Sunday, December 27, 2020

Holy Family

According to the Gospel of Luke, Jesus, Mary and Joseph got settled into a regular family life only after they returned to the little village of Nazareth following the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple of Jerusalem.  There, in Nazareth, Luke says, “The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favor of God was upon him.”  Of Jesus as an older boy, Luke says that he was obedient to his parents and that, “Jesus advanced in wisdom and age and favor before God and man.”  If the instrument of our redemption is the humanity of Jesus Christ, it was in the humdrum, concrete reality of family life and the social and religious life of first-century Palestine that the human nature of Jesus—united as it is to the divine Person of the Word—that the human nature of Jesus took on our full humanity. We believe with the Church that Jesus…blossomed in his perfect expression of a human personality through the agency of the nurturing, the love, example, and instruction he received, not only from his Heavenly Father, but from his Mother Mary and Foster Father Joseph and from the religious community or family of Israel.

Each and every one of us is called to advance in wisdom and age and favor before God and our brothers and sisters.  The part about advancing in “age” is easy!  Christian family life, Christian religious community life, as also the dedicated life of single Christians to the service of others (who become “family”) are all royal roads on the way to this advancement in wisdom that the Gospel of Luke mentions.  The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches that “The Christian family is a communion of persons, a sign and image of the communion of the father and the Son in the Holy Spirit.”   For the word “family” you could read “community,” and you would have the statement: “The Christian community is a communion of persons, a sign and image of the communion of the Father and the Son in the Holy Spirit.”  We often get caught in the pseudo-mystic's mistake of getting overly mystical and foggy, perhaps, becoming blind to the divine presence and action upon us in our brothers and sisters, our family in Christ.

In The Joy of Love, Pope Francis wrote of all family life being a “shepherding” in mercy.  Each of us, he says, “by our love and care, leaves a mark on the life of others.  With Christian wisdom and insight, he says that “This is itself a way to worship God, who has sown so much good in others in the hope that we will make it grow…It is a profound spiritual experience to contemplate our loved ones with the eyes of God and to see Christ in them. This demands freedom and openness which enable us to appreciate their dignity. We can be fully present to others only by giving fully of ourselves and forgetting all else.  Our loved ones merit our complete attention.  Jesus is our model in this, for whenever people approached to speak with him, he would meet their gaze, directly and lovingly. No one felt overlooked in his presence, since his words and gestures conveyed the question: 'What do you want me to do for you?' This is what we experience in the daily life of the family (or community). We are constantly reminded that each of those who live with us merits complete attention since he or she possesses infinite dignity as an object of the Father's immense love.  This gives rise to a tenderness that can stir in the other the joy of being loved. Tenderness is expressed in a particular way by exercising loving care in treating the limitations of the other, especially when they are evident.” 

We discover these truths taught by Pope Francis not with some esoteric and eccentric loner behavior, but by the ordinary, obscure and laborious work of life and love with our brothers and sisters: a life full of grace and the grind of service, not glamour. As St. Benedict writes, “To their fellow monks they show the pure love of brothers, to God-loving fear; to their abbot, unfeigned and humble love.  Let them prefer nothing whatever to Christ and may he bring us all together to everlasting life—all together as one family.  

  Etching by Rembrandt. Excerpts from a reflection by Father Luke.