On the Feast of the Holy Family

I have been struck, in the weeks since Christmas, about how often the life of the Holy Family is the subject of the Church’s attention at this time. It’s logical, given that we have just celebrated that rather incredible event of the birth of the second Person of the Godhead into a human family.

This is not the point I wish to make, but whenever I meditate on the birth of Christ, I am amazed by the trust God placed in the vagaries of human family life. Mary, being conceived without sin, had an obvious advantage in the exercise of her motherhood. And Joseph was clearly a holy man or he wouldn’t have been selected as the foster father of Christ. But still, for the Creator to place himself in the hands of his creatures … it’s just mind boggling.

But the feast of the Holy Family is the real topic of this post. The gospel for the Mass of the Holy Family recounts the family trip to Jerusalem to celebrate a Jewish feast. As I was listening to the homily for this Mass, my mind wandered to the exchange between Jesus and his parents when they had finally located him in the Temple. Like the exchange between Jesus and his mother at the wedding at Cana, it seems a little harsh: “Did you not know …”

Not being a parent, I may be a little clueless here, but it occurred to me on this occasion of the hearing of this well known story to consider that Jesus was, in fact, a 12 year old. And his expressions of surprise with his parents is not in the tone of harshness, but that of the enthusiasm with which 12 year olds embrace life.

It was not “How is it you know so little about me that you did not know…”, but “It’s so incredible to study My Father, did you not know?” For a modern day 12 year old boy, the equivalent might be the enthusiasm generated by the discovery of the Hornblower stories. And just as a father may pass on his collection of Hornblower novels to his son, surely Mary and Joseph did know. But like the modern father, the concerns of parenthood may have crowded out that enthusiasm to the point the Temple was the last place they thought to look.

When our Lord said (on several occasions) that we must be like children to be fit for heaven, perhaps he recalled his 12 year old self. In any event, it would be a good idea to seek to retain the youthful outlook in our enthusiasm for the things of God.

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