I love the Church's placement of this feast day so closely following the Nativity. The Gospel this week recounts the story of the finding of twelve-year-old Jesus in the temple and then next week we read the Gospel of the Wedding at Cana. No accident, this. There is always perfect order and method to the Liturgical Year. Starting in Advent, and following through to Candlemas Day, our first thoughts are centered around the Holy Family. Isn't this the perfect reminder of our responsibilities to both our heavenly and our earthly families? The love and care of the family this week is followed next week with Our Lord's blessing on the sacrament of Matrimony by His first miracle. And then, we move on into His public ministry from there.
It's the perfect start to every new year. All our resolutions should begin here, with our homes and families and our responsibility to God as relates to them.
It's always such a wonderful consolation, too, to be reminded that the life journey of the Perfect Family was not perfect. Almost nothing, temporally, worked out very well for them. Living in a place and a time where they were under the rule of an oppressive dictatorship, they were constantly surrounded by turmoil and bitterness. They were poor. They were sometimes hungry, often tired, suffered sorrows and mishaps even before the greatest sorrow of the Passion.
Though there were likely others, the Bible documents just one of the trials of Jesus' hidden childhood ~ the separation of the Holy Family after the celebration of the Passover in Jerusalem. I can't help but think there was a heavenly reminder for all of us in that episode of His holy life. The very fact of the Holy Family's presence in Jerusalem teaches us duty to the customs of our Faith and the importance of its ceremonies. It was not necessary, or even standard, for women to take this journey to Jerusalem for the Passover, but Mary went. From her we learn faithfulness to Faith and Family. We can glean also, that as Jesus did, we must learn what it means to each of us to "be about Our Father's business," regardless of our station in life.
But, I always take one more lesson from the story of The Finding of Jesus in the Temple. In short, it's the knowlege that even the Perfect Family had communication lapses. It's both a consolation and a caution to me to know that. With a family our size, it wouldn't surprise many to hear we've "left a child behind" once or twice. In fact, on one occasion, we found ourselves in almost the exact situation of the Holy Family.
Here's the story: We had brought two cars to Mass one Sunday, and ended up afterward taking home two or three extra children for Sunday afternoon play time. Both cars, therefore, were packed with children. When we pulled out of the church parking lot, I just assumed that Dan had four-year-old Michelle in his car; he thought, of course, that she was in my car. Since this was before we had cell phones, we didn't find out until we got all the way home that little Shelly was not among the caravan at all. As soon as we realized what had happened, we called the church, found out she was ok, and upon racing back to get her, found her playing happily with another little friend in Father's office. We didn't live that one down for a while, but it did make us feel better to know that Our Blessed Mother and St. Joseph were in Heaven looking down commiserating with us in our anxiety.
You know what else? It helps me to know that even Jesus, God Himself, was a tiny bit of a trial in His adolescence. I can go to Mary and Joseph with my worries about my teenagers and know that their understanding is through human experience. Certainly, their troubles were different (not teenage "brain damage" related), but, still, things weren't always easy raising the Son of God.
We know it's a fact that the life of Jesus in the Perfect Home in Nazareth didn't move along without a hitch.
How difficult it must have been, for instance, for dear St. Joseph to have to beg food for his little family in Egypt (as St. Mary of Agreda tells us he did). How difficult must it have been for him to eke out a living for them as a carpenter in Nazareth. How Jesus' loving Mother must have wished she had more meat, more healthful food to nourish her little Boy. How constant must have been the labor in her little dirt-floor home. But, then, I know, even as I write this and feel sympathy for them in their poverty, they didn't feel the same sympathy for themselves. Their acceptance was perfect, their humility was real. Their love for one another, the purest light of heaven on earth.
That's what made them the perfect family. Their life on earth was not "perfect," but the way they lived it was.
And that's the lesson.
As my husband likes to say: Life is Messy.
But we don't have to be a mess.
* Repost from 2009
* Repost from 2009