(Note from author: Catholic parishes may choose from two options for each of the first two readings for the Feast of the Holy Family. For previously written meditations in this series on Sirach 3:2-7, 12-14 (first reading, option A) and Colossians 3:12-21 (second reading, option A), please click on the following Examiner.com link: http://www.examiner.com/article/meditations-on-scriptures-feast-of-the-holy-family-dec-26-2010. The meditations that follow feature the second options for both readings, as well as Luke's Gospel account of the 12-year-old Jesus in the Temple. May you and yours have a blessed New Year. – Todd von Kampen)
Opening reflection (taken from Magnificat magazine, www.magnificat.com): Pope Benedict XVI writes: “The family is the privileged setting where every person learns to give and receive love … The family is an intermediate institution between individuals and society, and nothing can completely take its place … The family is a necessary good for peoples, an indispensable foundation for society and a great and lifelong treasure for couples. It is a unique good for children, who are meant to be the fruit of the love, of the total and generous self-giving of their parents … The family is also a school which enables men and women to grow to the full measure of their humanity … 'O God, who in the Holy Family left us a perfect model of family life lived in faith and obedience to Your will, help us to be examples of faith and love for your commandments.'”
(This weekend's Scripture readings are available in the New American Bible translation at the Vatican’s English website at http://www.vatican.va/archive/ENG0839/_INDEX.HTM.)
First Reading: 1 Samuel 1:20-22, 24-28 (Revised Standard Version)
A reading from the first book of Samuel.
In due time, Hannah conceived and bore a son, and she called his name Samuel, for she said, "I have asked him of the LORD." And her husband Elkanah and all his house went up to offer to the LORD the yearly sacrifice, and to pay his vow. But Hannah did not go up, for she said to her husband, "As soon as the child is weaned, I will bring him, that he may appear in the presence of the LORD, and abide there for ever."
When she had weaned Samuel, she took him up with her, along with a three-year-old bull, an ephah of flour, and a skin of wine; and she brought him to the house of the LORD at Shiloh; and the child was young. Then they slew the bull, and they brought the child to Eli. And she said, "Oh, my lord! As you live, my lord, I am the woman who was standing here in your presence, praying to the LORD. For this child I prayed; and the LORD has granted me my petition which I made to him. Therefore I have lent him to the LORD; as long as he lives, he is lent to the LORD." Hannah left Samuel there.
The word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.
Meditation: The sacrificial system of the Mosaic Law provides the backdrop for this foreshadowing of the rituals that bring the infant Jesus to His Father's Temple for the first time. In fact, the roots of this scene with the young Samuel predate even God's encounter with Israel on Mount Sinai. They can be traced to God's command to Moses on the eve of Israel's departure from Egypt: "Consecrate to me all the first-born; whatever is the first to open the womb among the people of Israel, both of man and of beast, is mine” (Exodus 13:2).
First-born animals were to be sacrificed to God, while the first-born sons of families were to be consecrated to His service or redeemed by payment of a tax to a priest. In this case, Hannah, Samuel's previously infertile mother, had already promised that she would carry out the consecration if God would bless her with a son. Otherwise, she would have accompanied her husband, Elkanah, to Israel's portable tabernacle – then at Shiloh – for the “presentation” ceremony at which Mary, Joseph and the infant Christ would encounter the prophets Simeon and Anna many centuries later.
So it was that Samuel was first brought to the tabernacle after Hannah had weaned him from her breast, when he was 2 or 3 years old. He was consecrated to God in the same way that Samson, the powerful but flawed foe of the Philistines, had been consecrated after a similar miraculous birth. Numbers 6 outlines the details of the “Nazirite” vow, which required Israelites who took the vow (either men or women) to never cut their hair (referenced here by Hannah), drink alcohol and observe other strictures.
Though Jesus would not be so precisely dedicated to God (as the story of the wedding at Cana makes clear!), He too was brought to God's dwelling place in the Presentation. And, in this case, He Himself would pay the ransom many years later – with His own blood on the cross. Like Hannah before her, Mary knew her first-born Son was not truly hers; “as long as He lives, He is lent to the Lord.”
Second Reading: 1 John 3:1-2, 21-24
A reading from the first letter of St. John.
Beloved: See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Beloved, we are God's children now; it does not yet appear what we shall be, but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.
Beloved, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have confidence before God; and we receive from him whatever we ask, because we keep his commandments and do what pleases him. And this is his commandment, that we should believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us. All who keep his commandments abide in him, and he in them. And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit which he has given us.
The word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.
Meditation: We need to resist the temptation to view the “Holy Family” as consisting of only three human beings at one linear point in time. For we are God's children in more ways than one! We are so through and from the moment of our conception as an individual member of Homo sapiens, born in the image and likeness of God and with equal dignity to every other human being throughout time. But through our baptism in the name of the Triune God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, we become God's children by becoming part of the Body of Christ. Jesus, the Word who became flesh and dwelled among us, is our God through His divinity but our Brother through His humanity!
That should cause us to reflect deeply in this Christmas season. For if Jesus is our Brother, then Mary is truly our Mother – for she is Theotokos, the Mother of God, as the united Church confessed at the Council of Ephesus in 431. And because Jesus is the only-begotten Son of the Father, so too is God our Father! In this ultimate Holy Family, we have God's unconditional love in greater abundance than we can imagine. And we know how we are to live within our family and as part of humanity, for Jesus has summarized it in the simple yet profound commandment, the commandment He never failed to live out: “Love one another as I have loved you.”
As we honor Jesus, Mary and Joseph today, may we rejoice not only that God created each one of us but that He has made us part of His ultimate Holy Family through Baptism – and that, through His Son's death and resurrection, He has paid the price so His family may be reunited in heaven!
Gospel: Luke 2:41-52
A reading from the holy Gospel according to Luke. Glory to You, Lord.
Now Jesus' parents went to Jerusalem every year at the feast of the Passover. And when he was twelve years old, they went up according to custom; and when the feast was ended, as they were returning, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem. His parents did not know it, but supposing him to be in the company they went a day's journey, and they sought him among their kinsfolk and acquaintances; and when they did not find him, they returned to Jerusalem, seeking him. After three days they found him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions; and all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers. And when they saw him they were astonished; and his mother said to him, "Son, why have you treated us so? Behold, your father and I have been looking for you anxiously." And he said to them, "How is it that you sought me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father's house?" And they did not understand the saying which he spoke to them. And he went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them; and his mother kept all these things in her heart. And Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature, and in favor with God and man.
The Gospel of the Lord. Praise to You, Lord Jesus Christ.
Meditation: Jewish sons become full adult members of the people of Israel at the age of 13 (the age of the bar mitzvah ceremony). In Jesus' day, to be an adult male Jew included the duty to visit the Temple on each of the three major Jewish feasts: Passover, Pentecost and Tabernacles. But it also was not unusual for parents to take their sons to Jerusalem a year or two before their full reception into the nation – which helps explain Jesus' presence with Mary and Joseph on this journey.
Adult Jewish men also had the right to read the Scriptures publicly in the synagogue and to join in public discussions of their meaning. This is where the 12-year-old Son of God and Son of Mary began to distinguish Himself – for He became fully engrossed in debates that the Jerusalem rabbis typically conducted in the Temple precincts. Why did He not inform His mother and foster father? Was it forgetfulness on the part of a 12-year-old human male? Very possibly, given Luke's note that Jesus continued afterward to grow “in wisdom and in stature” and the witness of the Scriptures that Jesus, “though He was in the form of God,” did not always exercise His divinity prior to the Resurrection.
One also has to ask the question Jesus asked: Why would Mary have even found it necessary to wonder where He was? Mary was indeed without sin from the moment of her conception – but the Immaculate Conception by no means gave her knowledge beyond those of her fellow mortals. To believe in Gabriel's message and to consent to be the mother of the Messiah did not mean she fully understood who this 12-year-old Son before her truly was. So she did what she had done after the shepherds' visit in Bethlehem: She remembered these events and “pondered them in her heart.” Let us join the Blessed Virgin in pondering the mystery that the King of the Universe would come to us, be with us and give His life for us so we may join Him one day in His heavenly home.
Close with individual prayer, followed by Our Father, Hail Mary and Glory Be