Reflections – Feast of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph AB- by Michael Ufok Udoekpo
Readings Year A: Sir 3:2-6, 12-14; Psalm 128:1-5; Col 3:12-21 and Matt 2:13-15, 19-23
Family, a Domestic Sanctuary
It is not surprising that following the celebration of Christmas, the Birth of Christ, we re-gather today to contemplate the virtues of the Holy Family of Mary Joseph and Jesus. In fact this Feast makes a lot sense for us since we are all fruits of a given family, a community of parents and children, brothers, sisters and relatives. That of Joseph, Mary and Jesus and other things, was a family of Yes and openness to God. Mary “be it done to me according to your Word,” (Luke 1:38). And Joseph quietly took Mary home as the angel had told him (Matt 1:24) and provided for the safety of baby Jesus in Egypt.
It was a family that handled their difficulties and confusion with prayer, and absolute trust in God. A typical example is the mystery of the sudden pregnancy of Mary by the divine agent. Pregnancy, I believe would be a very delicate period for women. It is a time that women enter upon a cycle of hopes of fears. She sees herself different in the mirror and is conscious of the risks and sufferings awaiting her. In such circumstances our husbands would not want to approach her with the authority of battalion commander, but like Joseph with gentleness and virtue of a love promised for a common joy (cf. Udoekpo, M. Family Functions, 1997, p. 19).
Joseph handled this well. He listened and was opened to the impulses of the Holy Spirit. He took Mary home (Matt 1:24). He loved, honored and respected Mary, and the child Jesus. A quiet and righteous man and understood what his role and vocation was as the head of the Holy Family, to protect the child Jesus- the New Moses (Matt 2:13-15,19-23), just as the old Moses was kept save in the Book of Exodus 1–4. He rose up and fled with the child Jesus to Egypt for safety as directed by the Angel of the Lord (Mtt 2:13).
Joseph, besides loving and respecting Mary must have also taught Jesus his carpentry trade. From Mary and Joseph Jesus must have also learn their basic customs, how to say shalom, how to say some basic Jewish prayers, and meaning of things around him – patience, and compassion for fellow human beings-that would come to reflect in Jesus public ministry; in his turning water into wine at Cana in Galilee (Jn 2), in his multiplication of fish and bread, in his healing ministries and in his forgiving the sins of sinners and in his all out obedience to the will of His Father.
Jesus was an obedient child. I am sure you would recall the incidence in Luke 2:41-51 when the boy Jesus stayed back in the Jerusalem after he had made and annual visit with his parents Mary and Joseph. It took Mary and Joseph about three days to anxiously and lovingly retrace Jesus to the Temple in Jerusalem where he was deeply involved in a discussion with teachers and scholars. We are told Mary and Joseph were not only anxious about their child, but were astonished at finding Jesus in the midst of temple teachers. But scriptures tells us that after all said and done, Jesus went back home with his parents and “was obedient to them,” (Luke 2:51). As a result he grew up in wisdom, age and favor before God and man (Lk 2:52).
For our children obedient to our parents is very important. In today’s first reading (Sir 3:2-6, 12, 14) we are told by Ben Sira that “Whoever honors his parents atones for sins and preserves himself/herself from them. When he prays he is heard, and whoever respects the mum stores up wealth and riches for him/herself. Even before Ben Sira in read in Exodus 20:12 and Deut 5:16 “Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land which the Lord your God gives you.”
I know in challenging media frenzies and labor world of today each one us would have a family story to share. But since we have little time, and I am the one preaching today, let me share this with you. I had shared this with our staff last Monday during our retreat at Montfort House in Bay Shore. I grew up as a sixth child in a family of 4 surviving brothers and two sisters from same mom and dad. Customarily we respect our parents. We honor them. We showed gratitude to them for many reasons- for raising us, for breast-feeding us, for the food, clothing, for the tuition, for teaching us the faith, name them. In some tribes in Nigeria, greetings like “good morning” from a younger person to his or her elderly one is accompanied with a slight gesture of genuflection as a sign of respect. Respect of children to their parents is Spirituality. Good children don’t talk back to their parents. The respect is so deep and mutual that we cannot call our parents even our elderly ones by their first name. I have never yet seen my brothers and sisters dispute to the extent of not talking to one another again. Usually whenever there is any misunderstanding everybody is eager to have an occasion to discuss, to talk about it and to have the matter settled.
This is the Family Life in the Lord that St. Paul addresses in the 2nd reading (Col 3:12-21). We cannot give what we do not have. The family is a place where each of us would learn to put on compassion, kindness, gentleness, patience, bearing with one another and forgiving one another. Like the Holy Family of Joseph, Mary and Jesus’ it is place where we learn to pray, to sing Psalms, cultivate wisdom, respect, honor one another and lay our spiritual foundation. It is a place where we learn to visit our parents and seniors in the nursing homes, hospices and hospital. It is a domestic sanctuary for faith, hope and love. It is a domestic church, school of virtues, where we lay the foundation for the values and virtues we bring to our larger Church Community, Gathering of Ministries, Schools, Offices, Work and Meeting Places.
As we approach the table of the Holy Eucharist today, let us pray that each and every one us taking part at this worship, may returned home today, nourished by the virtues of the Holy Family of Mary, Joseph and Jesus. Peace be with you.
Readings Year B: Gen 15:1-6;21:1-3; Ps 105:1-9; Heb 11:8,11-12,17-19 and Luke 2:22-40
Family: School of Faith, Hope, Obedience and Love
I know we are not surprise that soon after the celebration of Christmas and listening to the stories of the Birth of Christ, his origin, his naming ceremonies and circumcision, the role of the angels, the magi and the shepherd we are gathered again together as a church to contemplate the gifts of the Holy Family of Mary, Joseph and Jesus. The gifts of faith, hope, obedience, love and devotion of the parents of Jesus.
Like the faith of Abraham and Sarah in today’s first two readings (Gen 15:1-6; 21:1-3; Heb 11:8,11-12,17-19) Mary and Joseph were faithful parents beginning from the time of the mysterious conception of Christ to the events of providing safety for Christ in Egypt (Matt 2:13-15, 19-23) to the presentation in the Temple, narrated in today’s Gospel of Luke 2:22-40. Naturally after the Shepherd who work with animals had gone back to their farms and caves and those who were seeking to kill the child Jesus had died Joseph and Mary would have returned to Nazareth to face the challenges and endurance of raising their son Jesus.
Joseph properly went about his carpentry work and having to deal with customers while Mary probably was busy with household works and changing of diapers. They were very devout parents doing what exemplary family of their time would do., teaching their kids, Psalms and prayers. We told in the Gospel when the time came Mary and Joseph carried out the Jewish customs and rituals of offering back their male child to the service of the Lord, remembering the sparing of their Hebrew male children in Egypt (Exod 13:1-2, 11-16 Num 18:15-16) and the purification of the mother (Lev 12:1ff).
In the Temple they met two Jewish prophets Simeon and Anna who all recognized to amazement of Mary and Joseph the importance of Jesus for both Israel and the Gentile. Mary and Jospeh handle with faith the Nunc Demittis of Simeon ((Lk 2:29-32), especially the facts that Jesus will be a sign of contradiction and the cause for the fall and the rising of many in Israel and a Light for the Gentile, a prayer of hope come to fulfillment, long foretold by Israel’s prophets especially Isaiah 40:5; 42:6. Although the Jew had waited for the Messiah for thousands of years, Gentiles were not included their plan of salvation. Mary and Joseph must also have handle with faith and hope especially the portion when Simeon predicted that “a sword pierce Mary’s heart.”
Even think of the sword of poverty. Mary and Joseph had no place in the Inn. Earlier they had to sleep in a cave in Bethlehem were Christ was delivered next to where animals were sheltered, and his first important visitors with the poor animal keepers, the shepherd. From this narrative during the purification ritual Mary and Joseph were so poor that they could not afford a lamb or a sheep except two turtle doves (Lk 2:24). Isn’ it interesting that the mother of the Lamb of God could not afford a lamb for ritual cleaning. Nothing good was even expected from Nazareth (Jn 1:46). She even acknowledge her lowliness and poverty with joy in the Magnificat (Lk 1:46-55). Mary and Joseph had nothing but they had Christ, they the hope, faith and love to share with humanity. Think of the swords of opposition to Christ, false accusations against him, his suffering and death which Mary would live to witness.
In our family lives the challenges of a husband that returns home late from work or that of a nagging wife or partner. Even that of poverty too, there are certain things that our children would see in their neighbors’ children that daddy and mummy could not afford. Some of our kids are smart but not all would afford the high cost of putting them through college. What about the challenges of not listening to one another and the spiritual and moral poverty.
We are told after the presentation Mary, Joseph return home where the child Jesus obediently grew up, became strong and was filled with wisdom and God’s grace. Wisdom because he was not only filled with God’s grace but he was dispose to learn from his parents the meanings of values, virtues and things around him. We are morally poor of respect when we do not respect our parents, visit them in nursing homes, hospices and hospitals or bring them to church when they are in need, but cannot drive because of ill health and poor visions. We are spiritually and morally poor if we allow our kids to watch movies forbidden to the kids or fail to teach the basic values of the love of God and neighbors. Nazareth’s home was among other things, a spiritual home for Jesus, Mary and Joseph. And so should be our families. In our daily living based on love, trust, esteem and respect there must be room for an exchange of ideas, values, experiences of joys and sorrows/swords, successes and trials.
Peace be with you