Regína sacratíssimi Rosárii, ora pro nobis!

Ave Maria!
Feast of the Holy Family
First Sunday after Epiphany—7 January AD 2007

Ordinary of the Mass
Mass Text - Latin
Mass Text - English


    Last Sunday I mentioned to you that Jewish men in Israel were required to “appear before the Lord” in Jerusalem at three times of the year—for Passover, Pentecost, and the feast of Tabernacles (Pesach, Shavouth, and Sukkoth)—the “pilgrim festivals” prescribed in the Old Testament Books of Exodus and Deuteronomy.[2]  Strictly speaking, the law was binding only on adult Jewish males—but in today’s Gospel we see that Jesus and Mary had “gone up to Jerusalem” with Joseph, “according to the custom of the feast.”[3]  That was not all that unusual, particularly if “the feast” were the Passover—for the Passover was a feast of deliverance of all the People; all the families—and, in its origins, was a sacrifice offered by each of the families of the People; not just the father or the adult men—In Exodus we read:  “on the tenth day of this month every one of your families must procure for itself a lamb, one apiece for each household.”[4]

    The Gospel specifically tells us that Jesus was twelve years old, so it wouldn’t be until the following Passover, the year of his bar-mitzvah, that he would be required to attend.  But we also see that He was eager to “be about His Father’s business.”  This feast falls among the days of the Epiphany, for just like the arrival of the Wise Men, the Baptism in the Jordan, and the First Miracle at Cana, it commemorates the “epiphany” or “manifestation” of Jesus to society and the world.  On some level, we can think of it as the very beginning of His public life—at the age of twelve, we find “Him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the doctors, hearing them and asking them questions.”  Within the year, at the age of thirteen, He would begin to read publicly in His local synagogue, taking turns with the other men at the daily readings and commentary on the Books of Moses.

    This Gospel has been read on this day for centuries, even before the saintly Pope Leo XIII incorporated it into the feast of the Holy Family, which he established in 1892.[5]  It shows us a number of things that are necessary for a cohesive family life.

    Perhaps the most obvious lesson in this Gospel is that the Family of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph did things together.  Of the three, Joseph, alone, was required to attend the pilgrim festivals at Jerusalem.  The trip required a trek of about 75 miles each way, and Joseph probably could have made it more easily on his own—and, very likely, there were plenty of other men from Nazareth whom he could have joined on the journey.  But families must do things together in good times if they are to “hang” together in bad times.  Husbands and wives, parents and children, must not be strangers to one another.  And, clearly, the Holy Family was in good company, for the Gospel suggests an extended family in the “relatives and acquaintances” together with whom they traveled.

    The Gospel also speaks to religious responsibility.  The journey to Jerusalem—an arduous one from Nazareth—was a responsibility;  an obligation to be fulfilled three times a year.  Yet it was one responsibility among many.  Throughout the liturgical year we have seen, or will see, obligations fulfilled:  the obligation of circumcision; the obligation of presenting the firstborn male child in the Temple, together with its sacrifices of redemption and purification;  the obligation of prayer in the synagogue;  the keeping of the kosher food laws, and all of the other prescriptions of the Law of Moses.  The circumstances of the Gospel suggest that Jesus, Mary, and Joseph obeyed all of these requirements in the spirit of opportunity—they were happy to be numbered among God’s people, and happy to observe God’s laws which led to peace and prosperity.

    It is noteworthy that the obedience of the Holy Family to the religious laws was practiced even when it required them to do things which were unnecessary in their special case.  Jesus required no circumcision to be numbered among God’s people.  No sacrifice Joseph could offer could possibly “purchase” Him back from God, for God (not Joseph) was His natural father.  .Mary was in no need of any sort of purification.  Yet the Holy Family did all of these things willingly and obediently.

    What more could we possibly say about obedience than what we hear at the end of this Gospel:  “He went down with them, and came to Nazareth, and was subject to them.”  Jesus Christ, the Son of God, was subject to Mary His human Mother, and to Joseph His foster father.  While men and women seek to seek to excel one another in honor and glory—seek to wear crowns of gold and to wear clothing of silk and velvet—the Son of God has made Himself subject to a small town carpenter and his wife.  It is difficult (or impossible) to conceive any greater example of humble obedience.

    When Pope Leo established this feast of the Holy Family, he proposed that Jesus, Mary, and Joseph should be a model to each and every one of us;  man or woman,  boy or girl;  no matter what our station in life might be, rich or poor, influential or not:

Those who are of noble birth may learn, from this Family of royal blood, how to live simply in times of prosperity, and how to retain their dignity in times of distress.  The rich may learn that moral worth is to be more highly esteemed than wealth.[6]

    And likewise the working poor.  Pope Leo continues:

Those who work with their hands, and all whose low standard of living and uncertain resources tend to stir up anger and bitterness ... will find in this most Holy family a reason to rejoice rather than mourn over the condition which falls to their lot.  In common with the Holy Family, they have to work, and to provide for the daily wants of life.  Joseph had to engage in trade, in order to live ; even the divine hands labored at the carpenter's calling.[7]

    Perhaps, most important of all, is the need to emulate the Holy Family in their private relations.  Pope Leo cites Saint Paul to make the point:

Whatsoever ye do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God and the Father by Him.  Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as it is fit in the Lord.  Husbands, love your wives, and be not bitter against them.  Children, obey your parents in all things: for this is well pleasing unto the Lord.  Fathers, provoke not your children to anger, lest they be discouraged.[8]

    Finally, if I may get in another “plug” for your attendance at Mass.  Please recall that in addition to the time they spent in the local synagogue, the people of Nazareth journeyed to Jerusalem three times a year, seventy-five miles each way, spending roughly eight full weeks a year to pray before the Divine Presence in the Temple.  They did so out of obedience, but also out of love for the God who is so good to us all.  For all of us the journey is much easier, to come before the Divine Presence in the Blessed Sacrament and the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.  So, please, find it in your hearts to emulate Jesus, Mary, and Joseph—not just in obedience and responsibility and humility—but also in the love of God, and in the delight of being in His Divine Presence.



[2]   Exodus xxiii: 14-17;  Deuteronomy xvi: 16-17.

[3]   Gospel:  Luke ii: 42-52.

[4]   Exodus xii: 3.

[5]   Pope Leo XIII, Néminem fugit, 14 June 1892.

[6]   From Leo XIII, Néminem fugit, in Lesson V of today’s Matins.

[7]   Ibid.

[8]   Colossians iii: 17-21 in Lesson II of today’s Matins.


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