“Now, Master, you may let your servant go in peace, according to your word, for my eyes have seen your salvation, which you prepared in sight of all the peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and glory for your people Israel.”
Simeon speaks these words when Mary and Joseph present the infant Jesus to him in the Temple. He recognizes the baby as the Christ (“messiah” or “anointed one”). Salvation is at hand, arriving in the arms of His parents.
Today we celebrate the feast of the Holy Family. The observance focuses our attention on the love shared among Jesus, Mary and Joseph. Jesus, the Son of God, is an infant. God humbled Himself to take on flesh and be born as a human being, one of us. He is born of Mary. Joseph becomes his father on earth. Mary is His mother. Mary and Joseph, as parents, will feed, nurture, teach and provide a home for their son. The home they build is built on love.
Love is the reason for Jesus’ birth among us. His love for his parents existed even before they were born. As He grows that love will be expressed in many and varied ways. The love between Mary and Joseph provides a home filled with joy, even in the midst of severe trials such as the flight to Egypt.
Jesus, born into a Jewish family, will learn the covenant anew. He who will be crowned King of the Jews, will witness His parents faithfulness, piety and righteousness. He will pray to God with them and one day will teach them to call God their Father. Jesus, like all the other boys of that day, will learn a trade from his father. He will be known as a carpenter. Mary will teach him the ways of the home. The relationship among the family members in their daily life and routines is built on, and an expression of, love.
As we celebrate the Holy Family, we look to our own familial relationships. The bond that is created between spouses who form a home is an expression of love. Surely there are challenges but the bond created when they vow themselves to each other is a powerful reminder of God’s love for us, His people. We have to acknowledge that the state of marriage today makes it difficult for many to see this connection.
Broken vows, dissolved promises and forgotten love is all too familiar for many. Yet God chooses the family to reflect His love. The love between husband and wife will take flesh as they bring children into the world, born of their union. The family is the context where children first learn that they are loved – hence, their first practical encounter with God, Who is Love.
They also learn how to love and express that love with their parents, grandparents, siblings and the extended family. The bonds provide stability and security for the child so he or she can grow and develop as a person who is made in the image and likeness of God.
The reading from Sirach (first reading) extols the roles of parents and encourages children to respond with respect, honor and reverence. Children, when they become adults, bring solace and comfort to their parents. They also provide care for them, returning the love the parents first showed them in their childhood.
There are several choices for the second reading for today’s liturgy. The passage from Saint Paul’s Letter to the Colossians gives us some sound advice, not only for living well, but for building the bonds of love that exist in our familial relationships. He writes:
Put on, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, bearing with one another and forgiving one another, if one has a grievance against another; as the Lord has forgiven you, so must you also do. And over all these 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.
Simeon’s words of praise to the Father signal his readiness to leave this world in peace. The prayer expresses a serenity that comes as He sees the love of God fleshed before Him. Salvation is at hand. The Messiah has arrived and all that has been promised will be fulfilled.
The peace that God offers through Jesus comes to us first through our families. Awareness of this was keen in the early Church which referred to the family as the “domestic Church.”
As we honor the Holy Family today, we have the opportunity to recommit ourselves to family life, to heal any broken bonds, to seek forgiveness, to offer mercy, to love anew and be refreshed in love.
We also have the opportunity to pray for people who have had bad experiences of family life, that through the compassion and love of the Church they might know God’s love and mercy and experience His peace.
Msgr. Joseph Prior is pastor of Our Lady of Grace Parish, Penndel, and a former professor of Sacred Scripture and rector of St. Charles Borromeo Seminary.
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