Today, we honour the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph. As we approach a new year, we ask a blessing on our own families, praying for God's help throughout all of 2020.
Teach us to ponder the mystery of Nazareth,
that we may always find in you
the source of our strength
and the unity of our families.
We ask this through Jesus Christ, your Word made flesh,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
in the splendour of eternal light,
God for ever and ever.
The Lord honours a father above his children,
and he confirms a mother's right over her children.
Those who honour their father atone for sins,
and those who respect their mother are like those who lay up treasure.
Those who honour their father will have joy in their own children,
and when they pray they will be heard.
Those who respect their father will have long life,
and those who honour their mother obey the Lord;
My child, help your father in his old age,
and do not grieve him as long as he lives;
even if his mind fails, be patient with him;
because you have all your faculties do not despise him.
For kindness to a father will not be forgotten,
and will be credited to you against your sins
O blessed are those who fear the Lord
and walk in his ways!
By the labour of your hands you shall eat.
You will be happy and prosper. (R./)
Your wife like a fruitful vine
in the heart of your house;
your children like shoots of the olive,
around your table. (R./)
Indeed thus shall be blessed
the man who fears the Lord.
May the Lord bless you from Zion
all the days of your life! (R./)
As God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.
Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly; teach and admonish one another in all wisdom; and with gratitude in your hearts sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.
Wives, be subject to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord. Husbands, love your wives and never treat them harshly. Children, obey your parents in everything, for this is your acceptable duty in the Lord. Fathers, do not provoke your children, or they may lose heart.
Now after they had left, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, "Get up, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him."
Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother by night, and went to Egypt, and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet, "Out of Egypt I have called my son."
When Herod died, an angel of the Lord suddenly appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt and said, "Get up, take the child and his mother, and go to the land of Israel, for those who were seeking the child's life are dead." Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother, and went to the land of Israel. But when he heard that Archelaus was ruling over Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. And after being warned in a dream, he went away to the district of Galilee. There he made his home in a town called Nazareth, so that what had been spoken through the prophets might be fulfilled, "He will be called a Nazorean."
Some might feel that this feast sets too high an ideal for families, if the homilist highlights the virtues of the Holy Family, without also showing that they had to face many issues not unlinke those of our own households. Fortunately the Gospel tells us something quite different about the childhood of Jesus, in a down-to-earth way, especially today's story about the loss of the child Jesus.
Lots of parents have felt the anguish of losing a child, if only for a few minutes. The child was with you at the shopping centre when you turned for a moment to look at something on a shelf, and when you turned back around, it had wandered off, without a trace. You felt fearful for their safety, and in your panic you wondered if you'd ever find them again. Jesus went missing for three whole days. If it was today, his parents might be charged with child neglect. But the Gospel hints at how it could have happened. In those days, the men on pilgrimage walked with the men's group, and the women with the women. Only in the evening would the two groups come together. Mary assumed that the boy was travelling with the men, and Joseph assumed that the boy was with his mother, a classic case of family misunderstanding! After a whole day's travel, Joseph and Mary discover that the boy has gone off on his own. They searched for him all along the road back to Jerusalem, and only two days later did they find him in the Temple in the city centre, sitting with the teachers, listening to them and questioning them.
They were overcome when they saw him? I wonder what exactly that word means. Were they crying? Were they annoyed? Were they angry? Mary's response suggests they were exasperated: 'My child, why have you done this to us? See how worried your father and I have been, looking for you.' His reply does nothing to reassure them and settle them down: 'Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be busy with my Father's affairs?' No surprisingly, 'they did not understand what he meant.' His answer must have seemed odd or even provocative, from a boy of twelve years old.
In this story of misunderstanding, we can feel quite close to the Holy Family of Nazareth. They are real people, after all, who had their ups and downs as a family, just like your family and mine. They had their problems, their struggles and their challenges, just like your family and mine. But they survived as a family, just like yours and mine. They survived, because there was enough love, acceptance and forgiveness between them, and enough trust in both God and one another. Indeed the Holy Family can be closer to our lives than we realise. Today we pray for their guidance in our own family life.
Even though we call them the Holy Family that does not mean they never had problems to face, as every family must. To put it another way, just as each follower of Jesus has a cross to carry, so also the holy family had to experience the cross in their shared life. To mention just a few examples, we can imagine how misunderstood both Mary and Joseph must have been about the conception of Jesus before they came to live together. Joseph was even planning to divorce Mary privately before being assured that it was the work of God. Nine months later, the birthplace of Jesus was an animal shelter, since no better lodgings could be found. Then the family had to flee as refugees to Egypt because the child Jesus' life was in danger from king Herod, in much the same way as refugees from war-torn countries have to flee to save their lives.
Later, when Jesus was twelve, they were shocked to lose him for three days and then had to deal with the unsatisfactory explanation that he "had to be about his Father's business." Still, he returned with them to Nazareth and was subject to them, in the quiet rhythm of family life in their village. We do not hear of Joseph any more after that so we presume that he had died before Jesus began his public ministry. Then too, the public life of Jesus must have taken its toll on Mary. In the Temple when he was an infant, old Simeon had predicted that a sword of sorrow would pierce Mary's soul. How she must have been pained to hear his enemies say that Jesus was a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax-collectors and sinners, and at the end, when Mary watched her son die in public disgrace, on the cross.
What sustained the family of Nazareth through all of these trials and crosses? What holds families together in times of difficulty is love and trust. Whenever families are happy, it is because love is highly prized. A major threat to family life nowadays is that we don't spend enough time together. We are so busy working, socialising, using our electronic gadgets or watching TV that we have no time to talk to each other.
A barrister, a busy career woman, was living just ten kilometers from her old, widowed father. But months often passed between her visits to him; and when her father texted to ask when she might bring his grandchildren to visit him, she detailed lots of reasons that kept her too busy to see him, court schedules, meetings, new clients, research, etc. Her father frowned and then asked, 'When I die, will you come to my funeral?' The daughter was indignant. "Dad, how can you ask me that? Of course, I'll be there!" He smiled and said, "Aah! Then please forget my funeral and come to visit me now. I need you now more than I will then." Message understood - and his daughter began to visit him regularly after that.
Introduction: God looks with love on all of creation, so we bring our prayers with confidence.
Prayer for the dead: For those who have died recently (especially N and N),and for all we have known who have died during the past year, whom we remember nowthat the light of heaven may be theirs. (quiet pause) Lord, hear us.
Conclusion: God our creator, your strength sustains your people all their days, hear our prayers and stay with us throughout the New Year, we pray, through Christ our Lord. Amen.