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To understand the Gospel, go to Nazareth (at least figuratively)


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Brother Silas Henderson, SDS - published on 12/29/18

You know what God likes best of all? To knock on the doors of families.
Jesus went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them; and his mother kept all these things in her heart. And Jesus advanced in wisdom and age and favor before God and man. —Luke 2:51-52

During his historic trip to the Holy Land in 1964, Pope Paul VI reflected, “Nazareth is a kind of school where we may begin to discover what Christ’s life was like and even to understand the Gospel. Here we can observe and ponder the simple appeal of the way God’s Son came to be known, profound yet full of hidden meaning. And gradually we may even learn to imitate him” (Address on Nazareth).

The Church has consistently understood that, through Jesus’ hidden life with Mary and Joseph in Nazareth, God blessed the family, which shares in the Church’s prophetic task of proclaiming “aloud both the present power of the Kingdom of God and the hope of the blessed life” (Lumen Gentium, 35).

This Sunday’s celebration of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph is much more than a child’s celebration of an outdated devotion or Christmas card sentimentality. As the Collect for this Feast observes, we honor the example of the Holy Family and ask for the grace to imitate them “in practicing the virtues of family life and in the bonds of charity.”

While this feast certainly invites us to reflect on these familial bonds, our Gospel also invites us to reflect on Mary’s contemplative spirit, as she prays over and processes the discovery of Jesus in the Temple and, we can assume, the whole Christmas mystery. It was in and through this Holy Family that Mary experienced God’s love in the love of her husband and Son and in her experience of loving Joseph and Jesus. The family was that sacred space of grace. This is why Pope Francis has reflected,

In the loving obedience of this woman, Mary, and this man, Joseph, we have a family into which God comes. God always knocks on the doors of our hearts. He likes to do that. He goes out from within. But do you know what he likes best of all? To knock on the doors of families. And to see families which are united, families which love, families which bring up their children, educating them and helping them to grow, families which build a society of goodness, truth and beauty.

Families are an indispensable part of God’s plan for our lives. Whether these are our biological families or families we’ve chosen for ourselves (including families of faith and religious communities), God speaks to us in and through these relationships, just as he did with the Holy Family in the hidden, everyday-ness of Nazareth.

Ultimately, it’s our experience of this love that leads us into ever-deepening relationships with God and one another: “Put on love, that is, the bond of perfection. And let the peace of Christ control your hearts, the peace into which you were also called in one body. And be thankful” (Colossians 3:14-15).

And yet, this “putting on love” means saying “Yes” to the Mystery of Christmas and to God’s vision for our lives and for all of creation. As Henri Nouwen wrote in The Road to Daybreak:

Somehow I realized that songs, music, good feelings, beautiful liturgies, nice presents, big dinners, and many sweet words do not make Christmas. Christmas is saying “yes” to something beyond all emotions and feelings. Christmas is saying “yes” to a hope based on God’s initiative, which has nothing to do with what I think or feel. Christmas is believing that the salvation of the world is God’s work and not mine. Things will never look just right or feel just right … But it is into this broken world that a child is born who is called Son of the Most High Prince of Peace, Savior.

Amid the noise, busy-ness and unrest that threaten the angels’ songs in these Christmas days, this Feast of the Holy Family reminds us of the true vocation of the family: to foster the faith of each of its members and to support them in their search for God and God’s will for them. Mary and Joseph instilled in Jesus a love for the traditions and laws of God’s Chosen People; we share the same gifts with our families and friends when we open our hearts to the “Yes” of these holy days.

How do you see yourself as a part of the “Family” of the Church?   How can you share the virtues of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph in your own family and parish? Who in your family—both in your home and in the broader human family—stands in need of love? How can share God’s love with them?

Words of Wisdom: “We know Mary’s faith: she is proclaimed blessed precisely for having believed. We also know the humble submission of Joseph’s faith to God’s will: he was obedient love … There is no indication that Joseph and Mary, as they progressed on the road of their lives, sought to guess in advance what God’s plan was for them and their child. With each new dawn, they simply walked on the path that God placed for them. Speaking of Mary, Vatican II rightly says, ‘She progressed in her faith pilgrimage.’ We may add to this teaching of Vatican II by saying, ‘She progressed by walking hand in hand with Joseph in their faith pilgrimage.’”—Lucien Deiss, C.S.Sp., in Joseph, Mary, Jesus

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