Holy Family, C
The good news of Christmas continues to unfold; the mystery of the incarnation continues to reveal itself. Today we are given to contemplate Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh, as a member of a family – the Holy Family – together with Mary and Joseph.
And we see that Jesus as a child in the Holy Family is part of the mystery of the incarnation. When we say that the Word of God assumed our human nature, this includes being a member of family, for it is part of our human nature to be members of a family, to be children of parents, parents of children, brothers and sisters. And given that the mystery of the incarnation in Jesus Christ not only reveals God but also our human nature as God sees it – and things only really exist in the way God sees them – perhaps this revelation of the Holy Family is important for us in our time, in which we see how forgetfulness of God quickly leads to much confusion – and the suffering that follows – about the nature and purpose of the family.
There is another level of revelation going on today as well. Here in lectionary year C we have the striking scene of the Finding of the Boy Jesus in the Temple. And Jesus delivers his first words recorded by the canonical gospels,
“Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?”
That’s divine revelation. The unseen God of Israel, of whom no image or idol could be made, and of whom the only name known was the mysterious, puzzling, divine name revealed to Moses, is revealed as the Father of Jesus Christ.
One of my scripture professors, Fr. Stanley Marrow, SJ (may he rest in peace), was a person who didn’t fit neatly into the usual categories. That said, he probably would have felt more at home on the liberal side of things. But one traditional matter on which he would not compromise in any way was God the Father, which he regarded, and rightly so I think, as a matter of revelation. So if at the school liturgy we were supposed to pray to ‘Our Mother-Father’ or ‘God our Parent’ or some such thing, he would walk out, or not show up in the first place. For him, the revelation of God as Father of Jesus Christ was at the heart of the good news of the gospel.
That God is his Father is one of the first things explicitly revealed by Jesus. And if we move ahead in the tradition of the gospels to the moment when the disciples ask Jesus to teach them to pray (itself a very good prayer, and one that we also can make) what does Jesus say? He tells the disciples to address God as Father, just as we continue to do today when we pray the Our Father.
In this we see the mission of Jesus Christ to share the fatherhood of God with us, to make us participants in his relationship to God the Father, to bring about our rebirth as sons and daughters in the Son of God.
Thus, we see the holy family of the faithful taking shape; we have become daughters and sons in the sonship of Jesus Christ, so that on the final day of this Christmas season, the feast of the Baptism of the Lord, we baptized might hear those words of the Father,
"You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased” addressed also to us.
And as Jesus makes us sharers in his being the Son of the Father, so he also gives us a mother – two mothers in fact. From the Cross he gives us Mary to be our mother, and by the gift of the Holy Spirit he gives us our mother the Church. And these two motherhoods are not entirely distinct; St. Francis of Assisi called Our Blessed Mother the Virgo ecclesia facta – the Virgin made church. And as Blessed Isaac of Stella puts it, what is said in particular way of Mary is also understood in a general way of the Church; just as through the Holy Spirit Mary becomes the mother of Jesus, so in the same way and by the same Spirit the Church becomes the mother of each individual Christian.
Also in this sense, our virgin mother the Church and we as her individual members extend Mary’s vocation through history, for we are called to continue to do spiritually what she did historically: to receive the Word of God with faith, to nourish it within, bear it out into the world, marvel at the wonders it works, grieve as it is abused and murdered, and rejoice to see it rise again.
And so, brothers and sisters, children of God our Father in his only-begotten Son Jesus Christ and entrusted to the wise and tender care of our mother the Church, let us rejoice today in this feast of our blessed life as the Holy Family.