The cheap, kitschy religious art of holy pictures and calendars which would portray the Holy Family as haloed, golden-haired (of course!), prettily rural and perfectly poised – a picture of domestic bliss – makes nonsense of the reality of human family life and, especially, that of Joseph, Mary and Jesus. The temptation to romanticise – and thereby trivialise – the life of the Holy Family and all family life, must be firmly resisted.
That Jesus was born into a human family means that he and his family experienced all the conflicts, resolutions, tensions, joys, frustrations and anxieties that are part of the human condition. The Gospel gives us glimpses of the bewilderment of his family when Jesus breaks through the rigidly held conventions of his society and begins to walk his own road.
St Luke gives us the episode of his parents losing him at the Passover Feast and of his incomprehensible explanation for his absence (Luke 2:41-50). St. Mark tells us that his family even thought he was out of his mind and set out to bring him home (Mark 3:21). But he has to walk his own road!
Today’s Gospel shows us two God-fearing persons who interact with the infant Jesus and his parents, and who give an indication of the road this Child will walk, and his unique role in the economy of salvation. These are like the Wise Ones, grandfathers and grandmothers, neighbours and friends, who are part of our families and who, under the influence of the Spirit, have their fingers on our pulse.
Funny how the two old people mirror, in some sense, the young couple before them: he, an upright and devout man; she, serving God day and night; and both of them recognising, in the person of the infant in his mother’s arms, a turning point – Kairos – in God’s dealing with his people.
The young father is a “man of honour” (Matthew 1:19) and the mother is “highly favoured by God” (Luke 1:28), and both faithful to the prescriptions of the Law of God. They listen wonderingly, perhaps even nervously, and store up these things in their heart, for even though they too are God-fearing and open to the workings of the Spirit, they are human and have to wait to see God’s plan unfold.
In our own experience, there have been persons in our families or in our circle of friends – Wise Ones - who have had insight into our character, our calling, our destiny, and who have supported and challenged us along the way. Many of our teachers have had this uncanny ability to see what road we, their students would walk, andwhat we would turn out to be.
Sometimes, however, it is we who have turned out to be the “Wise Ones”: we who are the “family” members who have had such an insight into someone else’s life and, welcome or unwelcome, have made it known. I remember meeting a young man, some thirty-odd years ago, and having a strong sense of his vocation to priesthood.
When I told him what I sensed, he was by turns irritated beyond measure and filled with dread; and he stoutly denied any such leaning... Today, he has the daunting task of being responsible for the training of priests...
Let us pray:
Lord, we thank you for the joys and hopes, tensions and suffering of family life. We thank you especially for all those who, like Simeon and Anna, help to point us in the direction you would have us go, even when we are unwilling and their words cause pain.
Lord, we ask pardon for expecting our families to live “happily ever after”, for not understanding the role of creative tension and suffering in our lives; for not seeing that our flawed, human condition is precisely the vehicle of your grace.
We pray for strong leadership, parenting and mentoring in our society and in the Church. May there always be Wise Ones to communicate the vision, to encourage the young and not to be afraid to let the sword pierce their own souls as the young respond to your call.
Gospel Meditations for December are by Bro Paschal Jordan of the Benedictine Monastery in Mora Camp, Upper Mazuruni, Guyana.