A Holy Family

Holy Family

Today’s reflection is for the Feast of the Holy Family, December 30, 2018. Click here for the readings from the U.S. Bishop’s website.

This gospel passage, unique to Luke, focuses on the pubescent Jesus. As the Dean of Discipline at a local junior high school, I’m not surprised that the Gospel writers did NOT include more stories from Jesus’ journey toward adulthood! The evangelist, Mark, wisely skips the question of Jesus’ birth altogether and jumps right into his adult ministry, and although Matthew includes an infancy narrative, he too skips the pubescent stage of Jesus’ life! Naturally, the gospel writers were particularly concerned about Jesus’ adult ministry, but I think Luke offers quite a gem in his sole account of Jesus in his “pre-teen” stage. Luke gives parents and children alike some insights into what makes up a “holy family,” and teaches us to what is required to “advance in wisdom and age and favor before God and man.” Let’s take a look at just a few instances in the overall narrative from Luke 2:41-52 to see what we might glean from Jesus’ youth.

First, I want to point out that the Holy Family “went to Jerusalem for the feast of Passover…according to the festival custom.” Many families today are engaged in so many good things that place considerable demand on a family’s time. My own sons are busy with competitive gymnastics and fishing, school activities and sports, birthday parties, and the like. While all of these things are good and important, we must appreciate the temporal nature of these things and be mindful to spend time on things eternal–things that nourish and develop the soul in its orientation toward God. Like the Holy Family, we must participate in our Church community, it’s celebrations, festivities and Holy Days.

Especially at this time of year there are no shortage of wonderful things happening in our parishes–All soul’s day/Saint’s day activities, Thanksgiving dinners and volunteer opportunities, Advent gatherings, and fund drives, Holy Days of Obligation Masses, midnight Masses, Christmas plays, and Feast of the Epiphany celebrations! It’s almost as though when the weather gets colder, the Church prompts our hearts to become warmer! Admittedly, our own family could have done a better job this year attending parish functions–we’ve definitely got some room for improvement! Jesus, Mary, and Joseph-pray for us!

Another gem I’d like to point out is when Mary and Joseph go looking for Jesus. They don’t find him “on the streets,” “on the X-Box,” nor on his “iPhone.” No, “they found him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions.” Kids are curious! They have a thousand questions and they need at least a hundred teachers offering two thousand answers! Kids and their questions can annoy us and confound us! Jesus has a lot of questions about God, customs and practices, the temple, life, the universe, Scriptures, relationships, and every other topic imaginable! He’s looking for answers and he’s searching for someone to teach him! 

The truth is that parents must take the time to talk with their kids, and ensure that when they are not around, there are other family members and members of the parish community that can answer those questions in a Godly, wholesome way. SOMEONE will be talking to our kids and answering their questions–if not you, then who? When I taught at a continuation high school, I often found myself having conversations with young people about topics that their parent should have been talking with them about, but for whatever reason, just weren’t. I shared the same wisdom with my students that I spoke to my own kids about. Topics included, healthy relationships, the adverse effects of drugs and alcohol, the importance of education and its effect on employment, and about things eternal.

When kids don’t have trusted adults to turn to they end up getting really bad advice from people who are as lost as they are! A boat lost at sea does not find safe harbor in other ships lost at sea! It may indeed find company, but both are equally lost. It is important to surround our children with parents, godparents, youth groups, church groups, and other responsible role models. I once heard, “If you want your children to talk to you about the really big things, then you need to talk to them about all the little things, because to them, they are all big things.” True enough. Take all topics seriously, and no topic should be entirely off the table–though it might need to be postponed to a more appropriate time or place!

Finally, after all was done and said in Jerusalem, “[Jesus] went down with [Mary and Joseph] and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them.” Jesus teaches us that obedience is required of all youths in the family, and the truly holy family does not see discipline as an unwelcome guest. Hebrews 12:11 teaches, “At the time, all discipline seems a cause not for joy but for pain, yet later it brings the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who are trained by it.” While there is not a direct connection between obedience and discipline, I think that families today struggle with discipline out of fear that it is somehow antagonistic or incongruent with love. I am entirely convinced that just as Jesus learned to walk and to talk, so too did he have to learn the fruit of obedience to his parents will.

The catechism teaches quite clearly that children owe their parents both respect and obedience until the age of emancipation, after which time respect–but not necessarily obedience–is required (2217). It teaches that, “Respect for parents derives from the gratitude toward those who, by the gift of life, their love and their work, have brought their children into the world and enabled them to grow in stature, wisdom and grace.” Furthermore, it goes on to say that respect is shown, “by true docility and obedience,” and that, “As long as a child lives at home with his parents, the child should obey his parents in all that they ask of him when it is for his good or that of the family.” (2214-2217) 

The Holy Family today provides a lot for us to live up to–both parents and children. As parents we must be immersed in the life of the Church–its Holy Days, festivals, and celebrations. We must take the time to see, hear, and speak with our children, answer  questions, find answers to questions together, and surround our children with wisdom figures whose eyes and hearts are fixed on things eternal. And finally, it’s okay to demand obedience from our kids–and discipline is not a bad thing! Better for our children to learn in the home when the stakes are low that disobedience has a consequence. Too many never learn about consequences and eventually find themselves as wards of the state–or worse yet, may indeed find themselves outside of heaven’s gates altogether. Lord have mercy.

May you and your children, like Jesus advance in wisdom and age and favor
before God and man. Amen.

For refection:

Do we attend and/or make serious effort to attend church functions and spend time with like-minded Catholic Christians?

Do I take the time to walk and talk with my kids, to enter into their life, and offer the wisdom that they seek?

Do I value discipline and believe that in time it “produces the fruit of righteousness for those trained in it?”

By Deacon Stephen Valgos