The Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph: Year C.
Commentary Theme for this Sunday:
“We Are All Children Of God’s Family.”
The first reading could be called “Hannah’s Story” as it is told from her perspective and unfolds from her initiative. Hannah offers up her long awaited and much loved son to God for ‘service for life’, acknowledging that God’s claims and plans must always take precedence even over those of the family.
In the second reading, John defines what it means to be the ‘children of God’.
Today’s Gospel reading gives a glimpse into the life of Joseph, Mary and Jesus during Jesus’ developing years and gives us insights into our responsibilities in our faith’s journey as loving parents of children emerging into young adults.
It is recommended that the actual readings are first studied and then meditated upon with a prayer to the Holy Spirit to grant you the gift of ‘wisdom’ to understand the meaning of the messages of Love, Forgiveness and the Offer of Salvation that the Lord has for each one of us in the Holy Bible.
These commentaries, which have been extracted and summarised for our meditation, are from the published works of priests who have, by their Divine inspiration become acclaimed scholars of the Scriptures and generally reflect the Church’s understanding of the readings.
These commentaries are not meant to replace the Sunday Homily at Holy Mass but are provided as an additional guide to assist and further enhance our understanding of the Sunday Liturgical Readings.
‘Daily Reflections’ and a Prayer are included to enable us to ‘Live the Word’ during the week following the Sunday Mass. We will begin to understand the meaning of gratuitous love and our life’s true purpose. Through His Word we will follow the Light to help fulfil the mission that has been given to each one of us by our Creator.
“Allow the Spirit of God to break the chains that keep us from understanding and accepting the word of God.”
1 Samuel 1:20-22, 24-28.
Today, the Sunday after Christmas, is the day that the Church always gives over to the celebration of the ‘Holy Family’, possibly seeking to encourage us by showing how families can really work, if we follow God’s plan.
The first reading is the story of the birth of Samuel, or rather of the ‘childlessness’ of Hannah. Hannah, barren and desperate to have a child, was constantly provoked by Elkanah’s other wife, Peninnah, who had several children. Hannah would weep and fast, and Elkanah, who loved her very much, would try to console her by telling her that she was better than ten sons. In one of the family’s yearly pilgrimages to Shiloh to worship and sacrifice to the Lord, Hannah prayed silently and bitterly to God asking for a son. The Temple priest Eli initially misconstrued her lips moving in silent prayer as a sign of drunkenness. All Hannah wanted in her almost desperate and silent pleadings in her prayers was a child to put an end to her rival’s taunts. In parting, Eli said, “Go in peace, and may the God of Israel grant you what you have asked of him.”
After the birth of Samuel, when Hannah’s husband Elkanah was going up to offer sacrifice, Hannah tells him that she will go up later so that she can dedicate the child to God. In a response that could well guide family life today, he says, “Do what you think best” (1 Samuel 1:23). She then goes up to Shiloh with a sacrifice, which Elkanah enacts, and she then approaches Eli the priest and says, “I am the woman who stood near you praying to the Lord … Now I, in turn, give him to the Lord”. She then prays a canticle that begins like Mary’s: My heart exults in the Lord.”
Samuel, her first born, grew up to be a prophet, a seer, the last of the greatest of the judges, and the anointer of King Saul and King David. Hannah is a fine example of women in the Hebrew Bible whose faith and courage make possible the unfolding of salvation history. As in the case of Isaac, Samson, and John the Baptist, Samuel is vouchsafed by God to a sterile mother. Perhaps rashly, she promised that any such child would be ‘lent to the Lord’ as a ‘perpetual Nazirite’ to the service of the ‘shorn hair’.
We must be careful, of course, since the Lord would be inclined to take us at our word in the promises that we make. We can almost feel the pain of this family, but at the same time realize and acknowledge that God is in charge, and that this act of generosity and self-sacrifice is the beginning of the story of an extraordinary prophet who masterminded the most momentous change in Israel’s history; the introduction of the monarchy of Saul and his successors to Israel. God’s claims and plans must always take precedence even over those of our family.
Psalm: 84:2-3, 5-6, 9-10.
The Psalm belongs to the group of psalms which pilgrims to Jerusalem would sing to glorify the Temple. The desire for God and the dedication to the Temple, his dwelling place, expressed in it, conveniently links for us the story of Samuel and the Gospel narrative about the child Jesus.
1 John 3:1-2, 21-24.
In the beginning of the Gospel of John, John reminds us that those who accepted the ‘Word made flesh’ received power to become the ‘children of God’ (Jn. 1:11). 1 John defines what this means. Such a privilege does not signify that we have already achieved the peak of our Christian calling; he cannot define the glorious future that God has in store for us when we shall see Him as he is.
Our salvation is not guaranteed, it is a gift. For this privilege, we are expected to ‘believe in the name of Jesus’ and to ‘love one another’. This is a unique New Testament description of the demands of the Christian life. We may compare it with the double command of love of God and neighbour found in (Mark 12:29-31), and Paul’s description of Christian existence in Galatians as ‘faith working through love’ (Gal. 5:6).
Today’s Gospel gives us a picture of the Holy Family of Joseph, Mary and Jesus. They are a normal Jewish family of the time and care about their religious practice. They go down to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover with others. The Passover celebrates the liberation from slavery in Egypt (Ex. 12:21-28). The people recalled this past liberation and looked forward to the time when the Messiah would really free them from the slavery of sin. By participating in the feast, Joseph, Mary and Jesus fulfill their obligation as good Jews and also give expression for the Messiah to appear one day in their midst.
Seeing the Holy Family participating in the religious feasts reminds us that an essential element of Christianity is to celebrate together with fellow believers and to keep alive our hope of meeting the Messiah face to face. Joseph and Mary are worried when they do not see Jesus and look for him until they find him in the Temple. What was going on in twelve-year-old Jesus’ mind when he dropped out of the caravan and went to the scholars in the Temple? That’s what Mary asked him, and his answer was not very enlightening. How much can we read into it?
This was a young teenager doing what young teenagers do from time to time, acting thoughtlessly, without malice, following their instincts and neglecting to consider how other people might be affected. Jesus obeys them and goes back to Nazareth with them where he remains with them, is educated by them and grows to maturity before beginning his ministry.
We are told that Mary kept wondering and turning over this strange event in her heart. As for Joseph… well, on the way back to Nazareth, he must have explained to the boy why such behaviour was unacceptable. Jesus, Mary and Joseph were not plaster saints; they were real people, going through the same highs and lows that all of us experience. They remind us that, no matter what happens in a family, wounds are never too deep to heal. There were probably some neighbours who thought that Mary didn’t do such a good job as a parent due to the seemingly disobedience of their son.
We are all continually searching for something in our lives. Mary and Joseph had to search for Jesus. The Jesus they find is not the boy they had always known. They discover something new about him. He has to be about his Father’s business. They find a son who is ‘obedient to God in the first place’ whom he calls his real Father. This is a reality the parents of Jesus had not foreseen, but they are prepared to accept it. As Jesus’ relationship with his Father grows, so it also grows with his fellow human beings. This is what we call a holistic growth, no area is neglected, each area receives good and balanced attention.
Mary’s response of faith to all events are meant to be imitated by all who desire to follow Jesus and welcome his Word and give birth to it in their lives. Before God, we are always in front of a mystery and in spite of our questioning to know, we have, at the end of it all, to welcome this Word in our hearts and allow it to find a home in us.
The readings offer a realistic challenge to family life today, and not simply by emphasizing the virtues of fidelity to God, obedience, and growth in wisdom. Every parent is challenged in a different manner with the bewilderment that Mary feels. As children mature after long years of love and guidance, the emerging adults begin to forge their own paths.
When called to live in a family, one is thereby called to a school of ‘life and love’. The family is a cradle of humanity: not only do we learn to be human but we also learn to be a Christian. Through the influence of the Holy Family, Jesus developed his three virtues that we all need to practice: “meekness, humility and selflessness”.
Like Mary and Joseph, parents often cannot understand what their children say, and yet Jesus’ journey to self-understanding began at Jerusalem and concludes with a return to the support and love of Nazareth. On this beautiful feast, let us thank God for the relationships that make us grow and nourishes us. How fortunate are we to be so deeply rooted in God’s special family with its long and yet living tradition. Let us always remember that our children are God’s children first and foremost.
Today’s reading can comfort parents with the wisdom that their journeys are not unique or without companions.
‘Acknowledgement and Thanks’ to ‘Recommended Source Material’ by:
Archbishop Daniel E. Pilarczyk, Fr. Fernando Armellini SCI, Peter Edmonds SJ, Richard Baawobr M.Afr, Joseph A. Slattery Ph.D, Adelmo Spagnolo MCCJ, Silvester O’Flynn OFM Cap, J.E. Spicer CSsR, John R. Donahue SJ and Alice Camille – Master’s degree in Divinity.
Reflections for each day this Week to lead us in the ‘Way, the Truth and the Life’:
Almighty God and Father, on the … of the week following the Feast of the Holy Family Sunday Year C, we reflect on …
Sun. … Hannah made a solemn promise to the Lord in prayer, which she kept despite the pain, and deep sorrow she must have felt when a mother hands over her baby son over to someone else permanently. How many promises we have made to the Lord that we have not kept and broken?
Mon. … Hannah’s selfless act of generosity to God by giving up her son Samuel to the service of the Lord resulted in a momentous change in Israel’s history. Likewise when we perform selfless acts in the service of the Lord however small they may seem, these too can have momentous effects on the lives of others. Let us pray for all mothers today that they may willingly accept the ordination of their sons into the priesthood when the Lord calls them to serve.
Tues. … We all can learn from the dedication and obedience of Hannah to God’s claims and plans. As Christians, God’s will must always take precedence even over the needs of our family. Our family is part of God’s family, therefore, we always put God’s will first in our lives.
Wed. … In the second reading, John reminds us that all who accept the “Word made flesh” receive power to become the ‘children of God’. As God’s children we need to live our Christian calling by our faith in the Father and our love for each other. As children of the Father, we need to always obey his will, live in union with him and his Spirit will live in union with us.
Thur. … The Holy Family always fulfilled their obligation as good Jews. Do we as children of God fulfil our obligations as defined in the Precepts of the Church and in the ‘Two Commandments of Love’ as in Mt. 22:37-39? What expressions have we given to the Lord to come into our lives and hearts this Christmastime?
Frid. … Let us reflect today on Mary’s similar response of faith and acceptance to the unexplained difficulties that families sometimes experience. “Before God we are always in confronted by a mystery and in spite of our desire to know and understand, we have to, at the end of it all, welcome his word into our hearts and allow it to find a home in us”.
Sat. … Let us ask the Lord’s grace to enable us to understand the members of our family and to listen patiently to what they have to say, respond kindly and wisely. May we not force our opinions on them, but guide them with Christian values and examples. May we also have the courage to refuse giving in to what may harm them. Help us to appreciate and love our family just as they are and not as we would have them be.
Prayer after the Daily Reflection.
Almighty God and Father, we thank You for making us part of Your family in Christ. May we always uphold the values of family life based on selfless acts of love and fidelity for each other. May the graces given to our union in the Sacrament of Marriage continue to keep us as ‘One’. We give You thanks for the fruits of the ‘Covenant of Marriage’ we made in Your presence, which has blessed us with joy and happiness, and brought forth new life and new challenges in bringing about Your Kingdom.
You live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit, One God, forever and ever. Amen.
Compliments: Bible Discussion Group. Our Lady of the Wayside, Maryvale.
“Discovering the Truth through God’s living Word”.