism. It was probably in the home that, like Jesus, we too learnt to pray and heard the stories from the Scriptures for the first time. Yet, there comes a time when, like Jesus, we have to make the tradition we received from our parents our own. Like Jesus, we too may go on to shape it and give expression to it in ways that our parents might find unsettling. We receive the faith, but we must make it our own, because what is the faith only a relationship with the Lord, which, while we share it with others, is very personal to each one of us. It is said of Jesus at the end of the gospel that he grew to maturity. We spend our whole lives growing to maturity, and it is in and through our own personal response to the Lord’s call of us by name that we will come to full human maturity. Jesus, as well as being fully divine, was fully human, and it is in and through our own personal relationship with him that we too become fully human. [Martin Hogan]

One Comment

  1. Fr George Carlos sdb says:

    Good homilies, I am grateful for the same

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