Today we celebrate the wonderful Feast of the Holy Family. Joseph, Mary, and Jesus provide us with a model of authentic family life, from which every human family can take inspiration and guidance. But, while we can certainly gain much benefit from contemplating Jesus’ immediate family, the readings today also give us a much wider perspective. They speak to us about the family of God – the vast community of people whom he calls to himself to be one in mind and heart with him, to share in the very life of the Trinity. St. John teaches us about this in the alternative second reading: “See what love the Father has bestowed on us that we may be called the children of God.… Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we shall be has not yet been revealed. We do know that when it is revealed we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.”
We are members of God’s family – the family of the Holy Ones whom God has reconciled to himself through the Death and Resurrection of his Son! In this sense, we are all invited to be part of the Holy Family of God. However, John explains that our membership in God’s family gives us a responsibility to “keep his commandments.” What commandments must we keep? John tells us, “His commandment is this: we should believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and love one another just as he commanded us.”
In the Spiritual Reflection Pope Francis tells us, “This is why the family of Nazareth is holy: because it was centered on Jesus; all of Mary and Joseph’s attention and concerns were directed toward him.” He also says that the Holy Family was “united by an immense love.” This is authentic family life, through which God draws us into his own family – a life centered on Jesus and on love for the other.
The two Gospel Acclamations for today emphasize the importance of keeping our attention fixed on Jesus. The first says, “Let the peace of Christ control your hearts; Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly.” The second is similar: “Open our hearts, O Lord, to listen to the words of your Son.” We cooperate with the grace of God drawing us into his family by opening our hearts to the word of Jesus Christ, striving always to follow in his ways. This is how our lives are blessed, as the Psalm affirms: “Blessed are those who fear the Lord and walk in his ways.”
Of course, we know that we do not always keep ourselves centered on Jesus. Again and again we “lose” him, sometimes through distraction and other times because we deliberately turn away from him to follow our own will. Whenever we realize that we have lost our focus on Jesus, we must follow the example of Mary and Joseph in the Gospel. When they discovered that Jesus was no longer with them, they turned back and went in search of him, eventually finding him in the temple. He said to them, “Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” Whenever we are looking for Jesus, we can find him in his Father’s house.
The alternative Psalm for today speaks about the house of God: “Blessed are they who dwell in your house, O Lord. How lovely is your dwelling place, O LORD of hosts!” The psalmist says that he longs more than anything to be in God’s house: “My soul yearns and pines for the courts of the LORD. My heart and my flesh cry out for the living God.”
Our souls should similarly “yearn and pine” to be in God’s house, for this is where Jesus dwells. The Pope tells us, “That anxiety that [Mary and Joseph] experienced in the three days that Jesus was missing should also be our anxiety when we are distant from him, when we are distant from Jesus. We should feel anxious when we forget Jesus.” We are anxious without Jesus because, without him, we cannot take our place as children of God, living in his house.
We can find Jesus in our hearts when we turn to God with faith and submit our will to his. The temple of the heart is the place where God is worshipped and adored. There we choose that his will should reign supreme. In the Lord’s Prayer we say, “Your will be done on earth as it is in Heaven.” We are the ones who decide whether the Father’s will is done in our hearts as it is in Heaven. If it is, then our heart is a temple of God where Jesus may be found. If not, then we have turned our heart into a “den of thieves” instead of God’s house (cf. Mt 21:13).
We can also find Jesus in each person whom we meet, especially in our family members, if we take our focus off ourselves and regard the other with the “astonishment” of which the Pope speaks in the Reflection. He urges us not to take others for granted, but to be truly open to who they are and to the good which God is doing in them. The first reading speaks about this, as it exhorts family members to honor and revere each other.
If we keep ourselves centered on Christ and strive to love each other, then by God’s grace we can experience in our families more of the blessed relationships which St. Paul describes in the reading from Colossians, where each person treats the other with “heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience,” forgiving each other, filled with gratitude, and living in the peace of Christ. This is the life of the Holy Family of Nazareth, and the Holy Family of God, into which we are invited as God’s beloved children!
What prevents me from making Jesus the center of my life? From loving my brothers and sisters in Christ? Like Mary and Joseph, do I experience anxieties and fears during those times when I discover that I have “lost” Jesus in my life?
Excerpt from The Anawim Way, Volume 18, no. 1. More information about The Anawim Way may be found here.