Homily for the Feast of the Holy Family, Year C (26/12/21)

posted 3 Jan 2022, 03:19 by Parish Office

Homily for the Feast of the Holy Family, Year C (26/12/21)

Sometimes, we can think that things must have always been wonderful and perfect for the Holy Family. Our Lord and Our Lady never committed a single sin, and St Joseph was a saint, so it must have been just wonderful. But that’s not necessarily so. A priest once joked many years ago, that it must have been rather tough for St Joseph. Given that Our Lord and Our Lady were free from Original Sin and any actual sin, whenever something went wrong, St Joseph must have had to say, “I know! I messed up! I’m sorry! Again!”

More seriously, though, we know from the Scriptures about the hardships the Holy Family faced. When Jesus was only a baby, they had to get up in the middle of the night and flee to Egypt to avoid King Herod’s attempt to do away with all the newly-born boys in Bethlehem. They couldn’t get a flight, and stay in a nice hotel in Egypt. They didn’t have car, and they weren’t able to stop overnight at a motorway service station. And they didn’t know, at the time, how long it would last, until finally, in a dream, Joseph was told that Herod was dead and that they should return. And that’s the beginning of the life together of the Holy Family!

Of course, there would have been various blessings and times of joy and consolation as well. The next episode in their lives, we hear today, was when Jesus was twelve years old. At that age, boys were considered responsible for their own actions. So Jesus goes to His Father’s house, a difficult lesson for Mary and Joseph to learn. You can imagine how, if they had been “normal” parents today, they would probably have had something of a row. They had lost a child who wasn’t just any ordinary child, but the Lord! I guess we would like to think that instead, they were able to control their worried nerves and put their trust in God that He would be safe. After three days they find Him in the Temple, and He says to them: “Did you not know that I must be busy with my Father’s affairs?” A difficult lesson to learn.

After this incident, we don’t know anything specific about what happened, except that, “Jesus increased in wisdom, in stature, and in favour with God and men”. The time between when He was twelve and when He began His public ministry when He was thirty is known as His “hidden life”. In the film Ben Hur, they obviously used a certain amount of artistic licence, but

there is a scene where Joseph is in his carpenter’s shop together with one of the villagers, and the villager asks him, where’s Jesus. Joseph replies that Jesus told him that he must be about His Father’s business. To which the villager replies, why isn’t He here then? And then in the next scene, if my memory serves me correctly, we see the young Jesus going off into the hills to pray.

We can sometimes think that if we live a good life, that everything will be perfect and wonderful for us, and that any crosses we would have received by straying from the Lord, won’t come our way. To an extent, that’s true. But we can’t be totally insulated from the misdeeds of others, and God sends crosses to purify us – throughout our lives we are always called to grow “in wisdom, in stature, and in favour with God and men”. There is no escaping the cross, but following the Lord has its great blessings too. In the first reading, Hannah has conceived a child after being barren for many years, and part of the promise she made to God was that if she did conceive, she would give her child over to the Lord. So that is what she does, and we also ought to note that her husband would have agreed to it as well, otherwise he might have claimed back Samuel or stopped her giving him away in the first place. Because of their generosity to God, Samuel was then able to become one of the Old Testament prophets. There are times in family life when parents too may be asked to give over a son or a daughter to the Lord as a priest or a sister. In days gone by, many would have loved to and seen it as an honour. In these days, when family sizes are smaller and parents have fewer children, they feel the sacrifice more greatly, knowing that that child won’t have any children of their own. But great blessings result from this sacrifice. And it used to be the case that when a new priest was ordained, and his hands were anointed with sacred chrism, one of the three oils blessed by the bishop or archbishop just before Easter, that after the anointing the oil would be absorbed by a special cloth and presented to the priest’s mother. The idea would be that that cloth would then be placed in her coffin when she died, so that when she appeared before the Lord she could show Him that she was the mother of a priest.

Today we honour the Holy Family. Like our own families, much of their lives was lived privately, away from public scrutiny. Like our families too, they were not spared crosses. But by being totally open to the Lord, they were also richly blessed, and the rest, as they say, is history.