Engaging the Gospel – The Holy Family

The Holy Family of Jesus, Mary & Joseph (Year C): Gospel – Luke 2:41-52

Joseph and Mary searched for Jesus “with great anxiety” before finding him in the Temple, a Gospel passage that may offer us hope, comfort, and strength as our own families suffer difficulties.

St John Paul II reflected upon the “demanding yet fascinating roles of the Christian family” in Familiaris Consortio (On the Role of the Christian Family in the Modern World). He concluded by invoking “the protection of the Holy Family of Nazareth” —

Through God’s mysterious design, it was in that family that the Son of God spent long years of a hidden life. It is therefore the prototype and example for all Christian families. It was unique in the world. Its life was passed in anonymity and silence in a little town in Palestine. It underwent trials of poverty, persecution and exile. It glorified God in an incomparably exalted and pure way.

And it will not fail to help Christian families — indeed all the families in the world — to be faithful to their day-to-day duties, to bear the cares and tribulations of life, to be open and generous to the needs of others, and to fulfill with joy the plan of God in their regard.

…I entrust each family to Him, to Mary, and to Joseph. To their hands and their hearts I offer this Exhortation: May it be they who present it to you, venerable Brothers and beloved sons and daughters, and may it be they who open your hearts to the light that the Gospel sheds on every family (86).

Question for reflection: When have I brought my worries about a family member to the Lord?

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God’s Inspiring Plan for the Family

Today’s celebration of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph is a sign of the dignity of the family itself, and a call to live up to God’s inspiring plan for our own families.

Marriage and family life have profoundly theological dimensions, as St. John Paul II explains in Familiaris Consortio.

God Himself is the author of marriage: He created man and woman as complementary partners, designed for a matrimonial union, to cooperate with Him in the extraordinary gift of transmitting new life. Husband and wife therefore enjoy a “unique participation in the mystery of life and of the love of God Himself” (29).

Parents are to bring children up in the faith – a task so important that St. Thomas Aquinas “has no hesitation in comparing it with the ministry of priests” (38). The family thereby fulfills its vocation of being a “domestic church.”

The family is also “the first and fundamental school of social living,” with each member called to self-giving for the others (37).

“The essence and role of the family” is summed up by love: “the mission to guard, reveal, and communicate love,” as “a living reflection of and a real sharing in God’s love for humanity and the love of Christ the Lord for the Church His bride” (17).

And to the lonely, John Paul offers a special word: “No one is without a family in this world: the Church is a home and family for everyone” (85).

Engaging the Gospel – Luke 2:22-40

The Holy Family of Jesus, Mary & Joseph (Year B): Gospel – Luke 2:22-40

The Presentation of Jesus in the Temple

“The presentation of Jesus in the Temple shows him to be the firstborn Son who belongs to the Lord,” as the Catechism teaches (paragraph 529).

Benedict XVI observes a crucial detail about St. Luke’s language. Unlike the custom to “redeem” the firstborn by a payment, this Presentation only confirms Jesus’ total dedication to God:

Evidently Luke intends to say that instead of being “redeemed” and restored to His parents, this Child was personally handed over to God in the Temple, given over completely to God. The verb paristanai, here translated as “to present,” also means “to offer,” in the way that sacrifices in the Temple were “offered.”

…Luke has nothing to say regarding the act of “redemption” prescribed by the law. In its place we find the exact opposite: the Child is handed over to God, and from now on belongs to Him completely. None of the aforementioned acts prescribed by the law required an appearance in the Temple.

…Here, in the place of encounter between God and His people, instead of the reclamation of the first-born, what happens is that Jesus is publicly handed over to God, His Father.

Jesus of Nazareth, Vol. 3, pp. 82-83.

The Presentation itself becomes an encounter between the baby Jesus and the devout pair of Simeon and Anna, who embody the piety of Israel.

“With Simeon and Anna, all Israel awaits its encounter with the Savior – the name given to this event in the Byzantine tradition” (Catechism paragraph 529).

Simeon and Anna belong to the “small Remnant, the people of the poor, who await in hope the consolation of Israel and the redemption of Jerusalem” (711), and their hope is fulfilled when they meet the infant Jesus in the Temple.

Both Simeon and Anna are themselves wholly attuned to the Lord, as Benedict points out. Living intentionally for God, they are docile to the Holy Spirit and receptive to His inspiration.

Question for reflection: How might I be more generous in giving myself to the Lord?

Engaging the Gospel: Feast of the Holy Family

Gospel – Matthew 2:13-15, 19-23: Joseph acts to protect Mary and Jesus and keep them out of harm’s way

Already in Jesus’ infancy, we see St. Joseph fulfilling his role as fatherly protector in the Holy Family. Warned by the angel, Joseph takes Mary and Jesus and flees to Egypt, and returns only after the angel informs him that it is safe.

Joseph continues to serve God’s saving plan for us, both as a powerful intercessor in heaven and as a model for us to follow.

Blessed John Paul II reminds us of this truth: “Inspired by the Gospel, the Fathers of the Church from the earliest centuries stressed that just as St. Joseph took loving care of Mary and gladly dedicated himself to Jesus Christ’s upbringing, he likewise watches over and protects Christ’s Mystical Body, that is, the Church” (Redemptoris Custos/Guardian of the Redeemer, 1).

Benedict XVI has encouraged us to learn from Joseph:

If discouragement overwhelms you, think of the faith of Joseph; if anxiety has its grip on you, think of the hope of Joseph, that descendant of Abraham who hoped against hope; if exasperation or hatred seizes you, think of the love of Joseph, who was the first man to set eyes on the human face of God in the person of the Infant conceived by the Holy Spirit in the womb of the Virgin Mary…

I wish to extend a particular word of encouragement to fathers so that they may take St. Joseph as their model. He who kept watch over the Son of Man is able to teach them the deepest meaning of their own fatherhood…Dear fathers, like St. Joseph, respect and love your spouse; and by your love and your wise presence, lead your children to God where they must be.

Homily of March 19, 2009

Question for reflection: What family concerns might I entrust to St. Joseph’s care?

Engaging the Gospel: Fourth Sunday of Advent

Gospel: Matthew 1:18-24 — Joseph obeys the angel and takes Mary into his home

St. Joseph serves as a model of profound faith and generosity of spirit, as Blessed John Paul II has reflected upon in Redemptoris Custos (Guardian of the Redeemer).

Calling the angel’s revelation to Joseph “the ‘annunciation’ by night” (19), the Holy Father links Joseph’s acceptance of God’s plan with Mary’s obedience as the handmaid of the Lord.

“Joseph not only heard the divine truth concerning his wife’s indescribable vocation; he also heard…the truth about his own vocation” (19) – that is, “to serve the person and mission of Jesus directly through the exercise of his fatherhood” (8). By taking Mary into his home, “he showed a readiness of will like Mary’s with regard to what God asked of him through the angel” (3).

Thus “Joseph surrendered his whole existence to the demands of the Messiah’s coming into his home” (26).

Pope Paul VI contrasted the sanctity of Joseph and Mary with the disobedience of Adam and Eve:

“We see that at the beginning of the New Testament, as at the beginning of the Old, there is a married couple. But whereas Adam and Eve were the source of evil which was unleashed on the world, Joseph and Mary arc the summit from which holiness spreads all over the earth. The Savior began the work of salvation by this virginal and holy union, wherein is manifested his all-powerful will to purify and sanctify the family — that sanctuary of love and cradle of life” (quoted in Redemptoris Custos 7).

Question for reflection: When has God led my life into an entirely unexpected direction?

Jesus’ Early Life

Summary of Catechism paragraphs 512-34:

  • Jesus’ entire life is bound up in the mystery of our redemption; His humanity is a sacrament – a sign and instrument – of His divinity and the salvation He brings.
  • God took centuries to prepare humankind for the coming of the Son, preeminently through the divine Revelation to Israel, as set forth in the Old Testament.
  • This careful preparation culminated in St. John the Baptist, the last of the prophets, who served as the forerunner heralding His imminent arrival; we enter into this spirit of expectant waiting for the Messiah during the season of Advent.
  • The Son of God humbled himself to become a tiny baby, born in menial circumstances in a stable; we celebrate His birth, this extraordinary condescension of His love for us, during Christmas.
  • In submission to the Law, Jesus was circumcised on the eighth day, and was thereby formally incorporated into the people of Israel.
  • The baby Jesus was revealed as the Messiah and Savior of the world when the pagan magi came to adore Him, prefiguring all of the Gentiles who would believe in Christ; we celebrate this “Epiphany,” from the Greek for “manifestation.”
  • During the Presentation of the infant Jesus in the Temple, He was hailed as Messiah by Simeon, symbolizing Israel’s long-awaited encounter with the Savior.
  • But the forces of evil were already marshaling against Him; King Herod, in an attempt to destroy the Messiah, massacred all of the baby boys in Bethlehem; the Holy Family escaped by fleeing to Egypt for a time.
  • The child Jesus was obedient to Joseph and Mary; the Holy Family lived a normal daily life in Nazareth, giving us the model for family life.
  • At the age of 12, Jesus was found in the Temple, engaged in brilliant discussion with the religious scholars; thus Jesus knew who He was, and was already attuned to His purpose long before commencing public ministry.

Live Your Faith

Almighty God willingly humbled Himself to share the physical existence, drudgery, pain, and even death, of humanity.

In so doing, Jesus sanctified the most ordinary and mundane aspects of human life. He helped with household chores, spent time at His lessons, learned the carpenter’s craft from St. Joseph, and worked in the family business.

As a result, our daily routine can also be a path to holiness for us. Let us consciously offer it to Jesus, knowing that He has done the same, out of love for us.