The Holy Family of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph
Information about the Feast of the Holy Family
Readings for Sunday within the Octave of Christmas
We are given lots of options in the scripture selections for today’s Feast. It reminds us once more that we belong to a universal Church that must consider all nations, cultures, and circumstances in its worship.
Reading 1 Sir 3:2-7, 12-14
This reading from Sirach is essentially an exposition of the Commandment to Honor your father and mother. I goes into greater length about the positive benefits that come to the person who does so and does link to early Hebrew belief that the honor received by the father of a house hold was transferred to the children (just as in the omitted verses 8-11, the sins are also transmitted to the children).
Or 1 Sm 1:20-22, 24-28
We are given in this passage the story of the birth and dedication of Samuel (see also Friday of the Third Week of Advent). Samuel is dedicated from his birth to the service of God in the very strict form of servitude called nazirite (Nazirite: from the Hebrew word nazir, meaning "set apart as sacred, dedicated, vowed." The nazirite vow could be either for a limited period or for life. Those bound by this vow had to abstain from all the products of the grapevine, from cutting or shaving their hair, and from contact with a corpse. They were regarded as men of God like the prophets; cf Amos 2:11-12)
Responsorial Psalm Ps 128:1-2, 3, 4-5
R. Blessed are those who fear the Lord and walk in his ways.
We are given in the beginning of Ps. 128 a song of thanksgiving with the typical blessings for following and having faith in the Lord. This selection features the blessing a family brings to the faithful using the symbolism of vines and olives so favored by even the Lord.
Or Ps 84:2-3, 5-6, 9-10.
R. Blessed are they who dwell in your house, O Lord.
In this selection from Ps. 84 we are given a cry of longing for the heavenly kingdom. This song rejoices in the journey while anticipating its end.
Reading II Col 3:12-21 or 3:12-17
Here we have the rather controversial family hierarchy of the era described by St. Paul. It is important to note the instruction given in the first part of this reading (note: the option is given to omit this part of scripture passage for pastoral reasons). Paul describes the Christian rules for relationships; “Put on, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, bearing with one another and forgiving one another”.
When the subordinated relationships are described below, equality in membership in the family is established.
Or 1 Jn 3:1-2, 21-24
In this selection from St. John’s first epistle we are reminded that we are all, through our Baptism, adopted children of God and hence, part of his family, the family of the faithful. St. John goes on to remind us of the obligations of that adoption; first, that we believe in Him, Jesus Christ, the Only Son of God. Second, following the formula of the Great Commandment, is that we should love one another.
Gospel Lk 2:41-52
St. Luke’s Gospel gives us the story of Jesus being brought to the Temple, as prescribed by Hebrew Law, in his 12th year. We find the family in a bit of turmoil as Jesus exerts his ministry for the first time, finding himself at home in “my Father’s house”.
We hear the very human fear in his parents as the ask him; “Son, why have you done this to us?”. It is one of the few glimpses we have into the Lord’s early life.
I have taken some time this morning trying to do my homework as part of this process. As a consequence of my efforts today I am stricken by great irony. It has come in two forms. First, as I was trying to find a good web site that spoke to the Feast of the Holy Family, other than to just state the obvious. I was surprised to find that I did not find what I was looking for in the usual places. It was not described in the Catholic Encyclopedia at the New Advent site under that heading. The best I could do in the time I had allotted was the entry in Wikipedia which is generally my second choice since it is open forum information subject to unqualified edits. Still it was the best I could find quickly.
The second part of the irony I experienced this morning relates to my search. At the New Advent site I discovered for the first time a Blog. The topic I arrived at dealt with the film; The Nativity, the author having invited comments about the film from site traffic. I suppose I should not have been surprised by some of the comments. What I found from some of what I would term as conservative readers was a vociferous attack on the film as “anti-Catholic”, fundamentally flawed, and non-scriptural. These comments were made in the face of the facts; the film premiered at the Vatican (you can bet the Curia watched it before giving the OK for that “first time ever” event) and a rather glowing review by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.
I suppose I should have expected some of the more narrow-minded comments. They tended to take umbrage at the portrayal of the roles of Mary and to a lesser degree Joseph. The sense I got was these brothers and sisters who are traveling the same road we are cannot accept that their image of what the real events that took place in Bethlehem and Nazareth those millennia ago must be the dogmatically correct view and that anyone who describes those events in a less mystical way must be heretical.
We (my wife and I) went to see the film with our closest friends, the members of our CFM (Christian Family Movement) group with whom we have met and shared for the past several years. Among that atypical group (I call them “atypical” because they are, as a group, some of the most impressively passionate scripture students and are keenly knowledgeable of the Teaching Magesterium of the Church as one might expect of a group drawn from the Ann Arbor community in one of the more conservative parishes in the Diocese of Lansing.) there was some uneasiness. We spoke about the very “fine line” the movie took in depicting Mary as human and saintly. We recognized as a group that the film tried to, and in most cases did, remain faithful to Holy Scripture. We also knew that the depiction of Mary would not sit well with individuals whose devotion to our Holy Mother was more to the Coredemptrix (quasi-deification) side of Marianism, while it would be well accepted by our Protestant brethren who, with their lower Christology have a less mystical view of her.
On this the Feast of the Holy Family we do well to remember that St. Joseph, the Virgin Mary, and Jesus who is the Christ, while the most atypical of families, were none the less a very human family as our Gospel depicts. That humanness is what sets them apart, since it was their role to be the arch-example of families for all time. God did not simply create Mary and Joseph, the parents of Jesus to be slaves to His will. They were born and raised by their own parents. They were raised as children of God with special grace, yes, but no less human.
It is their humanness that gives us hope as parents and as Christians. They reached beyond themselves to achieve what God called them to be. We are given that example of Family today that we might follow their example and find God’s peace and love as they did.