With Christmas falling on Saturday this year, after spending my time this week preparing a Christmas homily, I am grateful that one of our deacons preached today (Sunday) as we celebrate the feast of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph. In sharing the preaching responsibility, we were both able to focus on one homily.
That being said, I still spent some time this week looking at the readings for this feast of the Holy Family. While I did not spend a lot of time reflecting on these readings, I would like to offer a few highlights. To do so, I will first mention that there are two choices for the first reading as well as two for the second reading. While you won’t hear all these readings at Mass, I will include something from each here.
The first option for the first reading is 1 Samuel 1:20-22, 24-28. In the verses leading up to this reading, we hear how Hannah has been waiting a long time to have a child. She prayed fervently to God to be blessed with a child. Family was a central unit of society and having children was important. Today many look at children very differently. Instead of placing high importance on having children, people make choices to abort children. We pray for a renewed value placed on the life of each child in the womb.
God heard Hannah’s prayers and blessed her with a son whom she named Samuel, which means “God heard.” Having waited so long to have a child, one might suppose Hannah would desperately cling to her son. She does not. In fact, once Samuel was weaned she took him to the temple to “offer him as a perpetual nazirite” to dedicate him in service to the Lord. She saw her son Samuel as a gift from God and she gave him back to God.
The second option for the first reading is Sirach 3;2-6, 12-14. Sirach tells us how God has called the family to be. It is not the children who are to be in charge. “God sets a father in honor over his children; a mother’s authority he confirms over her sons.” Children need parents who will help them grow up to be good people. God sets the parents over the children. When we become adults, we are no longer under the immediate of our parents but God’s call for us to honor our parents does not end when we become adults. The Fourth Commandment calls us to honor our mother and father. Here, Sirach reminds us that a son is to take care of his father when he is old including “even if his mind fail, be considerate of him.” We must see to the care of elderly parents. In doing so, we honor them and we honor how God has set the family to be.
Family is about being there for one another. The first option for the second reading is 1 John 3:1-2, 21-24. It begins by speaking of “what love the Father has bestowed on us” in making us his children. God makes us part of his family. However, it is our choice whether or not to remain in God’s family. Here John writes, “Those who keep his commandments remain in him and he in them.” Remember, God gives us commandments for our good. A parent should give their children rules that are good for them.
The second option for the second reading comes from Colossians 3:12-21. Being part of a family is not easy. It can be hard for us to get along. It is good for us to work at this. It can help us develop good interpersonal skills that can help us interact with people outside our own families. It is in family life that we can learn “heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience.” It is in family life that we can learn that we are not the center of the world. We must consider the needs of others. I know family relationships are not perfect. That’s why Paul includes in the list I just provided “bearing with one another and forgiving one another.” Family members can do things that hurt others in their family. We need to learn how to bear this and we need to learn how to forgive.
This option for the second reading actually has a short version (Colossians 3:12-17). It leaves out verses 18-21. These last four verses are seen as outdated by some. Why? It is because of verse 18, “Wives, be subordinate to your husbands.” It is the world “subordinate” that is not popular today. However, it is very important to not take this verse by itself. Husbands are not to take advantage of their wives being subordinate. In fact, the next verse says, “Husbands, love your wives.” If a husband truly loves his wife, he will not give her orders and expect her to obey them without question. What God intends is for the husband to love his wife. A husband must be concerned with his wife’s needs.
Likewise, these verses say, “Children, obey your parents.” However, parents should not see their children as slaves to do their bidding. It continues, “Fathers, do not provoke your children.” Children are not given to parents as laborers. Parents are given children to be responsible for their upbringing, to raise them to know the Lord.
The family is to be the first place a child learns about the Lord (see my recent article, “Helping Our Children be Disciples”). In the gospel reading for the feast of the Holy Family (Luke 2:41-52), we see Joseph and Mary as examples of good Jewish parents. As a family they followed all the Jewish customs like going to Jerusalem for the Passover. In this passage, at the age of twelve, is already astounding others with “his understanding and his answers.” However, as He leaves Jerusalem at the end of the passage with Mary and Joseph, we are told that He “was obedient to them.” Jesus listened to his parents.