Today we celebrate the Feast of the Holy Family, and the Gospel reading, from Luke, is the only account we have in the Scriptures of Jesus’ life between His birth and infancy and His public life as an adult. Jesus is twelve years old. After He and Mary and Joseph go to Jerusalem for Passover, Jesus stays behind, without Mary or Joseph knowing. When Mary and Joseph discover that He’s missing, they trace back their steps and find Him in Jerusalem. The exchange between Mary and Jesus is a human one, and I’ve often felt that Jesus’ response to Mary’s anxiety is somewhat typical of a twelve-year old.
But as I thought about the anxiety that Mary and Joseph felt when they discovered that Jesus wasn’t with them, I was led down a different path of reflection. I could imagine Mary thinking to herself, “Is this what Simeon was talking about when he said a sword would pierce my heart? (Luke 2: 22-35) Could somebody have tracked us down, after all this time? (Matthew 2:13-18) But he’s only twelve! What could have happened to him?!”
There are many mothers and fathers in our world today who ask the same sort of questions when they’re not sure where their children have gone. There are parents of refugees, living in a makeshift tent in a strange place where they may or may not be welcome. There are parents of children who have been kidnapped and sold into modern day slavery. There are parents whose experience of law enforcement has left them fearful rather than trusting of the authorities. There are others whose children have already witnessed too much violence in their young lives.
Every once in a while, my phone will emit a loud sound that seemingly comes out of nowhere. It’s an Amber Alert, asking people to be on the lookout for a missing child. Perhaps this Feast of the Holy Family can inspire us to be on the lookout for the well-being of children all over.
As I thought about that, I thought about how my words may be received. For some, a Catholic priest saying these things would be hypocrisy at its worst. I don’t have a good answer for that. All I do know is that the lives of children are important, too important to ignore; too important to limit our concern to a particular group of children; too important to ignore the well-being of entire families: and too important to ignore the health of the environment.
Perhaps an indication of pursuing holiness as well as happiness (Some religious writers, e.g. Pope Francis, would equate the two), is extending our concern beyond our own families and churches to families, near and far, with whom we may not be familiar at all. We could pursue holiness in our families, recognizing the sacredness of all families, and sharing the hope and joy we have this Christmas season with others.
May what we do in the New Year serve in some way the entire human family.
In the name of the Holy Family,
Fr. Phil, CP