Holidays, such as Christmas, Thanksgiving, birthdays, Mother’s and Father’s Day, can highlight fractures, separations and relational disturbances. Obviously they also can bring focus to how much union and family-love and relational healing there is present. The heartbreak there is not total peace within the earthliness of the human family or within many, even Catholic families.
As always, when praying, we present our truth to the God of Truth when preparing for the Eucharist. We can pray with gratitude for the experiences of family life which we enjoy and also with those which are painful. We can pray with how Christmas Day brought joy into our lives by its light and how that light also shined on absences and injuries. Jesus pitched His Tent alongside ours and asks us to not hide in the shadows.
Sirach has many good things to say about living properly according to Torah. Relating with any thing or any body reverently is relating thereby with God.
We hear today his advice to sons and how, by obeying, revering, being compassionate to his father, will preserve him, the son, from sin and his, the son’s prayers will be heard.
The verbs, “honor”, “revere”, and “obey” are words of action. These actions are ways by which God blesses the doer by prayers being heard and children being sources of gladness. Family fertility is so central to the Covenant, but the family must stay in reverent relationships to experience the blessings.
In this First Reading there is no mention of daughters and little about the role of mothers. It is difficult for us moderns to hear that the father's seed is given to the mother to, in a sense, take care of it, because that masculine seed is the source of human life. In some cultures this is still held. In our Catholic spirituality all human life is sacred, because it all comes from the True Life and Living Source. Indeed that Life is shared with us and we are ordained to care for it all.
The reverence, respect and honor shown by children to their parents are actually the praise of God Who gives and sustains life. Families are a sacrament of God's real presence lived, as the Real Jesus did, within the culture and humanity of His time.
Religious traditions in the days of Jesus were ways of relating with the supremacy and holiness of God. Passover was the ultimate celebration recalling God's saving Israel from the slavery of Egypt. Each year, every year, at this most holy time, families would gather in Jerusalem as a reminder of their sacred history. In today's Gospel, two short days after we liturgically celebrated His birth, Jesus again accompanies His parents to Jerusalem and He is twelve years old. Jesus is fulfilling Jewish traditions by honoring His mother and father by reverencing their places of authority. Jesus, by this time in His life, would be familiar with the festivals and how the three days were spent.
Now a strange reversal is taking place. Jesus, for the first time, does not conform to His religious ways. He remains in the temple, in Jerusalem, not the usual thing for a lad to be left alone and then even worse, and again for the first time, questioning the religious leaders so central to the Jewish tradition. His parents find Him, question His behavior and after His mysterious reply to their questions about what He has been up to, he returns for the next eighteen years for observing the religious tradition of family reverence and authority.
Many families are guided by the basic principle of, "What will the neighbors think?" I personally thank my parents for either not abiding to this principle, or realizing early that it was not going to work with their family.
Recently my siblings planned a tremendous surprise birthday party for me and actually lied to me about a retreat I was to give in my home town of Milwaukee. I flew back there, not to give a retreat, it turns out, but to receive a wonderful weekend of family fun. One thing we did was return to the old family home where our family had lived for forty years. The present family allowed us to walk through their house and we told them all kinds of secrets about the place. We told them about why there are scorch marks on the basement walls and why the downstairs bathroom door doesn't have a handle. We pointed out where the Christmas tree stood and the time the dog pulled the tree over by thinking an ornament was a biscuit. We all were there and we were all back remembering the family that was and how it lives on in the new families of my siblings.
I wonder if Mary and Joseph were ashamed of Jesus besides being worried? Was Mary, "full of Grace" disgraced that she and Joseph could not control their only child? Did he get a good "talking-to" about His Jewish religious traditions and that is why He went back home and was obedient to them.
Here is something a bit new. Holiness does not do shame. Shame is what the "Unholy Family" felt when Adam and Eve put on their first costume after the apple-eating party. Shame is what we do to prevent our true selves, our true condition to be seen. Adam and Eve did not worry about their neighbor's view of them, but since then, we humans forget our innocence and our holiness in God's eyes and worry how we appear in the eyes of others.
Jesus remained in the temple as a beginning gesture of reversing the human experience from shame to holiness. He would live His whole life, even through His apparently shameful death, so as to redeem us and save us from being God's Shameful Family. Almost every person or group He would eventually meet, Jesus would challenge them about their cover-ups and invite them to know and receive their true selves.
Whose eyes through which do we see ourselves determines whether there is peace on our part of the earth and whether we will be of good will to all.
"Our God has appeared on earth, and lived among men." Bar. 3, 38
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