Sunday, December 27, 2015

Finding Jesus In The Temple Of The Family

Today's gospel reading, the finding of Jesus in the temple, is the last word we hear about Jesus until he appears on the banks of the Jordan River to be baptized by John. From the time he is twelve until he turns thirty, the gospels are silent about his life. These twenty years are called the "hidden years" because Scripture gives us no details about the life of Jesus during that time. What little we do know is summed up at the end of today's gospel: He lived in Nazareth. He obeyed his parents. And he "advanced in wisdom and age and favor before God and man."

Though we have few details about their life together, the Holy Family of Nazareth - Jesus, Mary and Joseph - have served as a model of what the Christian family is meant to be. Like most families, they lived ordinary and unremarkable lives. We can presume that they worked, shared meals together and prayed. As a good Jewish family, they would have attended their local synagogue and made pilgrimages to the temple in Jerusalem. It was in this simple, uneventful home, however, that Jesus, our Savior, grew and was formed into the man who would one day shoulder the burden of our sin, die on a cross and rise from the dead. It was in these humble and simple surroundings that this great man spent most of his life on earth.

Most of us, like Jesus during his hidden years, are not called to do remarkable acts of charity or heroism. Rather it falls to us to live simple and humble lives with our families. Whether we are parents or children, we grow in age, wisdom and grace through the joys and trials of our everyday lives. We learn the beauty and power of God whenever a new baby is born into our families. When the anxiety of paying bills or dealing with illness mounts, we grow in trust of our Heavenly Father who always makes things work out for our good. By doing our chores around the house cheerfully and with love, we learn about serving others. At family gatherings, we learn to be patient and kind by biting our tongue whenever our cranky uncle starts talking about politics or our teenage cousin double dips his tortilla chip into the salsa. Each family, no matter how imperfect, is a temple where we can find Jesus present and a school where we can learn the ways of God.

It is for this reason that prayer is so important for family life. We need to acknowledge that Christ is at the center of our lives as a family and to remind ourselves that our home is a holy place. One great way to do that is by having our homes blessed. Whenever we bless something, we are setting it apart for God, we are declaring that it is holy. By blessing our homes, we are saying that our home life is consecrated to God the Father, that it is now under his protection and that his word will be the guiding principle of our family life. Another vital way of bringing prayer into our homes is by making it a point to say grace at every meal, even when we are eating in a restaurant or have guests over. Grace at meals teaches us to be thankful for what we have and to be mindful of those who go without. It also sets a tone for the meal, making the behavior and conversation at the table more courteous and serious. No matter how we choose to do it, prayer is vital to family life so that we may have the strength to deal with the pressures of modern life and to help us recognize God's grace working in small and subtle ways in our home.

It should not surprise us that Jesus, the sinless one, obeyed his parents, Mary and Joseph. As children in catechism we learn that obeying our parents is our first duty. No doubt, whenever we went to confession, disobeying them was at the top of our list of sins. We learned that God gave our parents to us to protect us and to teach us. As imperfect as they may be, our parents are the first to introduce us to our faith and our primary models of what it means to live a Christian life. For this reason, the fourth commandment - Honor they father and mother - is the first one which deals with our responsibilities to our neighbor. And it does not expire when we turn eighteen or move out of the house. Rather, God intends that we love and honor our parents throughout our lives, especially when they are older and most need our attention and help. Older people in our society increasingly feel that they are a burden to their families and that their lives lack meaning and purpose. They need our affection in their old age more than ever. All of us have much to learn still from our parents no matter how old we are. Most especially, teenagers and younger children need contact with their grandparents and older relatives  so that they can learn their family history and grow in their sense of personal identity. Along with prayer, honoring our parents as Jesus did is one of the pillars
of a strong family life.

Like Jesus, each of us is called to grow in age, wisdom and grace through our family life. As children, we are called to honor our parents as the ones given to us by God to teach us. As parents, we are to recognize that our children are gifts from God, entrusted to our care, so that we can nurture them into strong followers of Christ. There has perhaps been no other time when family life has been under so much pressure. We see the effects of our weakened moral climate and a difficult economy all around us. Divorce has touched just about every family in one way or another. Now more than ever it is time for us to turn to God for strength to make him the cornerstone of our homes so that the strains of modern life will not break our families. We should also turn to that model of simple faith and humility, the Holy Family, and ask for their prayers to help us follow their example in our lives. Then our families, no matter how broken or imperfect, will be holy temples where we find Jesus, a safe place for children and a school of love and faith.

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