In today’s Gospel for the feast of the Holy Family we hear of Mary and Joseph taking their child to the Temple in Jerusalem to consecrate him to the Lord.
I remember, almost exactly 13 years ago, my husband and I bringing our own newborn twin daughters to Mass for the first time. They were a little over a week old, and though the preparation of making sure all four of us were washed, dressed, and fed, took longer than expected, I couldn’t stop smiling as we tiptoed into a back pew while the first reading was being proclaimed with our tiny bundles. The pastor of our parish at the time, Fr. Tony, had a habit of asking the community before Mass, “Who has some Good News to share?” Though we’d missed the time for announcements, before he began his homily, Fr. Tony told the gathered community, “You’ll have to excuse me, our Good News has just arrived,” and walked to the back of the Church to bless our new little babies, before continuing on with the Mass.
Just like Mary and Joseph bringing their son to the Temple, in current Catholic practice there are also moments of intensity where we celebrate, consecrate, bless and give thanks for our children. Through the sacraments of belonging and thanksgiving—Baptism, 1st Communion, Confirmation and Reconciliation, parents and the entire believing community, consecrate children to God.
And in-between these moments of feasting, these mountaintop experiences are the day-to-day makings of a home. I find it interesting that in today’s Gospel reading, there is shortened form that can be read which only includes the first verse: “When the days were completed for their purification according to the law of Moses, they took him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord”, and the last two verses: “When they had fulfilled all the prescriptions of the law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth. The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favor of God was upon him.”
While the presentation at the temple and the proclamations of Anna and Simeon are beautiful, it seems that these three verses, go straight to the heart of what this feast is about. The feast of the Holy Family reminds us again of the great mystery of the Incarnation—the ineffable God, Lord of Creation, became a human, became vulnerable in the ultimate vulnerability of a baby, toddler, and a child. He became a little one who relied upon the goodness, wisdom, faithfulness, and care of his mother and foster father to provide everything he needed for life—nourishment, shelter, clothing, love. Hidden away in Nazareth, Jesus grew the way all children do. He shared meals with his family and went to worship in the synagogue with them. Though we have no record in the Bible of these years in Nazareth before Jesus turned 12 and was lost in the very Temple he was consecrated in—we can imagine the Holy Family was not always calm and pristine. Mary’s days weren’t taken up with needlepoint, rosaries, and hours of quiet contemplation. She worshipped the divine by washing his clothes, hand kneading his daily bread, and reminding him to wash his hands before dinner.
The Holy Family was not holy because they lived in peace and tranquility. They are holy because they faced the adversity of everyday life and cataclysmic events with faith, hope and love. They are holy like the Syrian refugee mothers who seek to give their children a chance at life in a strange land. Like the fathers who go out and look for work—anything to feed their families in a place that looks on them with suspicion. They Holy Family is holy, too, because all families are holy—created in the image of God.
And so following the example of the Holy family, let’s not wait until everyone’s perfect to claim our holiness. Not to put off recognizing our essential holiness until the baby sleeps through the night and we’re all well rested, or until we can afford the house of our dreams, or until everyone’s out of diapers, or out of eye-rolling. Because that misses the point: we are holy now.
When I was a teenager I took a hike up to a mountaintop in Juneau, with my great-Aunt Mary Thibodeau a Sister of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary. An exuberant person her whole life long, when we reached the summit, Aunt Mary spread out her arms to the blue sky and sang Jean Val Jean’s line from Les Miserables: “To love another person is to see the face of God.”
Whether you are the parent of young children or grown children, whether you are living alone or in community—the feast of the holy family lifts up for each of us a message of comfort and of challenge: there is holiness in the ordinary minutiae of everyday life. Each encounter with another is a privileged meeting place with the divine, and a reminder that we all belong to the Holy Family.