The Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph
1st Reading: Genesis 15:1-6; 21:1-3
Abraham and Sarah are given a child as a reward for their faith
After these things the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision, “Do not be afraid, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great.” But Abram said, “O Lord God, what will you give me, for I continue childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?” And Abram said, “You have given me no offspring, and so a slave born in my house is to be my heir.” But the word of the Lord came to him, “This man shall not be your heir; no one but your very own issue shall be your heir.”
He brought him outside and said, “Look toward heaven and count the stars, if you are able to count them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your descendants be.” And he believed the Lord; and the Lord reckoned it to him as righteousness.
The Lord dealt with Sarah as he had said, and the Lord did for Sarah as he had promised. Sarah conceived and bore Abraham a son in his old age, at the time of which God had spoken to him. Abraham gave the name Isaac to his son whom Sarah bore him.
Responsorial: Psalm 104: 1-6, 8-9
R./: The Lord remembers his covenant for ever.
Give thanks to the Lord, tell his name,
make known his deeds among the peoples.
O sing to him, sing his praise;
tell all his wonderful works! (R./)
Be proud of his holy name,
let the hearts that seek the Lord rejoice.
Consider the Lord and his strength;
constantly seek his face. (R./)
Remember the wonders he has done,
his miracles, the judgements he spoke.
O children of Abraham, his servant,
O sons of the Jacob he chose. (R./)
He remembers his covenant for ever,
his promise for a thousand generations,
the covenant he made with Abraham,
the oath he swore to Isaac. (R./)
2nd Reading: Hebrews 11:8, 11-12, 17-19
The outcome of the faith of Abraham and Sarah
By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to set out for a place that he was to receive as an inheritance; and he set out, not knowing where he was going.
For he looked forward to the city that has foundations, whose architect and builder is God. By faith he received power of procreation, even though he was too old – and Sarah herself was barren – because he considered him faithful who had promised. Therefore from one person, and this one as good as dead, descendants were born, “as many as the stars of heaven and as the innumerable grains of sand by the seashore.”
By faith Abraham, when put to the test, offered up Isaac. He who had received the promises was ready to offer up his only son, of whom he had been told, “It is through Isaac that descendants shall be named for you.” He considered the fact that God is able even to raise someone from the dead – and figuratively speaking, he did receive him back.
Gospel: Luke 2:22, 39-40
The child Jesus was presented to God, then lived at home in Nazareth
When the time came for their purification according to the law of Moses, they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord
When they had finished everything required by the law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth. The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favor of God was upon him.
This feast might set too high an ideal for families, if the homilist lauds the virtues of the Holy Family, without also showing that they had to face many issues not unlinke those of our own households. Fortunately the Gospel tells us something quite different about the childhood of Jesus, in a down-to-earth way.
Even though we honour them as the Holy Family, it does not mean they never had problems to face, as every family must. Just as every Christian has a share in the cross of Christ, the Holy Family also experienced 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.
Today’s Gospel from St Matthew shows how the little 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. This prompts us to be more aware of, and show more empathy towards, those refugees in our own day who seek a safer life among us than they had in the countries from which they fled.
St Luke has another story to illustrate what trials were faced by Mary and Joseph, in trying to understand the development of Jesus as a young person. When he 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 where love and respect are highly prized among them. We pray for an outpouring of those qualities in our families today. A major threat to family life nowadays is that we don’t spend enough time together, in friendly conversation. We are so busy working, socialising, using our electronic gadgets or watching TV that we have no time to talk to each other.
A barrister, a busy career woman, was living just ten kilometers from her old, widowed father. But months often passed between her visits to him. When her father texted to ask when she might bring his grandchildren to visit him, she listed lots of reasons that kept her from doing so, court schedules, meetings, new clients, etc. Her father then asked her, sadly, ‘When I die, will you come to my funeral?’ The daughter was indignant. “Dad, how can you ask me that? Of course, I’ll be there!” He smiled and said, “Aah! Then please forget my funeral and come to visit me now. I need you now more than I will then.” Message understood – and the daughter began to visit him regularly after that.