Here we are, in the midst of our Christmas celebrations, marking this Sunday the feast of the Holy Family. It is certainly fitting that we celebrate this feast at this time of year, a time traditionally set aside in our culture for gathering of family – whether it be children away at college or universities returning home for the break, or grown children and grandchildren returning home for visits and meals and celebrations with parents and grandparents. We feel drawn, no matter our circumstances, towards these gatherings of family, to draw on these moments as something very important in the lives of our families, especially as people of faith when we see the institutions of family and marriage constantly under attack in recent years in our society. To me, it seems surreal to see how the commercial media celebrate the gathering of ‘family’ over the ‘holidays’, and at the same time downplay the traditional institutions of family as ‘outdated’ or ‘out of touch’ or unimportant.
For Christians it is so important for us to celebrate the institution of the family. The Church refers to the family as ‘ecclesia in ecclesia’ or the ‘church within the Church’. This statement reflects a deep and profound truth- that the very foundation of the corporate Body of Christ; the primary unit within the entire body of worship of all believers, is not the individual – but the family; that parents are indeed the first teachers of their children – not just in matters of social behaviour or motor skills – but in matters of faith, in the life of the Church. For parents, it is knowing that their example is the means by which their own children will measure their decisions in life –good or bad – as they continue to grow and develop.
It is important for us to know and celebrate this particular feast, because it reminds us that God chose the family unit as the means by which He would introduce Himself into human society and culture. God has a purpose in all things; had God wanted to, He could have picked any means by which He could have come into the world, and any way He could have participated in human life:
He chose the family.
Our Gospel passage from St. Luke recounts some of the few writings we have into the life of Jesus as a child. Yet even in this episode we see reflected a deep and reverent relationship between the members of this little family and with God; we see with the dedication of Jesus in the Temple, how Mary and Joseph recognize the ‘giftedness’ of the infant Jesus in their lives, and how in an act of surrender, they dedicate Him to God in the Temple. While naming and circumcision were prescribed under the Law of Moses, the presentation in the Temple was a different matter. Under the law, the parents made a financial offering to ‘redeem’ their first born from God; Luke does not mention this offering of money however; Mary and Joseph dedicate Jesus to God, reflecting the reality of whose Son Jesus really is. It is an act of recognizing that Jesus is not theirs to possess, but is a gift granted through God’s goodness and generosity. In this act of presentation, they hold up Jesus to God, to be shared with all of humankind for our redemption and reconciliation.
During this feast day, we are invited to continue to pray for all families, but particularly our own; for healing and reconciliation where necessary, for strength and consolation when required, and for gratitude and thanksgiving where it is upheld and cherished. We pray also, that our own families will be places where, like that little family in Nazareth, we will live a life of gratitude that Jesus, God’s most precious gift to us all, is revered and shared.
Praised be Jesus Chris, now and forever!