Holy Family

Reflection on Luke 2:41-52 for the Feast of the Holy Family

As a married couple and as parents in a family, we can sometimes find life to be difficult.  The Church offers us the Holy Family as a role model.  I sometimes find this more intimidating than helpful.  When I compare myself to the sinless Mary or our family to the faithful Holy Family, I can feel overwhelmed by the gulf between who I want to be and who I actually am.

That’s why I love the story in today’s Gospel reading.  Mary and Joseph, who knew that Jesus was the son of God, who knew that God had a special plan for their family, who had been visited by ANGELS, were worried sick when they discovered that Jesus was missing.  They searched their caravan for him for an entire day.  Then, they returned to Jerusalem and searched everywhere for him.  They were frantic with worry.  So frantic that, when they finally found him, Mary said very motherly words to him, “Why have you done this to us?”  These are the same words that I might have said in the same situation.  Then, the gospel tells us that when Jesus said “Didn’t you know that I must be in my father’s house,” Mary and Joseph DIDN’T UNDERSTAND.  This is where Mary becomes real for me.  She is holy.  She is sinless.  But she is also an ordinary mother who doesn’t understand how her son could be so uncaring.

Mary knew who Jesus was.  His conception had been miraculous.  His birth had been accompanied by many signs – angels, shepherds, magi, a special star.  Surely, at the time of his birth, Mary understood that Jesus was special, that God had set him apart, had set their entire family apart, had consecrated them and made them holy.  Mary and Joseph listened when the angel told them to flee to Egypt.  But somewhere, during the twelve years between his birth and today’s Gospel story, those memories became a little less vivid.  The childhood of Jesus was ordinary enough that there are no scripture stories between his presentation in the temple and this trip when he was twelve.  I think they came to see themselves as an ordinary family living an ordinary life.  I think that all of those miracles kind of faded into the background.  Then, when Jesus was lost, Mary and Joseph reacted like ordinary parents.  They panicked.  They searched for him with great anxiety.

I remember that I once read a book about Mother Theresa.  As I was reading the book, I could actually feel myself changing.  I could feel my heart expanding.  I could feel myself holding on to this desire to be as loving as Mother Theresa.  I remember thinking that this book could help me become holy.  Daily life took over and I forgot how powerful that book had been.

Has something similar ever happened to you?  You read an inspiring book or went on a retreat or a Marriage Encounter weekend of Cursillo and had this amazing mountain top experience.  Your life was changed and you recognized that God had given you an awesome gift.  Maybe you realized that you had been given a special mission, a particular way of living your vocation.  You were determined to remember this feeling of intimacy with God forever.  But, as time went on, the ups and downs of daily life kind of overshadowed that wonderful memory.  You went back to seeing yourself as ordinary.

In today’s story, we can see that it is okay to slip back into the ordinary.  Part of our the vocation of marriage is to go to work and pay the bills and take the kids to the orthodontist.  It is ordinary stuff.  Part of the vocation of single life is getting up in the morning and taking a shower and doing some work.  Ordinary stuff.  Part of the vocation of priesthood is looking through the mail and making lunch and doing errands.  Ordinary.  Even Mary and Joseph, after all the hoopla surrounding Jesus’ birth, lived an ordinary life for many years.  If Mary and Joseph and Jesus did it, ordinary must be a normal part of holiness.  And that’s okay, because God is always going to be here to remind us that we are holy.  Even if we don’t always understand, Jesus will always remind us of who he is and where we can find him.

And, just as he told Mary and Joseph, where we can find him is here, in his Father’s house.  This is where we can start looking.  We can find him here at Mass.  We can find him in the Eucharist.  We can find him in each other.  We can find him in our spouse.  We can find him in our priests and our deacon.  We can find him here at a time for silent prayer.

Sometimes we need a little help to find Jesus.  As I was reading that book about Mother Theresa, my feeling that my heart was expanding came from the fact that the book was helping me to find Jesus.  I never picked it up again, but some of its lessons were planted inside of me, continuing to grow and help me to keep changing.  A good book can do that.  A good book can help us find Jesus and can help us to fall more deeply in love with him and can help us to remember that God is offering us so much more than just the daily grind of our ordinary lives.  God has given us hopes and dreams and a desire to become the best version of ourselves.  We have the Mass.  We have each other.  We are ordinary.  But, inside of these ordinary lives, we can live out God’s call for us.  We can live out our hopes and dreams.  We can be the holy.

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