Bottom line: We ask the holy family, Jesus, Mary and Joseph, to know the right balance between freedom and obedience.
I love the Feast of the Holy Family, but I have to admit that this year's Gospel is difficult for me. It tells about Joseph and Mary's frantic search for their lost child. I have been with parents terrified by the disappearance of a child. Did he run away? Was he kidnapped? Is he dead in an unknown place? In some cases those questions go unanswered for years.
In today's Gospel Jesus seems to knowingly subject his parents to that agony. And when, after three days, they find him, he gives what sounds like a curt answer: "Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father's house?"
I have often meditated on this Gospel. It comprises one of the mysteries of the rosary - the Finding of the Boy Jesus in the Temple. For all that, I still must say that I do not understand Jesus' behavior. I did receive some help recently from Pope Benedict's little book on the Infancy Narratives. He doesn't resolve the mystery, but he makes some provocative observations.
First, he notes that in the holy family "freedom and obedience were combined in a healthy manner." As the pope observes, "The twelve-year-old was free to spend time with friends and children of his own age, and to remain in their company during the journey." Joseph, together with his wife Mary, had to determine the appropriate degree of freedom for their adolescent son. Every family faces this issue. Dads, and moms, could well ask the intercession of St. Joseph in deciding what degree of freedom to give their growing children.
The holy family illustrates a healthy balance between obedience and freedom, but pain comes when that freedom seems abused. Pope Benedict describes the "days spent suffering the absence of Jesus, days of darkness, whose heaviness can be sensed in the mother's words, 'Child why have you treated us so? Behold, your father and I have been looking for you anxiously.'"
The pope does not give a facile answer to Mary's question. Rather, he refers to the "sword of sorrow" that Simeon prophesied. (Lk 2:35) The Holy Father notes, "The closer one comes to Jesus, the more he is drawn into the mystery of his passion."
After analyzing the significance of Jesus' response to his mother, Pope Benedict makes this conclusion, "What might seem like disobedience or inappropriate freedom vis-a-vis his parents is in reality the actual expression of his filial obedience."*
Now, you and I are not Jesus. If we find ourselves in opposition to legitimate authority, we cannot assume an intuitive knowledge of the God's will. We always ask the Father to "lead us" and to "deliver us from evil." The evil one can trick a person into thinking, "I am following God," or "I am following my conscience," when he is actually following Satan. We need prayer and discernment of spirits. Am I directed by the Holy Spirit or by the evil spirit? St. Ignatius of Loyola gives some rules for answering that question, but I will save that for another homily.
In the coming year we may find ourselves in disobedience to our government regarding certain mandates of the health care program. It would not be the first time. In the nineteenth century, for example, Christians opposed our government by smuggling run-away slaves to freedom in Canada. It was called the underground railroad. Christians did not take this action to weaken our nation and its laws, but to strengthen them by getting them aligned with God's law.
Whether you or I face a test like the underground railroad remains to be seen. We must do everything possible to avoid breaking the laws of our country. For now, we ask the holy family, Jesus, Mary and Joseph, to know the right balance between freedom and obedience. Our desire is not to oppose authority, but to follow the example of Jesus, "He went with them and came to Nazareth and was obedient to them." As Pope Benedict writes, "After the episode highlighting Jesus higher obedience, he returns to his normal family situation - to the lowliness of simple life and obedience to his earthly parents." So may it be in our families. Amen.
*Here is a helpful quote from Hans Urs von Balthasar: "God and obedience to him stands at the center of this family and constitutes the glue that holds it together, creating a bond tighter than the physical bond between the Mother and the Son." (Light of the Word - Reflections on Holy Family Sunday, Year C)
**President Abraham Lincoln illustrates this tension. During the Civil War he wrote a letter to those in the border states where slavery was still legal. They were upset with his Emancipation Proclamation and his employment of freed slaves as soldiers. Lincoln expressed his life-long conviction, "If slavery is not wrong, then nothing is wrong," but he also described the constraints imposed on him by the Constitution. The letter is well worth reading by us who find ourselves in conflict because of an analogous conviction, "If abortion is not wrong, then nothing is wrong."
From the archives (Holy Family Sunday homily):
Other Sunday Homilies
Seapadre Homilies: Cycle A, Cycle B, Cycle C
Audio Files of Homilies (Simple Catholicism Blog)
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Fr. Brad's Homilies
Fr. Jim's Homilies
Fr. Michael White's Homilies ("messages")
Bulletin (St. Mary's Parish)
Parish Picture Album
Parish Picture Album
(Christmas in Peru - 2012)
MBC - Mary Bloom Center, Puno, Peru