Ponder it all

by Mary McGlone

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We celebrate the feast of the Holy Family on the first Sunday after Christmas, Dec. 27, just when some toys are already broken, chocolate Santas sit in the clearance bin and Valentine's decorations begin to appear. As we get back to "normal," the church offers us the ideal of Jesus, Mary and Joseph, the Holy Family whose supposed peaceful, loving life might seem further removed from us than we would want to admit.

CEL_12272015.jpgIn spite of the holy card depictions, a very different picture emerges when we contemplate the stories the church uses to frame this feast.

Feast of the Holy Family
Sirach 3:2-6, 12-14
Psalm 128
Colossians 3:12-21
Luke 2:41-52

In liturgical Year A, we hear how Joseph packed up the family and fled the violence of his homeland, seeking refuge in the place where his people had languished in slavery.

In Year B we hear that when the poor parents met the saintly Simeon in the Temple, he predicted that the infant they bore would be a sign of contradiction and that Mary would live under the sword of sorrow.

This year, Cycle C holds up the story of Mary and Joseph as the harried parents of the lost and found Jesus.

Obviously, Scripture depicts the Holy Family as knowing their share of the joys and hopes, the griefs and anxieties of the ordinary -- and especially the afflicted -- people of their age. What are we to make of today's Gospel, this story often contemplated as the joyful mystery of the "Finding in the Temple"?

First of all, this Gospel reminds us that life in the Holy Family was as real as true holiness must always be. Last January, Pope Francis spoke of family life and said, "Sometimes the plates will fly, but after the storm has passed things have to be worked out."

This Gospel doesn't have flying plates, but Mary's comments to Jesus were more than a sweet "How nice to see you! We had no idea you were here." Evidently, even the three from Nazareth needed the forbearance, patience, forgiveness and other virtues Paul recommends in today's selection from Colossians.

This, Luke's first lost-and-found story, is a preparation for the Gospel stories to come. Might Mary's retelling of this episode have influenced Jesus' parables of lost sheep, coins and sons?

In this incident, Luke depicts Jesus as a young person unusually attracted to and conversant about the things of God. While his parents expected him to be with them, he ostensibly couldn't understand why they didn't realize that he "must be" involved in things that had to do with God.

Mary might have replied, "God can be found in more places than the temple!" Whether or not she said that, we know he returned to Nazareth with them.

Another point Luke makes is that Jesus' interactions with his parents foreshadow his life with the disciples. He would make decisions that they did not understand or want to accept. Every time they tried to lay claim to the privilege of being his "in-group," he called them to greater openness and inclusivity.

When they sought to understand him, they could only do so by understanding his relationship with the Father. He insisted that a relationship with him was based less on blood than on doing God's will (Luke 11:27-28).

In this incident, Luke also presents Mary and Joseph as models of discipleship. They both accepted God's call and moved forward with far more faith than knowledge. The experience of losing and finding Jesus was both real and symbolic. It was a moment of realizing that knowing Jesus, truly finding him, was a process that would last a lifetime.

Obviously, Mary and Joseph also ascertained that the love they shared with him did not imply that he would always do what they wanted. Luke tells us, twice in fact, that Mary pondered the events of Jesus' birth and childhood in her heart. Her ongoing contemplation and discernment is probably the most important example she gives us.

Mary and Joseph's witness in the infancy narratives indicates that love of God and family does not preclude confusion or irritation. Love depends on the willingness to continue reaching out to one another and accepting that loving is an ongoing process that must be nurtured consistently by each person involved.

The feast of the Holy Family presents a realistic call to the holiness of family life, be it the nuclear, extended or communal family of Christians. Let's celebrate because we're not called to be holy card images, but real-life seekers and finders of the love for which we were created.

[Mary M. McGlone is a Sister of St. Joseph of Carondelet. She is a freelance writer and executive director of FUVIRESE USA.]

A version of this story appeared in the Dec 18-31, 2015 print issue under the headline: Ponder it all.

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