Today is the Feast of the Holy Family. We use all kinds of adjectives to modify the word family in our world. There’re political families, like the Bushes and the Kennedys. There are acting families like the Barrymores and the Fondas and the Marx brothers. There are business families like the Rockefellers and the Mellons and we have royal families. But when we think of the Holy Family, we immediately think of Jesus, Mary and Joseph. They AREthe pre-eminent Holy Family. But what we don’t often realize is that each of OUR families is called to be a Holy Family.
As families, we aren’t that much different from Jesus, Mary, and Joseph. The problem we have is with the word “holy.” Holiness means a dedication or a consecration to the service of God. Holiness implies a degree of union with God and the performance of morally good acts. When members of families support each other’s desire and efforts to know God and to do his will, they can all, to some degree, be called a “Holy Family.” This isn’t really so outrageous. Aren’t we all consecrated to Christ through our baptism and called to “be holy as the Father is holy?”
But I still hear people saying “Yeah, but how can we be as holy as a family that has members like Jesus and Mary?” Well from what we see in today’s Gospel, their day-to-day family life wasn’t really so different from ours. But what makes their’s different is the degree to which each one dedicated their own life to doing the will of God and the degree to which each was supported by the others in doing it. We don’t get much insight from the New Testament to what the day-to-day family life of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph was really like. But we can imagine that it really wasn’t so different from any of ours. Joseph, a carpenter, doing what he needed to do to keep his family fed, clothed and sheltered. Mary, a loving spouse and mother, who trusted her husband’s judgement to live in Egypt for a while and then to return to Nazareth. And Jesus, who we heard today was an obedient son. So what’s the story behind the story?
Today’s Gospel is one of the few that talks about the home life of the Holy Family. It tells us about an annual trip they made to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover. It was probably like a little vacation for them. But what it turns out to be is like the original script of the movie “Home Alone” with Macauly Caulkin. You know, Mary and Joseph both think that Jesus is somewhere in their caravan bound home. They spend a whole day looking for him before turning back to look for him in Jerusalem. And finally, after three days, they find him in the temple. If it’s like any of our families, and given the fact that it took three days to look there, it’s probably the last place they thought to look. I mean, how many of you who have or who have had twelve year old children would think to look for them here at church if they were lost? Wouldn’t you start looking for them over at the Media Play store or call around to their friends homes figuring they were caught up in some video game or something. Maybe you’d call around to the hospitals and jails to see if they might be there. Really, how many of you would call over here to the church and ask Father Bob to take a look and see if your son or daughter were hanging around here somewhere? Well, that’s what happened to Mary and Joseph - they spent three days looking for Jesus before looking in the temple. They knew he was special, but in most respects he was just like any other twelve year old. And when they found him, the Gospel says they found him “sitting in the midst of the teachers, listening to them and ASKING THEM QUESTIONS.
Twelve years old. Alive and on this earth for only twelve years. Have you ever wondered what kinds of questions a twelve year old might have about God, or the Church, or religion. Some of our own children have some great insight and ask the same questions that people have asked down through the ages. Some are questions many of us still ask even as we get older.
I have the great pleasure to teach some of our twelve year olds in CCD classes and I’ve visited the classes at Holy Trinity School. One of the things I do at the beginning of each school year is to ask the sixth graders, (most of them are about twelve years old) to write down on an index card some of the things they have wondered about regarding God, religion, and the Church. Some of them ask very pragmatic, nuts and bolts type questions while other questions are pretty deep. Here’s some examples right from our own 12 year olds:
1 Did Jesus have a house or an apartment sized home?
2 When I die, would I be on the earth again as a bird or something?
3 When people die, why do they become angels? (Many of them want to know what happens when we die.)
4 I want to know how there could be no beginning and no end of God? How did he make us?
5 Is everything in the Bible true?
6 If Jesus is God, how could God be Jesus’ Father?
7 If God loves us so much, why did he put animals and other things that can hurt us into the world?
8 What does God look like?
9 Why did God make us?
10 Why did God give us free will?
11 How did the devil become alive or real?
12 Why did everyone always seem to hate Jesus? Why did they kill him?
13 How come we’re not allowed to talk about religion in public school?
14 Is heaven a place you would imagine or is it the same for each individual?
15 Who thought of making the Church?
16 What is Jesus’ last name?
17 If God made us, who made God.
18 Who came first, Adam and Eve or the dinosaurs?
19 What’s a deacon do?
20 Why is Mass always the same? Is there a reason that the priest goes in and out the same way at every Mass and we sing at the same time at every Mass?
21 Was Jesus birthday really on the 25th of December?
22 How would you know if you are Catholic?
23 Why do we say God is a “he?”
24 Why do we go to church on Sunday?
25 Why did God create the earth?
These are the questions of twelve year olds. It’s very possible that a 12 year old Jesus asked some of those same questions of the teachers in the temple.
This story of Jesus being lost should remind us that the Holy Family was at the same time a very, HUMAN family. A family with feelings of fear, feelings of hurt and feelings of misunderstanding. Mary and Joseph cannot imagine why Jesus would have left the group as it traveled home. Jesus can’t understand why his parents didn’t know where he’d be. And the Gospel tells us “They did not understand what he said to them.” How many parents have had that experience with a child, or vice versa, not understanding what the other was talking about. This wasn’t the first of the Holy Family’s misunderstandings: At one point in his ministry, Jesus’ family thought he was crazy! Yet this family, in all its humanity was indeed holy, as are our families, as troubled and wonderful as they can be.
A new year is beginning. A new millenium! Now would be a good time to become that holy family we are are called to be. To join each other and support each other in becoming closer to God. To help each other seek out together the answers to some of the questions I mentioned before. To reach out to members of our families that we’re estranged from, to clear up misunderstandings, to forgive and become reconciled.
Today’s reading from the letter to the Colossians gives us the recipe for a holy family. We should all have a copy of it on our bathroom mirrors so we can see it every morning. And as we’re putting on our clothes and putting on our deodorant or putting on our make-up, we could read Paul’s recipe for holiness: put on... compassion, kindness, humilty, gentileness, patience, and forgiveness. And over all these, put on love, the bond of perfection.
Let the peace of Christ control your hearts.
Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly.
And whatever you do, in word or in deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.
God bless you all and have a wonderful and holy new year.