Deacon Cornell’s Homily


1 Sm 1:20-22, 24-28
1 John 3:1-2,21-24
Luke 2:41-52


December 30-31, 2006, Feast of the Holy Family Cycle C

I don't know if anyone else finds this as strange as I do. The story of Jesus getting lost and staying behind in Jerusalem is the only story we have about him in the Gospels from infancy to the start of his public ministry. Which means the very first recorded act of Jesus after reaching the age of reason is one of, at worst, disobedience and, at best, utter disregard for his parents' concern, and then his first recorded words are ones that would have earned me a swift smack to the side of the head if I had spoken like that to my mother when I was twelve. As a matter of fact, this story is one of the stories about Jesus that pop into my head when I hear someone say, “What would Jesus do?”

So why does Luke choose this story to conclude his infancy narrative? It serves his purposes well on many levels. The story ends the infancy narrative as it started, in the temple, which also serves as a precursor to the end of the Gospel which finds the disciples gathered in the temple after the ascension, giving praise to God. It gives Luke a way of stating once again who this child born to Mary really is. Notice that throughout the Gospels the only ones who really see who Jesus is are angels, the Father, those filled with the Spirit like Simeon and Anna, and in this story, Jesus himself. The disciples and the Pharisees and the scribes never get close to understanding.

It is a wonderful story to reflect on in these post-Christmas-chaos days as we seek to restore a certain balance to our own family lives and at the same time look to the birth of Jesus as an inspiration for following Jesus here and now.

One obvious connection we parents make is that the Holy Family was really a fully human family. Their lives were not the perfect, serene scene we see on so many Christmas cards we get every year. The swords that Simeon foretold would pierce Mary's heart were not just the big ones such as having to flee to Egypt with a small child or the passion and death of Jesus but included many little ones that all parents experience as their children grow up and separate themselves. Despite their own holiness and who Jesus was, Mary and Joseph experienced that same pain of incomprehension that all parents of all teenagers do.

Hopefully it will help us reflect on what is really important in our families as we sort through all the presents and returns and parties. How do we in our family life go “about our Father's business” as some translations of that phrase read?

One of the themes we have been focusing on in Generations of Faith this year is how important it is for us to have a personal encounter with Christ if we are to be authentic followers of Jesus. For most of us, we encounter Christ in community of believers, and for most of us this starts with family. We hear in today's story that as part of being in his Father's house or being about his Father's business, Jesus went down to Nazareth and was obedient to Mary and Joseph. Being family is one very important way that we incarnate the body of Christ so that others can have that personal encounter with Christ. The infancy narratives remind us that we do this even when everything is not picture perfect in our family lives. The very human-ness of our lives is how God chooses to dwell among us.

Another aspect that both the Gospel story and the story of Hannah and Samuel remind it us of the importance of prayer in discerning God's plan. Hannah's prayer for a child was answered with the birth of Samuel. And she continues to pray as she gives him over to service for God. Prayer is critical as we try to discern God's plan for us, and as we try form our families into this image of Christ we are meant to be.

I know prayer can be hard to fit into our busy lives but it is essential if we are to become the body of Christ in our families. I know I have talked about this before but it is still a good idea. I would suggest that we have a marvelous prayer book for family life right in every home. In the second reading, John tells us that when we finally see God as God really is, in heaven, we will become like God. But we don’t have to wait until we go to heaven in order to start this transformation. Where can we see God as God really is? Right in those books and boxes and now gigabytes of family photos. Take those photos out and start looking at them as a family. Pray over those images that you might see the face of God in the ordinary and extraordinary events of family life. For the more we see the face of God, the more we are transformed into the image of God that is so important in marriage and family, a God who is a community of persons defined in love.

So let us all pray for all our families but most of all for our own, that we might become holy families, advancing in wisdom and age and favor before God and, perhaps more importantly before those who we meet this week for whom our family might be the only Christ that they will ever encounter.

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