Feast of the Holy Family

Scripture Readings: 1 Sam 1:20-22, 24-28;  1 Jn 3:1-2, 21-24; Lk 2:41-52

The readings for today’s celebration of the Holy Family, reminds us that Character is formed by a community and the story its members live out. Character exhibits the direction of self in the world marked by what we do and the reasons we give for doing it. We form ourselves to certain kinds of descriptions rather than others. Christian Character gives reasons grounded in Christian convictions. Personal growth over time is marked by progress toward a life more fully determined by those convictions.

Jesus was born into a Jewish family in a Jewish community. This community had a story that formed it. It was grounded on the Exodus, which was never to be forgotten. It was the great show of God’s power, His love, and His care for them.

Our initial reading from 1st Samuel sets the context in the story of the history of the kingdom of Israel and the lineage of David. The point is dedication or devotion. As incredibly difficult as it would be for a mother to give away her child (especially the firstborn) Hannah declares, “As long as he lives he shall be dedicated to the Lord.” And she left him there out of gratitude because, as an Israelite who knows the story, she knows which side her, and her community’s, bread is buttered on.

Then John sums up the story of what our character is to be if we are followers of Christ. What we are to do is to “love one another”, i.e., seek the good of the other for his or her own sake. And the reason is that “we believe in the name of…Jesus Christ.”

So, we come to the Jewish family of Nazareth and the character of their child. They were going to Jerusalem for Passover. God’s display of power and love by deliverance from slavery in Egypt was the reason for the journey and their way of life. The 12 year old was formed by this story and not any others of His time and place. The convictions of this story formed Him, his parents, and the men with whom He was conversing. It was a story of deliverance, of being saved. His future growth would be marked by a life more fully determined by those shared convictions. The wandering Israelites, like Mary and like us, experienced afflictions and asked “Why have you done this to us?” In answer the boy Jesus gave the Secret of Life, the One Thing. He said, “I must be about my Father’s business.” These are the first recorded words of Jesus in the gospels. They show His divine sonship and His mission. His focus on One Thing made everything else of much less importance. His focus was not on the choosing self, but on the story that directs the choice. It is the story of a love that He trusted in. That shared story formed His mission and His character. It was His guiding intention as He grew for the work that lay ahead of Him. He would empty Himself.

The story that WE are to live out is given by St. John. St. Jerome tells us that when John was a very old man his only message was “Little children, love one another.” And when his disciples asked him why he was always saying the same thing he always replied, “My children, this is what the Lord commands; if we do this, nothing else is necessary.” For a person of character, that’s the story…and we’re sticking to it!