Walk in the path of the Holy Family


(Lec. 17)

1)         1 Samuel 1:20-22, 24-28

2)         1 John 3:1-2, 21,24

3)         Luke 2:41-52

Gospel related: CCC 472, 503, 517, 531, 534, 583, 2196, 2599 CSDC 259

FOCUS:    To walk in the path of the Holy Family is to imitate their holiness, humility, gentleness and deep concern for one another.

 The Gospels give us very few details of the daily life of Jesus growing up in Nazareth. Here and there we get snippets of what his early life must have been like, and of course we can fill in some of the missing details from what we know of first-century life in Palestine. As a carpenter, Joseph was probably a man of modest means from the lower middle class. While a member of the Davidic clan, he and his family, and indeed his community, lived modestly.

Today’s Gospel passage, often known as the Finding of the Child Jesus in the Temple, is very familiar. Here the Holy Family has traveled to Jerusalem to celebrate Passover, and on their way home they realize that Jesus is no longer with them. Passover was, and continues to be, the key defining feast of Judaism – a commemoration of Israel’s liberation from slavery and the source of its identity as God’s Chosen People. Today, it stands as the backdrop to Luke’s revelation of Jesus’ fullest and deepest identity. Here, the Gospel tells us, Jesus reveals himself as the Father’s Son who has come among us to answer the great questions of human experience.


Filled with concern for his safety and indeed with a little bit of righteous annoyance, the parents return to Jerusalem where they find him – not with children of his own age but with the elders. We can all imagine their emotions and fears before they found him, and their relief and joy when they found him safe.


This Gospel, however, is not so much a commentary on family life, but more a testimony to its importance in God’s plan for our world. Having experienced the wonder of Jesus’ birth, Mary and Joseph do not keep his holy presence to themselves nor closet him away from the world. Instead, as faithful people of the Covenant, they ensure that he is brought up as part of a worshipping and faith-filled community. There, he would grow in grace and favor even in the face of life’s struggles and challenges.


Today’s feast sets before us the truth that, with God’s help and despite all the challenges of life, we can grow in goodness and holiness. Imagine what a difference we could make in our own families if we sought to understand more fully, as Saint John reminds us in our second reading, that we already share a holy dignity as God’s children and a holy destiny that has yet to be revealed.


As we celebrate the Holy Family, let us invite Christ Jesus to bring his loving presence into our homes this day – binding us together, healing our rifts and allowing us to give ourselves over to loving God and others. Then we would truly be God’s holy family.


I haven’t always looked forward to the celebration of the Feast of the Holy Family. As a boy growing up, I heard a sermon every year on the virtues of ‘the holy family of Nazareth’ which left me feeling that my good but imperfect family was simply not in the same league.

Pictures and statues of the Holy Family only reinforced the distance I felt between their family and mine. In their simple but immaculate home, there was a place for everything and everything in its place. Joseph, Mary and Jesus seemed so calm and peaceful and unruffled. They looked like they never had an argument, a disagreement, or even a misunderstanding. They didn’t seem to have any money worries or any fears for their safety or their future or anything else. Fortunately the bible stories about the childhood of Jesus tell us something quite different and bring us down to earth with a thud. This is particularly true with today’s story about the loss of the child Jesus.

Many of you are parents. No doubt you’ve had the anguish of losing a child, if only for a few minutes. The child was with you at the shopping centre. You turned round for a moment to look at something in a window or on a shelf, and when you turned back, your little one had wandered off, without a trace. You felt real fear for your child’s  safety. You felt as if your heart was going to break. In your panic you might even have thought your precious little one might have been stolen from you.

Jesus goes missing for much longer, for three whole days. If this happened today, his parents might have been charged with child neglect. How could it have happened? In those days, the men on pilgrimage walked with the men, and the women with the women. Only in the evening would the two groups come together. It seemed that Mary assumed that the boy was travelling with his father, and Joseph assumed that the boy was with his mother. A case of family misunderstanding! After travelling a whole day, then, Joseph and Mary discover that their child has gone off on his own. They go looking for him all along the road back to Jerusalem. Only two days later do they find him in the Temple of the city, sitting with the teachers, listening to them and questioning them.

The text says they were ‘overcome’ when they saw him? I wonder what exactly that word ‘overcome’ means. Were they crying? Were they annoyed? Were they angry? What Mary says to him suggests they were exasperated: ‘My child, why have you done this to us? See how worried your father and I have been, looking for you.’ His reply does nothing to reassure and settle them down: ‘Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be busy with my Father’s affairs?’ We’re told that ‘they did not understand what he meant.’ Maybe his words even came across to them as a bit of brat behaviour, a cheeky back-answer from a precocious child?

When I focus on the details of what Luke actually tells us in his stories of the child Jesus, and when I read the bits between the lines, I can feel quite close to the Holy Family of Nazareth. They are real people, after all. They had their ups and downs as a family, just like your family and mine. They had their problems, they had their struggles, and they had their challenges, just like your family and mine. But they survived as a family, just like yours and mine. They survived, because there was enough love, enough acceptance, and enough forgiveness left in their relationships, and enough trust in both God and one another.

In conclusion, let me illustrate this with a true story about how one particular family faced a real challenge which came their way. I quote the mother’s actual words (as she has stated them):

Our youngest daughter became pregnant (out of wedlock) and for our family this last twelve months was make-or-break time, emotionally, physically and faith-wise. But with God’s help and grace we have all come through this crisis in one piece. From anger to acceptance. From disappointment to unconditional love. From betrayal to peace. From hurt to holding this precious baby, the joy of all our lives now. God certainly moves in mysterious ways, and while this is not how we wanted to have our grandchildren, this little child of God is loved by all.

Fr Brian Gleeson