We have celebrated the days of preparing for Christmas; there is little need to prepare for this-weekend’s liturgy. Some might be saying under their voices, “Do we have to go to church again? We just went!” It is not so much fun to do the “have-tos”, and preparing for them is a dutiful process. In family life, the business world, and even in the social-relationships of our lives, there are many “have-tos” and we do them, even when we “just did them” recently. These few days between Christmas and this liturgy, we might reflect on the spirit with which we do the dutiful, the required, and the expected. We may even ponder how we experienced the “have-tos” of Christmas. God has-to, because God cannot not be God. We do not have-to and that is what changes “dutiful” to “beautiful”.
Our First Reading is an instruction from a “Wisdom Figure” speaking to his son concerning his, the son’s, relationship with God, not directly about his relationship with his parents. The first seventeen verses of this chapter deal with reverencing God through reverencing parents. This is central to the spirituality of ancient Israel. Begetting human life is experienced as a participation in Divinity from Whom all life ultimately flows and returns. Mothers and fathers are revered for their being instruments of sharing God’s Life by bringing forth life.
Children are encouraged to relate with God in many earthly ways, but prime among them is honoring, not shaming their parents. This is in no way a “power-proof” text. This is a “Wisdom” text by which the solidity of family life will assure the religio-social life of the nation. The duty of the parents is to acculturate their children into this way of relating with God. The duty of the children is to incarnate the teachings as a spirituality lived into their being parents themselves some day and givers of life.
The Gospel is centered around the holiness of the “New Family” which holiness is their exact compliance with the Law and traditions of their faith. To better understand the presenting of Jesus in the temple and the offerings of little birds, one must read from the Book of Leviticus, chapters twelve and fifteen. These chapters might give the impression of being up-tight about sexuality, but the contrary is true. A couple becoming pregnant and their giving birth is so related to God’s promise of fertility and to the divine power of giving life, that there is a mysterious human experience of humanly being that close to God.
The divine is so ultimate, transcendent, other-than-ugly that sexual activity is not unclean, but rather the human, who by entering into the birth-adventure, is experienced as unclean compared with God. Proper sexual activities of the body and within human relations are sacred, because it participates and continues the experience of God’s fidelity to the Covenants. The Laws protect the sacredness of living within the covenanted community of Israel.
Luke presents Joseph and Mary as being faithful Jews. Mary has no physical reason to present herself for purification. A lamb is to be offered for the ritual sacrifice of atonement, but in the case of a poor couple, two turtledoves and two pigeons would do. The first child to be born is sacred and presented to the Lord, because that child opened the womb so that other children may also take their turn in being born. The ritual is complete, but two elders of the temple become witnesses and like the Magi and shepherds, they become early prophetic figures in accepting and proclaiming that Jesus, the One-Waited-For has come.
Simeon and Anna say some powerful words to Mary and Joseph about their Child. For Mary some are becoming familiar. The angel Gabriel, the shepherds, the Magi had all indicated the something special about the birth and the life He would live. Mary also heard for the first time that a suffering was going to be a part of her life as well. She took this all in and it matured in her heart and soul as Jesus matured in Galilee. Pondering is not the same as worrying; pondering leads to maturing, worrying leads to more worrying.
The Holy Family was a law-abiding group. This is a good model for Catholic and Christian families. We do not observe all the Jewish rituals, but we are invited to experience sexuality, birth, life, family-relations in the same spirit of sacredness. Original sin did not have its origin in our families-of-origin, though it was the place of our first experiencing its effects in the lives of others in our families. In my family, we never prayed Grace before meals, unless a Jesuit had been invited. We seldom went to Sunday mass together, though we all went faithfully. My parents never attended “devotions” or special parish activities, except “Sports nights”. We did not say a prayer upon beginning a long trip, though I think I heard my father mention the Lord’s Name during the trip now and then. I learned night-prayers kneeling as a child at my mother’s chair, but faith and love were lived by my parents and that is how we learned about God and church and Jesus.
For all the experiences of Original and actual sin in the life of my family, all six of us siblings knew more and more as we grew up, that our parents absolutely loved each other and that was the Law! They would kiss, three! Times! upon leaving each other and returning. They would lie together on the couch in our living room and “fool around” and we would laugh, be embarrassed, and stand in awe and amazement. The roof could be figuratively falling in, and at times, did, but we stood it all, because we knew that we were participants in their love. That was the Law!
“Our God has appeared on earth, and lived among men.” Bar. 3, 38
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