Saturday, December 27, 2014

Homily (3): The Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph Year B: Fr. Michael U. Udoekpo

Homily (3): The Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph Year B: Fr. Michael U. Udoekpo

Readings: Sir 3:2-6, 12-14; Psalm 128:1-5; Col 3:12-21 and Luke 2:22-40( Alternate 1st and 2nd  readings for Year B: Gen 15:1-6;21:1-3; Ps 105:1-9; Heb 11:8,11-12,17-19).

Re-Learning Family Responsibilities from Mary, Joseph and Jesus

It is not surprising that following the celebration of Christmas, the Birth of Christ, we re-gather today to contemplate and celebrate the virtues of the Holy Family of Mary Joseph and Jesus. In fact, this Feast makes a lot of sense for us, since we are all fruits of a given family, a community of parents and children, brothers, sisters and relatives. Today, we celebrate the responsibility we owe each other. The family belongs also to the people!    The family of Joseph, Mary and Jesus was a family of “Yes!” and openness to God. Mary, in those Christmas stories knew how to say, Yes, fiat to the Lord, “Be it done to me according to your Word,” (Luke 1:38).  The righteous and quiet Joseph, listened to the angel Gabriel as well. He took Mary Home (Matt 1:24). Joseph provided for the safety of baby Jesus in Egypt. Jesus’ parents were humble. They paid close attention to whispering of the Holy Spirit into their ears. They knew their responsibilities.

 Today’s Gospel presents us with the episode known as the presentation of Jesus in the temple; which is the 4th joyful mysteries. Remember the five joyful mysteries, the annunciation, the visitation, the nativity [birth of Christ], the presentation and then the finding of Jesus in the Temple. These are all part and parcel of today’s Gospel, which actually sheds light on the responsibilities of the Holy family of Joseph, Mary and Jesus.  Like any other family, after the birth of Christ, Joseph probably must have gone back home, and perhaps going about his carpentry work, and having to deal with customers; while Mary probably was busy with household works and changing of diapers.  These did not distract them from prayers, singing the psalms or keeping their customs.  They remained devout and prayerful.
 In the Gospel, we are told, 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 Simeon and Anna, two faithful Jews, who all recognized Christ as the Messiah, to  the amazement of Mary and Joseph. Simeon sang the Nunc Demittis ((Lk 2:29-32). They were grateful to God for what he has done for them. For them Christ was not only the Messiah,  the redeemer, He would be a sign of contradiction and the cause for the fall and the rising of many in Israel, and a Light for the Gentile.

Mary and Joseph were also told by Simeon that through this light for the Gentiles, “a sword would pierce their hearts.”  Through Christ, some would rise and many would fall.  This sounds scary. But it came to be fulfilled. Jesus would challenge the status quo. Jesus would preach the truth fearlessly. He reached out to the poor, to the marginalized, healed those they were thought could not be healed. He ate with sinners defying ancient traditions, not to do so. These, of course, would cause resistance among the Pharisees, Jewish elites and the Roman soldiers, against him. His life from conception was a mystery!

Truly the mysteries surrounding the life of Jesus, which we daily recite when we pray the rosary, were challenging to Mary and Joseph.  They were like a sword to Mary and Joseph. Many swords actually pierced their souls.  Think of the swords of poverty, humility, (anxiety, when Christ was lost in the temple and the event of the Holy Week/Easter—can summarize this)! They were very poor. Mary and Joseph had no place in the Inn. They slept in caves days leading to Christmas. After the birth of Christ, some of their guests were those poor Bedouins and the shepherds. During their customary 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’t it interesting that the mother of the Lamb of God could not afford a lamb for ritual cleansing? Mary and Joseph did not deny their lowliness, who they are, something we could learn from. Mary openly acknowledged her lowliness and poverty with joy, every now and then, especially in the Magnificat (Lk 1:46-55).  Besides the sword of poverty, Mary and Joseph experienced the swords of opposition to Christ, false accusations against him. Mary in particular witnessed the suffering and death of Christ. She was at the foot of the Cross. The sword that pierced through Jesus' side pierced through Mary's heart. Mary suffered with Jesus. She is our co-redeemer. Mary and Joseph teach us how to endure in raising our children, in redeeming our children, even from drugs and other abuses. They had nothing, except, hope, faith and love, which they share with us. The faith learned from Abraham, Sarah (patriarch and matriarchs, Gen 15, Heb11)! They teach us how to be  good fathers, mothers, and neighbors.

 We can also learn from Christ, then the Child Jesus. Each time they made to the temple, for Presentation and Passover, we are told in the scriptures, the child went back home and was submissive and obedient to the parents.  He responded to the love of his parents. He learned basic wisdom and the facts of life, the “fear of the Lord,” from them.

 On the feast of the Passover as narrated in the last section of Luke 2:41-52, Jesus, then 12 years old stayed back in the temple without the knowledge of his parents. Realizing this at home, and like every good parents, they went anxiously looking for Jesus. As if it was another sword, Mary said “son why have you done this to us, your father and I have been looking for you with anxiety.”

At the end of the day Jesus went back home with his parents. And Scripture says, he “was obedient to them,” (Luke 2:51).  And was advanced in age and wisdom before God and man (Luke 2:52). He obeyed his parents. Echoes of such obedience are heard in the first reading of today (Sir 3:2-6, 12, 14), 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 and will live long (cf. Exodus 20:12; and Deut 5:16).


You and I know, especially our parents that we live in a different time today. Today, there are many fathers and mothers who walk away from their mutual responsibility to their children, leaving them with third parties under the name of personal freedom or 'too busy at work." Divorce has also become the order of the day, to the detriment of our children. Today’s society is also searching for where to draw the line between rights of parents and of those of their children: the movie they watch, the drinks they take, the conversation they engage, and the examples they are shown. Are they adult food, drinks, movies? What examples do we show to our kids!: how we treat each other, how we return home from work on time, join the family at meals and how we relate and respect our next door neighbors?

 I am  the sixth child in a family of 4 surviving brothers and two sisters from same mom and dad. I have other step brothers and sisters. Customarily we respect our parents. We honor them. We show 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.  We never talked back to our parents.  The respect is so deep and mutual that we cannot call our parents even our elderly ones by their first name. Usually whenever there is any misunderstanding in our family everybody is eager to work hard to have the matter resolved with compassion and love.
 This is the Family Life in the Lord that St. Paul addresses in the 2nd reading (Col 3:12-21). 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 place where we learn to be our brother's and sisters' keepers. 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 Community, churches, schools, places of work and governance.

As we approach the table of the Holy Eucharist today, let us pray that each and every one of us may return home today, nourished by the virtues and exemplary lives of Mary, Joseph and Jesus.