The background to today’s first reading is that Hannah had been a barren woman. In that culture, it was disgraceful for a married woman not to have children. Hannah longed for a child and went to the place of worship to beg the Lord to grant her a child. There she promised to dedicate her child to the Lord if He would grant her request and when she encountered the priest, Eli, he assured her that her prayer would be answered. Miraculously, God removed her barrenness, and she soon became pregnant with a son. She named her son Samuel because in Hebrew that name means, “God has heard.” Hannah had great faith in the Lord, and He rewarded her with a child. In thanksgiving, Hannah entrusted Samuel to the care of the priest, Eli, in order to be raised in the house of God and dedicated to the service of the Lord. Samuel grew up to become one of Israel’s greatest prophets, who would eventually anoint David as king of Israel. On today’s Feast of the Holy Family, this first reading reminds us of the connection between our families and the family of God. Although our situation may look very different from that of Hannah and her husband, Elkanah, we can learn from them that the purpose of parenting is to entrust our children to the Lord. The ultimate purpose of our families is to connect each member of the family to the family of God, the Church. Let us, therefore, emulate the faith of Hannah in entrusting her family to the service of God.
Today’s second reading from the first letter of the Apostle John focuses our attention on the love of God. God’s love for us is perfect and unconditional. He loves us even when we do not love Him in return. In fact, God created us out of love but then we rejected Him through sin and, thus, broke off our family relationship with Him. But, although we may have rejected God, He has never turned away His loving gaze from us. God’s love is so great that He has chosen to adopt us back into His family. He made this possible through becoming one of us in Jesus Christ. As today’s reading expresses, “we should believe in the name of His Son, Jesus Christ, and love one another just as he commanded us.” We learn from this passage and other parts of Scripture that we become sons and daughters of God through faith in Jesus and being baptized (by which we receive “the Spirit he gave us”). We also learn how to act in the family of God, which is the Church. We are to “love one another” and “keep [God’s] commandments.” The beautiful thing about the family of God is that we have a perfect Father. Therefore, His commands are not burdensome or arbitrary. They are, rather, what is best for us. And God gives us the grace we need to love Him and love one another as brothers and sisters in Christ. Let us, therefore, seek to be faithful “children of God.
Today we celebrate the Feast of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph. This feast takes place on the Sunday immediately following Christmas, falling within the season of Christmas fittingly to continue to call our attention to the profound reality of God becoming man. On this feast we are reminded of the humanity of Jesus as the son of Mary and Joseph. Jesus grew up in their home and spent His childhood as a rather typical Israelite boy. In fact, the only thing we know about Jesus’ childhood, apart from His infancy, is the account we hear in today’s Gospel. But we learn quite a few things about the Holy Family from this short account. First, we see that they are a faithful Jewish family by their observance of traveling to Jerusalem once a year for the feast of Passover. Second, we learn that they travelled in a “caravan” that probably included many, many relatives, and friends. There were enough, at least, for it to take a day of traveling before Mary and Joseph realized that Jesus was not with the group. It would have been typical for a twelve-year-old boy, who was coming of age, to be with the men of the group, rather than his parents. Third, we see that Mary and Joseph had typical parental concerns. Not being able to find Jesus for three days caused them “great anxiety.” In fact, this three days of sorrow foreshadows the three days of sorrow that Mary would experience at the time of Jesus’ death, when He would be in the tomb for three days. The finding in the Temple, therefore, foreshadows the great joy of the Resurrection. Fourth, Jesus’ response to Mary and Joseph when they find Him reveals that their role, although essential, was to be subordinate to the will of Jesus’ Father in Heaven. The passage does tell us that Jesus “was obedient to them,” but this obedience was always connected to His perfect obedience to God. Likewise, our families are to be reflections of our relationship with God.
Loving and obedient to each other but with our eyes fixed firmly on the Lord and in total love and trust of our heavenly Father who cares for us all.