This Sunday: The Holy Family Meets the No-Families

This Sunday is the feast of the Holy Family (Year A) and the readings are filled with explanations of how none of us is alone: We are each embedded in family relationships which define us — even if those relationships are gone now.

The Gospel centers on the Presentation of Christ in the Temple, and Simeon’s great revelations about Christ. But notice that he doesn’t just encounter Jesus: He encounters the Holy Family: “The parents brought in the child Jesus” and “The child’s father and mother were amazed at what was said about him,” says the Gospel.

And Simeon didn’t just predict Jesus would be a “light for revelation to the Gentiles,” he has a prediction for Mary: “and you yourself a sword will pierce.”

The fate of Jesus is not his alone: It affects his whole family.

And Simeon wasn’t alone in recognizing Christ in the Temple. Anna also appeared on the scene and “spoke about the child to all who were awaiting the redemption of Jersualem.”

It is interesting to note how Anna is described: She is a prophetess, but she is also “the daughter of Phanuel of the tribe of Asher. She was advanced in years, having lived seven years with her husband after her marriage, and then as a widow until she was eighty-four.”

She is a woman of the Temple — but she is also daughter to a man long dead, and wife to a man long gone. Just as Jesus is defined by his parents and they by him, her two human family relationships define her, even though they were brief and are long since terminated.

In the same way, our human relationships define us. We are sons and daughters, husbands and wives, mothers and fathers, even if those relationships are unconventional or broken.

Were you adopted? So was Jesus. Was your son or daughter not your biological child? Same with Joseph. Was your marriage brief? So was Anna’s.

Do you feel all alone in the world?  Simeon and Anna might have also — until they came to the Temple and recognized Jesus there, just as we do when we come to the tabernacle.

This Sunday’s feast speaks to us whatever our family looks like, and it calls us to renew our family relationships — mother and father, son and daughter — in Christ.

St. Paul has beautiful advice for how to do so. We can use his list of family virtues as an examination of conscience.

Which of these family virtues to we lack? —  “heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, bearing with one another and forgiving one another, if one has a grievance against another;  as the Lord has forgiven you, so must you also do.”

Does this describe our interactions? “Over all these put on love,” “let the peace of Christ control your hearts,” “be thankful,” “let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, as in all wisdom you teach and admonish one another.”

Mary, our Blessed Mother, offers all the graces we need. Joseph, the Guardian of the Redeemer, does too, in his purity, generosity and vigilance.

“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.”

Image: Flickr, Chad Goddard

Tom Hoopes

Tom Hoopes

Tom Hoopes, author of The Rosary of Saint John Paul II and The Fatima Family Handbook, is writer in residence at Benedictine College in Kansas and hosts The Extraordinary Story podcast about the life of Christ. His book What Pope Francis Really Said is now available on Audible. A former reporter in the Washington, D.C., area, Hoopes served as press secretary of the U.S. House Ways & Means Committee Chairman and spent 10 years as executive editor of the National Catholic Register newspaper and Faith & Family magazine. His work frequently appears in Catholic publications such as Aleteia.org and the Register. He and his wife, April, have nine children and live in Atchison, Kansas.