[NOTE: This presentation uses the Genesis and Hebrews readings]
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Following closely after the birth of Jesus, our Emmanuel, today we celebrate the Feast of the Holy Family. Within the context of a family, Jesus comes to fulfill the Old Testament prophecies that began with God intervening in the family life of Abraham and Sarah, our first ancestors in the faith.
Like the journey of Abraham and Sarah, which began by believing and obeying the promise God made to them, Joseph and Mary believed the Angel of God and were obedient in faith without any knowledge of what their family would face in the future. They were willing to accept the uncertainty and ambiguity that life with their child would present.
As Christian members of God’s family, we are called to a similar faith. We are to rely on God’s promises, to go wherever God leads, and trust that God’s will in us will be accomplished. The lesson we learn from the Holy Family, is that great faith and obedience to God’s will takes place within the family environment, within the opportunities and circumstances of daily family life. Advanced degrees, great wealth, and social prominence are not required.
00:00 / 01:58
Luke was not a first-generation Christian disciple, as he reveals in the Prologue (Lk. 1:1-4). He was, according to early Christian tradition, a Syrian writing to a non-Palestinian audience made up of Gentile Christians. As such, he both confuses and combines two Jewish purification rites, one for the child and one for the mother, in his introduction to the presentation of Jesus in the temple. Despite the inaccuracies, Luke’s non-Jewish audience would understand that:
1. The Holy Family were obedient to the laws of their Jewish tradition, even while cognizant of the incredibly special nature of their child. The presentation of Jesus was in obedience to God’s Law.
2. Simeon and Anna are presented to represent the coming together of the Law and the Prophets to attest to the future mission of Christ.
3. Simeon’s canticle would speak directly to the Gentiles, pointing to the child Jesus as the Savior, “a light for revelation to the Gentiles.”
4. The righteousness and devotion of both Simeon and Anna, along with the power of the Holy Spirit, allowed them to be in the presence of the Savior they had been promised and longed to see.
5. That even the child Savior returned to the family life in Nazareth, a common setting that enabled him to grow and be filled with wisdom, always blessed by the favor of God.
00:00 / 05:05
As today is a named Feast, that of the Holy Family, clearly the primary theme for today is the Holy Family as a model for all Christian families.
The family plays a central role as the environment in which God is made manifest, faith and holiness are supported and allowed to grow. The Jewish people longed for a “kingly” Messiah that would restore their land and their nation. But the long-awaited Son of God goes from the eternal Family, which is the Holy Trinity, forward to the worldly family formed by Mary and Joseph. How important must the family be in the eyes of God, when the first thing God provides His Son with, is a family!
Mary and Joseph formed this family not in the natural order, but by their obedience to the will of God, and surrender to the power of the Holy Spirit. Both faced certain societal shame for their unexpected circumstances. But they stayed the course and allowed God’s will to be their guiding light. As a result, they brought forth into this world the light for all the nations.
Their family life was anything but safe and secure. They obeyed the law of the land, traveling to Bethlehem for the census when Mary was about to give birth. They trusted that God would provide for their needs, mirroring the trust of Abraham, the Father of our Faith. They obeyed the laws of their faith, traveling to the temple to present their child as an offering of thanksgiving to God. Most of all, they returned to the simple family life to which they were destined to help their child grow in strength, and wisdom, and certainly in the knowledge of their Jewish faith.
The growth of the child Jesus is important for our understanding of the family as a model for growing in faith and wisdom to receive the graces of our Lord. While very few details of Jesus’ youth are known, this child, as fully human, must grow not only physically, but mentally and spiritually as well. Biblical scholar Raymond Brown writes that “Christ is perfect man with the perfection that belongs to each stage of human growth. At each stage, too, he is the perfect manifestation of God in a manner appropriate for that stage.”
Jesus was prepared for his adult mission within a divinely inspired family setting. The Christian family is called to follow the model of the Holy Family and foster the spiritual growth of its children within a safe, holy environment.
However, a second underlying theme that provides the foundation for all holiness within individuals and families alike, is the favor of God that rests on those who hear God’s call and have a faith strong enough to obey God’s will without regard to future trials and circumstances.
Abraham and Sarah heard God’s call and obeyed His commands. For their great obedience, they received from God the great rewards of land, family, that would later grow into a great nation.
Simeon was a just and devout man who was very much in tune with the Holy Spirit. He believed that the Lord would return to his temple and renew his chosen people. The Holy Spirit also revealed to him that the Messiah and King of Israel would also bring salvation to the Gentile nations. When Joseph and Mary presented the baby Jesus in the temple, Simeon immediately recognized this humble child of Bethlehem as the fulfillment of all the messianic prophecies, hopes, and prayers.
Simeon was not alone in recognizing the Lord's presence in the temple. Anna, too, was filled with the Holy Spirit. She was found daily in the temple, attending to the Lord in prayer and speaking prophetically to others about God's promise to send a redeemer. Supernatural hope grows with prayer and age! Anna was pre-eminently a woman of great hope and expectation that God would fulfill all his promises. She is a model of godliness to all believers as we advance in age.
Theme in Our Life
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The family is where the spiritual development of the person, indeed all members young and old, occurs. It is the place where the Holy Spirit can thrive within a safe, trusting, and supportive environment. It is the place upon which God’s favor rests. Likewise, and likely because of this fact, it is also the place most under attack by Satan and the power of Evil. Satan attacks the family spiritually, supported by the godless culture in which we live. Christian family life is more difficult today than in any time in modern history. There are numerous contributing factors both natural and spiritual. But I believe there is one root cause. That root cause is a lack of faith in God our Creator that leads to disobedience.
The Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph show us the path of obedience. They show us a family life devoted to seeking and obeying the Will of the Father. Clearly, today’s world moves at a faster pace than in the time of the Holy Family. Our modern age and fast pace provide families a multitude of choices and opportunities. Time becomes a valuable and precious commodity for all families. Parents are forced to prioritize how time within the family will be spent. A “modern family” runs the risk of making spiritual growth and seeking God’s Will one of many menu items of things on which to spend their time. But a “Holy Family” makes spiritual growth and seeking God’s Will the basis from which all other decisions are made.
The starting point for all families is to seek first God’s Will. Grow in the ability to discern the path of obedience to God’s will from the distractions and temptations of the Evil One.
Not all families are healthy and supportive. If you are in a divisive or unhealthy, unsafe family environment, seek help through the Church. The Church exists to gather all people together into the family of our loving God. Simeon and Anna show us the fruit of a well-developed individual faith, completely devoted to and trusting in the power of the Holy Spirit. If your faith needs to grow without the support of your natural family, the Church will always be your spiritual home.
Like Abraham and Sarah, like Mary and Joseph, like Simeon and Anna, the Lord never abandons us. He is always with us, calling out to us, drawing us to himself. It is never too early and never too late to place our trust in the Lord. When we do, like the child Jesus, the favor of God will be upon us.
Preparing for Sunday
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Consider the following questions:
1. Do you know the favor of the Lord?
2. Do you know the joy of submission to God?
3. And do you seek to pass on the faith and to help the young, especially those in your family, grow in wisdom and maturity?
Let us pray:
Father in heaven, creator of all, you ordered the earth to bring forth life
and crowned its goodness by creating the family.
In history’s moment when all was ready, you sent your Son to dwell in time,
Obedient to the laws of life in our world.
Teach us the sanctity of human love, show us the value of family life,
And help us to live in peace with all men that we may share in your life forever.