The Mass Readings for 2017
(as in the Irish Liturgical Calendar, edited by Patrick Jones)

31 December, 2017
The Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph

1st Reading: Sirach 3:2-6, 12-14 (or Genesis 15:1-6; 21:1-3)

A practical application of the fourth commandment, to honour our parents when they are old.

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 honor 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

2nd Reading: Colossians 3:12-21 (or Hebrews 11:8, 11-12, 17-19)

The kindness there should be among Christians, and especially within the family.

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.

Gospel: Luke 2:22-40

When the time came for their purification according to the law of Moses, they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord (as it is written in the law of the Lord, "Every firstborn male shall be designated as holy to the Lord"), and they offered a sacrifice according to what is stated in the law of the Lord, "a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons."

Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon; this man was righteous and devout, looking forward to the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit rested on him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. Guided by the Spirit, Simeon came into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him what was customary under the law Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying, "Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel." And the child’s father and mother were amazed at what was being said about him. Then Simeon blessed them and said to his mother Mary, "This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed — and a sword will pierce your own soul too."

There was also a prophet, Anna the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was of a great age, having lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, then as a widow to the age of eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped there with fasting and prayer night and day. At that moment she came, and began to praise God and to speak about the child to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem. When they had finished everything required by the law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth. The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favor of God was upon him.


A family tested and tried

While the harmonious family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph is a model to imitate, this does not mean that they were exempt from the problems and difficulties every family must face. As each individual has a cross to carry, so too in their shared life the holy family had to experience the cross in various ways. Thinking of some examples from the Gospels, we can imagine how misunderstood they must have been about the conception of Jesus "before they came to live together". We even hear that Joseph was planning to divorce Mary privately before being assured that it was the work of God. Nine months later, the birth of Jesus took place in an animal shelter, since Bethlehem was too crowded to find a more suitable lodgings.

Soon aftwerards 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 years old Mary and Joseph were shocked to lose him for three days and then heard 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. On St Joseph’s demise the holy family suffering the grief of all families, the pain of bereavement and separation through death. Then too, the public ministry of Jesus must have taken its toll on Mary. During his presentation in the Temple as an infant, the old man Simeon had predicted that a sword of sorrow would pierce Mary’s soul. She must have been pained by the taunting by the enemies of Jesus, that he was "a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax-collectors and sinners" (Luke 7:34). The saddest moment of all came when Mary watched her son die on the cross.

What sustained the family of Nazareth through all of their trials? Surely it was their love for each other and for God. Jesus’ love for his mother was evident when suring his crucifixion he gave her into the care of his closest disciple, John — with the memorable words, "Woman behold your son," and in turn asked the disciple to, "Behold your mother." (John 19:26-27). What holds families together also in times of difficulty is love and forgiveness. It is love which triumphs in the end, even if sometimes it may have to take the form of "tough love" and honest talking. When discipline needs to be imposed, if it is not given in love it is rejected as abuse. If ever our families fail in any way, it is because of a lack of love on someone’s part. Whenever families are successful, it is because they are places where love is highly prized. A major threat facing families nowadays is simply that we don’t spend enough time together. We are so busy working, socialising, on our IPads and androids, or watching TV that we have less and less time to talk to each other.

I once heard of a busy solicitor who lived some distance from her elderly, widowed father. Months had passed since she had seen him and when her father called to ask when she might visit, the daughter detailed a long list of reasons that prevented her from taking the time to see him, court schedules, meetings, new clients, research, etc., etc. At the end of the recitation, the father asked, When I die, do you intend to come to my funeral? The daughters response was immediate," Dad, I can’t believe you’ve asked that. Of course, I’ll come!" To which the father replied, "Good. Forget the funeral and come now. I need you more now than I will then." She got the message and began to see him regularly after that!


Maturing in the Family

The gospel shows us Jesus within a very devout Jewish family. Mary and Joseph bring him to the Temple in Jerusalem to present their first-born to the Lord God. As very observant Jews they introduced Jesus to their religious tradition from childhood on. Jesus was shaped by that tradition and it was in and through his family that he came to know the God of Israel, that he learned to pray, in particular the psalms, that he first heard the stories of the Jewish Scriptures. He was immersed in that tradition by his parents. Yet, as he grew older he made that tradition his own and took it in a direction that, at times, his own family found very difficult to understand. Simeon hints at that in his words to Mary, ‘a sword will pierce your own soul too.’

Most of us will have picked up the faith from our parents; they introduced us to the religious tradition that was important to them. As Joseph and Mary brought Jesus to the temple to present him to the Lord, our parents brought us to the church for baptism. It was probably in the home that, like Jesus, we too learnt to pray and heard the stories from the Scriptures for the first time. Yet, there comes a time when, like Jesus, we have to make the tradition we received from our parents our own. Like Jesus, we too may go on to shape it and give expression to it in ways that our parents might find unsettling. We receive the faith, but we must make it our own, because what is the faith only a relationship with the Lord, which, while we share it with others, is very personal to each one of us. It is said of Jesus at the end of the gospel reading that he grew to maturity. We spend our whole lives growing to maturity, and it is in and through our own personal response to the Lord’s call of us by name that we will come to full human maturity. Jesus, as well as being fully divine, was fully human, and it is in and through our own personal relationship with him that we too become fully human.