With Great Anxiety

(December 27, 2009)

Bottom line: This Sunday we ask Mary and Joseph to walk with parents undergoing great anxiety - and to inspire married couples to work for unity of vision.

On this Sunday after Christmas, we celebrate the Feast of the Holy Family: Jesus, Mary and Joseph. We often have a tranquil picture of the Holy Family: Kneeling in awe before the Child Jesus or at work in the carpenter shop in Nazareth. Still, the Gospels describe frightening events: refugees fleeing from a murderous despot and, today, the anguish of searching for a missing child.

It happened this way: Mary and Joseph travelled for a day, supposing that everything was fine. When they discovered Jesus' absence they were a good distance from Jerusalem. Perhaps they searched at different spots outside of Jerusalem, but - whatever happened - it took three days to finally locate their son. Mary speaks to Jesus about how they had been looking for him "with great anxiety."

Why did Jesus do this? I have no simple answer, but Scripture scholars give us some clues. They observe that "three days" has special significance in the Bible. St. Paul, for example, emphasizes that Jesus rose from the dead on the "third day."* (I Cor 15:3-4) Losing and then finding Jesus apparently has some relationship to the events of his death, burial and resurrection. We hear today that Mary "kept all these things in her heart." She did not brood, but she wondered and prayed. The frantic three-day search, horrible as it was, prepared Mary for a much great trial.

We can be confident that the boy Jesus was not acting on whim. The suffering that Mary and Joseph unwent would bring about some greater good. We can only speculate on how it served that holy couple. What we can be sure of is that Jesus wants us to gain something good from this event.

For me it is this: I have been a parish priest for almost forty years - and I have seen no greater suffering than the loss of a child, whether by death, kidnap or runaway. Parents experience a grief beyond imagining. I know it in my own family with the death of my nephew, Benjamin, last month.

Joseph and Mary experienced that "great anxiety." Now, for them it did turn into immense joy when they found Jesus on the "third day." While I would not offer parents facile platitudes ("everything is going to be all right" or "your child is in a better place") I would invite them to join the Blessed Virgin in standing at the foot the cross. She knows your anguish.

The Finding of the Boy Jesus in the Temple is a mystery that we meditate upon. Like Mary, we should try to "keep all these things in the heart." They bear repeated reflection, as happens when we pray the Joyful Mysteries of the rosary.

In your meditation on this mystery, I would like to call your attention to a small detail. When Mary addresses Jesus, she says, "Your father and I have been looking for you..." She could have spoken about a mother's anguish, how Jesus' disappearence had torn her heart in two - and, certainly, no one would have blamed her. But she did not speak from a personal perspective. She spoke from the perspective of matrimony: That husband and wife strive for unity, a common vision.

Unity, working for a common perspective, requires daily effort and great humility. Mary and Joseph had done that work. Therefore, with perfect naturalness, Mary could say, "Your father and I."

The Holy Family has much to teach us. For that reason we have a feast in their honor each year - and throughout the year, commemorations that focus on different aspects of that blessed family. Today we have seen two lessons: How they passed through an experience of terrible anguish and how, even with such stress, Mary and Joseph maintained the unity of perspective, proper to marriage. Thus Mary, could say, "Your father and I have been looking for you with great anxiety."

This Sunday we ask Mary and Joseph to walk with parents undergoing great anxiety - and to inspire married couples to work for unity of vision. And may Jesus, Mary and Joseph help us all in facing life's trials and in living our vocations.


The Catechism has a section titled: On the Third Day He Rose from the Dead:

The mystery of Christ's resurrection is a real event, with manifestations that were historically verified, as the New Testament bears witness. In about A.D. 56 St. Paul could already write to the Corinthians: "I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, and that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the Twelve. . ." The Apostle speaks here of the living tradition of the Resurrection which he had learned after his conversion at the gates of Damascus. (#639)

General Intercessions for Holy Family sunday (from Priests for Life)

Spanish Version

From Archives:

Holy Family Sunday 2008: The Dignity of Marriage
2007: Honor Your Father and Mother
2004: The Most Diverse Family
2003: The Key to Family
2002: Saintly Seniors
2001: The Holy Family in Egypt
2000: More Important Than Family
1998: How to Avoid Bitterness
1996: You Are My Father

Other Homilies

Seapadre Homilies: Cycle A, Cycle B, Cycle C

Bulletin (St. Mary's Parish)

St. Mary of the Valley Album

(surrounded by vices, even in a country parish)

Pictures from Peru

(delegation with children at Peru orphanage)

Report on Diego's operations - with pictures (pdf file)

Fr. Frank Pavone: Reid Health Care Bill Is A Gift Americans Won’t Accept

U.S. Bishops: The current health care reform bill is “deficient” and should not move forward without “essential changes,” the chairmen of three committees of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops

The legislative proposal now advancing “violates the longstanding federal policy against the use of federal funds for elective abortions and health plans that include such abortions -- a policy upheld in all health programs covered by the Hyde Amendment as well as in the Children’s Health Insurance Program, the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program -- and now in the House-passed ‘Affordable Health Care for America Act,’” the bishops said.

They said that the health care bill passed by the House of Representatives “keeps in place the longstanding and widely supported federal policy against government funding of elective abortions and plans that include elective abortions” and “ensures that where federal funds are involved, people are not required to pay for other people’s abortions.” The Senate bill does not maintain this commitment.

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