Life on the Chrism Trail

Homily for the Solemnity of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph

December 26, 2021
St. Patrick’s Cathedral
Fort Worth, Texas

1 Samuel 1: 20-22, 24-28
Psalm 84: 2-3, 5-6, 9-10
1 John 3: 1-2, 21-24
Luke 2: 41-52

Today we celebrate the Solemnity of the Holy Family: Jesus, Mary, and Joseph. The Church offers us this feast on the first Sunday immediately after Christmas because this mystery of family life is so important and very much essential to the mission of redemption of humanity given to Jesus by His Father in Heaven — a mission that He further entrusts to all of us as the Church to proclaim and to bring to fulfillment under the guidance of the Holy Spirit whom we first receive at Baptism.

The Church offers us in today’s liturgy the Gospel story that recounts the mystery that we reflect upon when praying the fifth joyful mystery of the Rosary: The Finding of the Child Jesus in the Temple. The 12-year-old Jesus who stays behind in the Temple in Jerusalem unbeknownst to his parents who, surprised and anxious, discover Him three days later conversing with the teachers. Jesus answers His mother, who asks for an explanation, that He must “be in His Father’s house” — that is, God’s house. The Gospel relates that Mary and Joseph don’t understand the meaning of Jesus’ response and then adds that Jesus returned with them in obedience and “advanced in wisdom and age and favor before God.”

The Gospel makes clear that this story is neither an example of Jesus’ adolescent disobedience to Mary and Joseph nor an example of the ignorance of Mary and Joseph to the unique significance of Jesus in God’s plan of salvation for Israel and the world. The Gospel we proclaim today is the second time we see a visit to the Temple by the Holy Family of Nazareth. The first recorded visit is found immediately before this passage of Luke’s Gospel and reports the time when Mary and Joseph presented and dedicated Jesus in the Temple and heard with amazement the words of the prophet Simeon that Jesus would be “destined for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be contradicted” and that a sword would pierce the heart of Mary with sorrow — her heart in which she kept all these things of God’s revelation about her Son.

The lack of understanding on the part of Mary and Joseph recorded today’s Gospel is not confusion as much as it is amazement at God’s ways of salvation made ever more present in the growth and development of Jesus. Their understanding too of how Jesus will go about completing the mission of His heavenly Father will grow and develop in understanding from the moment that Mary and Joseph received their callings at their respective and distinct visits from the archangel. Mary’s question of her Son is not unlike the question she asks of the archangel at her annunciation to be the mother of God. “How can this be?” is a question of awe and amazement, not one of skepticism.

In this story, the 12-year-old Jesus is shown to be zealous for God and for the Temple. As the Son of God, He certainly had a uniquely intimate knowledge of His Heavenly Father, and an unrepeatable and permanent relationship with the Father. But, in His full humanity, the child Jesus had learned prayers and love for the Temple and for the institutions of Israel from Mary and Joseph. We may therefore say that Jesus’ decision to stay on at the Temple was above all the result of His close relationship with the Father, and it was also a result of the education He had received from Mary and Joseph.

In this we can discern the authentic meaning of the vocation of marriage and family life received by husbands and wives to be fathers and mothers. Fathers and mothers are aware that their children are a gift and a project of God. Therefore, parents cannot consider that they possess their children as products or clones of themselves, nor do they relate with them as peers; rather, in accepting and serving God’s plan through the education and formation of their children, fathers and mothers are called to educate them in the greatest freedom, which is precisely that of saying “yes” to God to do His will, in loving obedience to their Baptismal vocation and to any subsequent vocation in life and ministry. The Blessed Virgin Mary is the perfect example of this “yes,” just as Saint Joseph is a righteous but not immaculate example of this “yes” to God.

The Rite of Baptism teaches that fathers and mothers have the obligation to be the first and best of teachers of their children in faith and morals. Fathers and mothers cannot do this if they act as if they are simply individual peers of their children or simply seek to win their children’s favor. Likewise, fathers and mothers cannot do this if they treat their children as their own product and teach them to fit into this world with an undue focus and desire for material success that soon becomes avarice and greed. Saint John reminds us in our second reading today, “See what love the Father has bestowed on us that we may be called the children of God. And so we are. The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know Him.”

The Son of God became the Son of Mary so that He could make it possible for every human person to become, by the grace of adoption at Baptism, a child of God rather than simply a creature of God. The Son of God took our human nature so that all who are human could have a share in His divine nature. And that gift from Baptism is ordinarily fostered and strengthened in us first through the example, presence, correction, and guidance of our fathers and mothers in accord with the preaching of the Gospel and the celebration of the sacraments which unite us to the life, death, and Resurrection of Jesus Christ by grace.

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