Holy Family C

The Gospel of the finding of Jesus in the Temple has a lot of resonance with me because of a similar event that happened to my family. It was our big trip to Washington, DC and on the way in our cabdriver gave us a tour of the city including the White House and then drove up Pennsylvania Avenue and dropped us off at the apartment where we were staying. When we woke the next morning, we could not find my brother John. We searched frantically for him.  Remember, there were no cell phones back then.  It turns out that John, who was around the age of Jesus in the Gospel story, got up before any of us, found Pennsylvania Avenue and decided to walk by himself to the White House.  Soon we saw my brother jauntily walking back after his adventure. Like Mary and Joseph, my parents said to him.  “Son, why have you done this to us?   Your father and I have been looking for you with great anxiety.”  Actually, they might have used stronger language. But John, like Jesus, thought what he did made all the sense in the world. And he was right, because every twelve year old is always right and utterly convinced their actions are justified.  Just ask them.

What I love about this story is that it just seems so right. They seem like a family like mine or yours.  Notice, that Jesus is not really teaching in the Temple area.  He is listening and asking questions, just as a student should. His response to Mary’s plaintive question, ““Why were you looking for me?  Did you not know…” is very familiar even if the excuse of being in my father’s house is mysterious.  Even the Son of God is not a complete package at the age of twelve as the Gospel tells us, “And Jesus advanced in wisdom and age and favor before God and man.”

Some people might say that Jesus, Mary and Joseph had it easy. That we all could be holy families if we had just one child and that kid was the Son of God. But this lone glimpse into the childhood of Jesus reminds us of the challenges they faced.  They were born into poverty. They were born into a culture and a religion.  They faced the challenges of a refugee and suffered under an oppressive politics.  Yet, they always chose to treat each other with mercy.  That is what made them a holy family.

On Christmas Day we celebrated the incarnation, the divine word taking on flesh, God becoming human. On the Feast of the Holy Family, we see the institution of family become incarnate for that is where Jesus was to grow into his mission, into whom he was to become.  Our families have the same capability to allow us to flourish, to speak eloquently of the very presence of God.  But for that to happen, we too must choose mercy.

Of course we do that all the time. That is why we cherish our family so uniquely. They are the ones we would do anything for; the ones we lay down our lives for.  Yet, they also represent some of our greatest challenges.  Perhaps, because we know they really can’t get rid of us too easily, it is the place we let off our steam.  I remember my Dad coming back after a long day at the bar.  To own a bar is to have no choice but to be nice to everyone.  And at dinner, he would interrogate us about our lives. Then he would be done (for no one gets over these things like Italians) and as we were watching Jeopardy, he would wonder why we were all mad at him.  Families are also the place we tend to lose our patience, perhaps because we can see the potential in each person we love so clearly.

For this holy year of mercy though, let us make our families the seat of mercy. No matter how our families are configured, if they are mixed or a family of blood or choice, let peace be the rock of our families. Let us rid ourselves of the power struggles and resentments and replace them with acceptance and forgiveness.  What if the idea of family was exclusively a peaceful one, what a treasure that would be?  What if this avenue of grace included all our extended families?  What if our parish family was known as the place for the works of mercy and the place where all knew they belonged forever as with the best of families?  How brightly would our light shine then?  And what if the beauty and the mercy of our families was so prodigious that it embraced every poor and forgotten person?  Then we would see as God sees us – as one family. One Holy Family.

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