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This Sunday is the Feast of the Holy Family (Year C), and the readings give a good overview of what makes for strong families. Ultimately, what our families need turns out to be something totally outside the family itself.
The readings start out with very human advice to families.
In the First Reading we hear that parents deserve honor and authority from children and, when they are old and frail, they deserve kindness and care. If this advice was ever obvious, it certainly isn’t today. Parental authority is probably more tenuous than ever, and aged parents are more alone than ever.
The Second Reading is probably not as shocking as it often sounds to our ears. The basic message is that wives should not try to manipulate or domineer their husbands and that husbands should not take their wives for granted or bitterly dismiss them. This is once again very timely advice for modern men and women. And the family qualities St. Paul calls for are also as relevant as ever: kindness, humility, gentleness, patience and forgiveness.
The Gospel gives a whole new perspective. The story of the Finding in the Temple tells how, ultimately, our happiness in life — here and eternally — will not come from our family. It will come from God.
But the whole story unfolds in a certain kind of family.
First, they are a family that takes pilgrimages: They are used to making sacrifices for their faith.
Second, they are both a close-knit and welcoming family. Notice the way the boy Jesus is lost. He is not forgotten or neglected by Mary and Joseph — “thinking he is in the caravan … they looked for him among their relatives and acquaintances.” His parents assume that he is in the group of family and friends that they traveled with.
We can easily put ourselves in Mary and Joseph’s place. They have had Jesus in their lives, but now they have lost him. So often we lose him, too, in one way or another. We might assume he will always be with us automatically and stop making that effort that is so necessary to keep him close in the spiritual life.
When we discover he is missing, we might do what they did. First, we might underestimate what it will take to bring Jesus back into our lives. They “journeyed for a day” thinking he was somewhere nearby, just out of sight.
Second, we might look for him in a merely human way. They “looked for him among their relatives and acquaintances.” But as important as our family and community are, they are not sufficient to deliver what we need. We have to take a step outside our family if we hope to find Christ.
Finally “they returned to Jerusalem to look for him.” They went to the place where we are guaranteed to find God: His Father’s house. For them that was the Temple; for us, the Church.
If we go to the Church to look for Jesus, we too will find him. We will find him in the Church’s teachings, in its mission, and in the tabernacle, where he still sits, asking questions and giving “astounding answers.”
And once we have Jesus in our lives again, we can return to our family enriched, ready to live the rewarding relationships that come with God’s grace.