Pastoral Sharings: Feast of the Holy Family

WeeklyMessageHomily from Father Alex McAllister SDS

Posted December 28, 2014

We have here today part of the only story in the Gospels from the boyhood of Christ it gives the account of his Presentation in the Temple. The second part is the Finding of Jesus in the Temple. In the Gospel of Luke these passages act as a kind of a bridge from the story of Christ’s birth (the Infancy narratives) which is a sort of ‘overture’ before moving to the main theme which is Christ’s public ministry.

In this story we can see reflections of many of Luke’s favorite themes: the journey, the temple, loving submission, etc. There is also the natural tendency to see the man in the boy. And there are parallels with the Old Testament story of Samuel and his call at the age of twelve.

The feast we celebrate today is that of the Holy Family. But we know so very little about the life of the Holy Family. Yes, we have the Infancy Narratives of Matthew and Luke and we have this little account of his Presentation and then his Finding in the Temple, but that is about all.

What conclusions are we meant to draw? If we look at them as an ideal family then they fall wide of the mark: Mary was pregnant before marriage which somewhat falls short of the ideal; they lived together in perpetual chastity which would be very much less than ideal for most; and to cap it all they had only one child and he was the Son of God, which sounds like most people’s worst nightmare!

There doesn’t seem much there that we would want to or even could model ourselves on. Jesus is presented as something of a prodigy; but how could he be otherwise?

What is there here for us? Let us look first at the Prophet Simeon. Here in his prophecy we have one of the most beautiful prayers of the Bible. ‘Now, Master, you can let your servant go in peace, because my eyes have seen your salvation.’

Here is a prayer we can all share in. A prayer which can really grow in us over the years until it reaches its prophetic culmination at the point of our death when we really can say with all our hearts: ‘Now, Master, you can let your servant go in peace, because my eyes have seen your salvation.’

Simeon was a devout and holy man; he had received a revelation that he would see the Christ and he longed for that day. This yearning is an important lesson for us in prayer. Prayer is not just about rattling-off rosaries or constantly asking for things. Prayer often does not need words. A simple longing, a yearning for the coming of the Kingdom is an authentic expression of the Christian virtue of hope and is a deep and important form of prayer.

Here in this Gospel reading Simeon makes his prophecy about Christ’s destiny and as it says, ‘the child’s father and mother stood there wondering about him’. Every parent wonders about their children. Every parent is full of hope for their children. Over a period of time this might turn in to fear and anxiety, but the fundamental feeling of hope is still there.

We hope that everything will turn out well for them; we hope that they will make a success of life; we hope that they will be safe and keep out of trouble; we hope that they will be happy.

If we were to take these perfectly ordinary aspirations and express them in a Christian way we might express them as: we hope that they will realize God’s will for them; we hope they will be true to their faith; we hope that they will be good and holy; we hope that they will be effective witnesses to Christ; we hope that they will, after a long and happy life, be welcomed into God’s Kingdom.

These aspirations are our prayers for our children. We know that our children, from time to time, will also bring us pain and sorrow. The same went for the Holy Family. Look at the second part of Simeon’s prophecy: ‘a sword will pierce your own soul too’. How often have mothers and fathers experienced this sword of pain and sorrow? But it does not stop them loving. Indeed it frequently causes them to love more deeply and to pray more earnestly.

And what of the children? There is no word from Jesus here. How could there be since he was just an infant? We know that Jesus fulfilled all that was promised. You might say he had to; after all, he was the Son of God. But what of us? How are we to fulfill the expectations of our parents? The answer is simple: you cannot and you probably should not. You are most likely to experience these expectations as a burden, even though your parents have the best of intentions.

But there are other expectations that you can and indeed you should fulfil. These are the expectations of God himself. God has set us on a course through life, he has given us gifts and talents and all the quirks of our unique personality. He has put us in the way of all sorts of experiences each of which has presented us with a whole series of choices and as a result of our reactions to them we have become the person we are today.

However, God also has expectations and hopes for us. His desire for us is simple: that we should love him with our whole heart and mind and soul. This might seem a tall order, and it might not sound like much fun. But really, it not just possible it is actually the most fulfilling thing we could ever do.

We hear a lot of talk today about ecology and being at one with nature. We are told we have a responsibility towards the environment and that we will experience serious consequences if we disturb the balance of nature. This concern for the environment is possibly one of the best things that has happened in the last thirty years. It is very good but it is not all. What about being at one with our maker? What about realising the consequences of upsetting our relationship with him?

God has a plan for us. It is to live in accordance with his will, it is to take Jesus for our model, it is to be at one with our fellow humans, it is to live a life of sacrifice, it is to be united with the Father in prayer.

That prayer of Simeon is a powerful one: ‘Now, Master, you can let your servant go in peace, because my eyes have seen your salvation.’ Simeon saw Christ in the flesh. But he only recognized him because he had spent his whole life in his service. He had totally dedicated himself to prayer and to the service of God just as the Prophetess Anna had also done. They were both rewarded and saw the face of God.

They prayed that they would see His salvation, but their prayers had in a real way brought about that salvation. This is the same with us. Christ has won the victory but the work of salvation goes on. We are his co-workers. We help to make his salvation present to the world of today. This is how we play our part in the redemption of the world. And by doing so we win our own redemption. This is what it is all about. We work for salvation and the result is that the prayer of Simeon, which is also our own prayer, is realized. We see and experience our salvation.

We are also part of the Holy Family; Simeon and Anna are our brother and sister. Our task is to be like the Christ Child and as it says in today’s Gospel, ‘to grow to maturity’. Then we will be filled with wisdom and God’s favor will be with us.

Digest of Articles from Catholics Blogs and Websites
December 28, 2014

Feast of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, Year B—December 28, 2014
Today, the Church gives us an episode from Jesus’ early family life to ponder. Why?

Gospel (Read Lk 2:22-40)

St. Luke tells us that after the wonder of Jesus’ remarkable birth, announced by angels and praised by shepherds, His parents did what all devout Jews did in that day after the birth of a firstborn son—they presented Him at the Temple in Jerusalem.

The Feast of the Holy Family: Being a Holy Family
One proud grandma was showing off pictures of her grandchildren to a neighbor.  “How old are they?” the neighbor asked. “The lawyer is two, and the doctor is four,” the grandma replied. 

We all have great ideals for our children.  It is not that they need to become a lawyer or doctor to make us happy, but we do want them to grow up into the finest people they can be, using their potential, being happy in their lives.

Feast of the Holy Family
Luke 2: 22–40

Gospel Summary

Today’s gospel reading about the presentation of the child Jesus in the temple is most suitable for the feast of the Holy Family because it deals very gently with the difficult question of the relationship of young and old in families and in society generally.

The Holy Family
The Passion of the Christ was the most intense movie I’ve ever seen. But there was a moment of comic relief, a flashback to a young Jesus in the back yard, building a new invention. It was the kind of table that is now a commonplace. But in a society where people reclined to dine, this table would have put the food out of reach. Mary asked him to explain his idea. He responded that people would eat sitting upright, on chairs. Mary replied authoritatively, “it will never catch on!” He laughed, washed up for dinner, and playfully splashed mom with the wash water.

There is More
Message: There is more. God wants to do a miracle in your life.

Merry Christmas! Don’t be afraid to say it. Merry Christmas!

Maybe you saw it on TV earlier this month – the ceremony lighting our National Christmas Tree. President Obama said this about Christmas: “It’s the story of hope –- the birth of a singular child into the simplest of circumstances -– a child who would grow up to live a life of humility, and kindness, and compassion; who traveled with a message of empathy and understanding; who taught us to care for the poor, and the marginalized, and those who are different from ourselves. And more than two millennia later, the way he lived still compels us to do our best to build a more just and tolerant and decent world.”

Luke 2: 1–14

Gospel Summary

In the gospel passage for Mass at Midnight we hear the Christmas story from the Gospel of Luke. It is a story so simple that even a child can grasp it; yet, even after 2000 years it is a mystery so profound that the richness of its meaning remains inexhaustible. We are reminded again of God’s providential care which makes all history sacred history. The powerful rulers of the world, whether an Egyptian pharaoh or a Roman emperor, may have their armies and issue their decrees, but through the odd coincidences of history, God’s own purposes are ultimately achieved. As foretold by the prophet, Mary gives birth to a savior, who is Christ and Lord, in Bethlehem, the city of David.

Christmas: O Holy Night
O Holy Night.

Along with Silent Night and O Come all ye Faithful, O Holy Night is a Christmas hymn that touches us deeply.  We want to sing it or hear it  sung on Christmas.  One of the many beautiful verses in O Holy Night is: 

Long lay the world in sin and error pining
Til He appeared and the soul felt it’s worth

This verse captures the depth of the mystery we celebrate tonight: God loves us so much that the Father sent the Son to defeat evil for us, to be one of us.  Together the Father and Son gave us the Spirit to empower us to continue the Divine Presence and lead other back into intimate union with God.

Christmas Isn’t Perfect – So Find Christ in Your Real Christmas
Most of us have a perfect Christmas in mind. Often it is the creation of Hallmark, Currier & Ives, and various marketers. But none of us will have a perfect Christmas, just a real one.

The First Christmas wasn’t perfect either. In fact, the only way to describe it is to call it a crisis. Mary was pregnant before marriage, a very dangerous thing in those times. Just at the time of birth they were required to travel eighty miles on foot to Bethlehem. There was no room for them in the inn.

The Miracle of the Poinsettia
For years, we’ve given and received poinsettias in gestures of kindness during the Christmas season. They’re just so fittingly festive, with their mix of red and green leaves. What’s more, they’re relatively inexpensive and thoughtful at the same time. Did you ever wonder where that custom came from? I did, so I went exploring to find out. Here’s what I discovered.

The Promise and Fulfillment of Christmas
Some years ago, when I was recently ordained, it fell upon me to celebrate the Vigil Mass of Christmas at my parish. The pastor, as was his prerogative, always celebrated Midnight Mass, so the other parish Masses were divided between myself and the other associate. The gospel for the Christmas Vigil Mass is the beginning of Matthew’s gospel, which contains the genealogy of Jesus.

Time to Make Your Own Christmas Traditions
So there we were on Christmas night. I’ll set the festive scene. A nearly empty Roy Rogers on the New Jersey Turnpike. Muzak “Feliz Navidad” played in the background. A man, his wife, a two year old, and a baby huddled in a back booth scarfing down stale burgers and salty fries while waiting for traffic to die down. The woman quietly hummed Christmas carols to quiet the baby as the two year old little blond girl tried hard not to fall asleep on her father, too tired to even finish her chicken nuggets. The husband and wife locked eyes in understanding and the man mouthed a promise: We are never doing this again.

Proclaiming Christmas
A little treasure nestles beneath Nativity of the Lord Jesus Catholic Church in Akron, Ohio: a replica of Christ’s birthplace as it appears in Bethlehem today.

“Visiting the Holy Land is a way of getting in touch with the environment God chose to reveal himself to us,” said Father David Halaiko, the parish’s pastor. “These special places help us understand God’s actions.”

For Catholics unable to travel to Bethlehem, the next best thing might be a trip to the Akron church and its museum of Nativity sets.

The Nativity of Christ – Its Historic Reality
In those days, Caesar Augustus published a decree ordering a census of the whole world. This first took place when Quirinius was the governor of Syria. Everyone went to register, each to his own town. And so Joseph went from his own town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea to his own town of Bethlehem—because he was of the household and lineage of David—to register with Mary, his espoused wife, who was with child. When they were there, the days of her confinement were completed. She gave birth to her firstborn son. … (Luke 2:1-7)

Preparing a Room for Christ
It is like it happened yesterday, even though 4 long years have passed since that fateful December day. If I allow myself, I can see the faces, smell the air, and feel the panic that filled my heart. The nurse’s words echo in my ears, “Sit down, we have no room for you.” Pain fills my heart in a way that is indescribable. I wondered if I would get through the nightmare that I experienced while losing William. I don’t allow myself to go to this place very often. It’s a dark place, a lonely place.

Why God Becomes Human
The Advent and Christmas seasons are upon us. Like the reality itself, we Christians have to look more deeply to see the mystery beneath the glitter and the commotion. God has now descended into his creation to take up his rightful place as Lord and King of Heaven and Earth. He has infiltrated enemy lines in this civil war which rages in each of our divided hearts. In the history of this great battle, only one faithful woman has been his totally. Only she has never strayed, only she has never refused a command, only she is wholly his.

Five Essentials for Discovering God’s Plan for You
When God has a Different Plan

I think most of us can remember an occasion when we had something all planned out. It might have been something relatively minor or it might have concerned something of greater significance to our lives. And then, everything changed and the plans we had made had to be set aside for a while or even abandoned entirely.

The Mystery of the Incarnation
“Mystery,” he sneered. “That’s a good Catholic word.”

My friend was a fundamentalist who had more than a bit of antipathy towards the Catholic Church, charging that it added to the simple faith of the Bible.

But he didn’t read his bible very well. The word “mystery” is a Catholic word, only because it is a biblical word. Paul speaks of “the mystery hidden for many ages but now manifested (Rom 16:25-26).

The Four Causes of Holy Mother Church
The simplicity, unity, and beauty of Holy Mother Church is stunning when seen properly through the lens of Faith. In the various ways of knowing, that of science, philosophy and revelation, we are afforded unique insights into the divine genius of creation. But in these dark times of skepticism resting on the shifting sands of relativism, for those without the eyes to see and the ears to hear, all that is said and seen of the Body of Christ seems but an irrational fairy tale. It is as the Apostle said in first Corinthians, “but God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise, God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong.” All truth belongs to God, scientific, philosophical and theological, no matter what the “wise” or the “strong” men say.

What is a Holy Family?
Not even ten minutes pass after Mass, and you find yourself sitting in the parish hall breaking up an argument between the kids who are fighting over a donut. So much for that peace we offered one another during Mass. Ah, peace. We want peace in our homes; we want to be holy families. But how can we get there if we can’t even get past the parish hall without fighting over donuts?

Enter THE Holy Family, as in Joseph (the saint), Mary (without sin), and Jesus (God incarnate). Are we crazy to think we can emulate them? Pope St. John Paul II thinks we can: “The Holy Family is the beginning of countless other holy families.”

Shudder — It’s Good for You
If you are reading this in the morning, good morning to you.

Today you could die. There are millions of people who woke with you this morning and of this vast number, some will be dead by this evening. Some are expected — and are expecting —  to die. Some are in dangerous circumstances where death lurks. But many are just like you.  They do not expect to die today. They have plans.  They have short-range and long-range goals. They have appointments on their calendars — places to go and people to meet. They will die anyway. You could be among them.

You could.

Something New Under The Sun?
In contrast to science, which depends for its advancement upon the gradual temporal development of the technology of instrumentation, philosophy depends upon common human experience had by all throughout the ages.

St. Thomas presents five ways of proving the existence of God in the Summa Theologica, Q2, Article 3. He writes within the tradition of western philosophy, which recognizes the true, the good and the existent as only logically, not really, distinct. His five ways are logical perspectives of one argument, the singular conclusion of which is that there is a being whose nature and act of existing are identical. That Being, beyond our experience, must exist, in order to explain the existence of those beings which we do experience.

The Seven Deadly Sins for Parents
As parents, we know that problems which are harder to see, like a young cancer, are easier to cure, while problems plain to the eye, like a five pound tumor, are hard to cure. And we know the same is true spiritually. This is why the Church’s tradition concerning the Seven Deadly Sins is so useful.

The Seven Deadly Sins are divided into the three “warm-hearted” sins of:

The Seven Virtues for Parents
Last time, we talked about the bad news of the Seven Deadly Sins. This time, we will hear the good news: we parents are offered grace and help from God through Jesus Christ to live a truly good and happy life by practicing the Seven Virtues.

The Seven Virtues are the four Cardinal Virtues of:

The Treasure is in Heaven
Why did God make me? God made me to know Him, love Him and serve Him and to be happy with Him in heaven forever. (Baltimore Catechism)

But mankind is not an understanding people [they are unwise and sinful]; therefore their Maker shall not spare them, nor shall He who formed them have mercy on them…You shall be gleaned one by one… (Isaiah 27:11-12)

We begin on a wide road. (See the man and girl who are walking.) The road to the right has temptations. To the left you can see a deer and farther ahead is a cross. Follow the cross.

[Yet] God will guard the footsteps of his faithful ones, while the wicked shall perish in darkness…(Heaven and  Hell exist)  (1 Samuel 2:9)  Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind… (Romans 12:2)

How the Catholic Church Saved Hanukkah
Tuesday night marked the beginning of Hanukkah. As BuzzFeed recently demonstrated, a lot of Christians are ignorant as to what Hanukkah is. That’s a shame, not least of all because the story of Hanukkah is closely intertwined with Catholic history.

Here are two facts that you might not know about the Catholic connection to Hanukkah.

Why the Crusaders Went
This post is the third in a series about the most prevalent modern myths about the Crusades and how to refute them.

Anna Comnena was the thirteen-year-old daughter of Emperor Alexius I when the initial group of Crusaders marched into Constantinople during the First Crusade in the late eleventh century.

The Enemy’s Tactic #3: Daily Pinpricks
Going into our third part of examining the many tactics of the Evil One, let us look at a very small and subtle way that the devil subverts our relationships with others: the daily “pinpricks.”

One tactic the devil is an expert at is turning small, ordinary occurrences in a relationship into overblown catastrophes that often lead to the divorce of a couple who appeared to have a perfectly normal marriage or causes a rift between family members that lasts the rest of their lives.

The Magisterium of The Now
“You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”

This is what often pops into my head many times when people use the word Magisterium in articles and comboxes across the Catholic Internet.

There are different kinds of Magisteria the infallible and the non-infallible kind.  Of course, non-infallible is just a nicer way of saying fallible.

The Church Way Up North
The numbers don’t sound too impressive. There are about 11,500 Catholics in Iceland — or 3.5% of the country’s total population of 325,000. But considering there was just one professed Catholic in the country — one! — for many years in the early 20th century, 11,500 starts to seem quite respectable. And when you realize how new Christianity is to Iceland, the Catholic Church seems to be on quite a roll.

15 Amazing Places You Can Tour Virtually
If you can’t check out these places in person, you can at least visit them virtually—no flights or road trips required.

1. The National Museum of Natural History

Learn where we’ve been by taking a look around the stunning exhibits at this Smithsonian museum in the nation’s capital.

How Did the Star of Bethlehem Appear? What Science Tells Us and the Saints
          “There’s a star in the east on Christmas morn
           Rise up shepherd and follow
           It’ll lead to the place where the Savior’s born
           Rise up shepherd and follow”

An enigmatic celestial event that has engaged speculation for more than 2000 years, the Star of Bethlehem was an epoch-changing herald of the Messiah’s birth. For centuries saints, scholars and astronomers have wondered about this heavenly body. Was it a comet? A supernova? A conjunction of planets, possibly in constellation? A moon or dwarf planet briefly captured by Earth’s gravity? A free-floating planet or star? Was it a heavenly body that defied the known laws of physics and nature, such as the solar eclipse of the full moon on the first Good Friday? Or did it have divine origin like the shekinah glory that led the children of Israel out of Egypt during the time of Moses?

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