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Holy Family (C)
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Readings for the Celebration of the Holy Family, Cycle C

 

1. I Samuel 1, 20-22 and 24-28

  • In those days Hannah conceived and bore a son.  So far the story is ordinary, but what follows does not make sense and is jarring to my sensibilities. 
  • I will take him to appear before the Lord and to remain there  Hannah left Samuel there.  Neither my congregation nor I react positively about a broken family, in which the parents must give their children for adoption, or abandon them in a public place, or starve them deliberately.  The story looks ahead to the Gospel passage we will hear today, that is true.  But does Hannah’s offering of her son make sense for our own family values today?
  • Well, let me remember that Hannah begins by praying to the Lord, praying for this child.  I know of many married couples who have been unable to have children or have had to wait many years, not just praying but by recurring to fertilization techniques.  Can I capture the intense longing and determination in Hannah’s voice, that is repeated so often in our own time?
  • The Lord granted my request.  Then I compare the offering of Samuel to the high priest Eli with the offering the widow made in the temple of “everything she had to live on.”  Suddenly I encounter not reckless abandon but gratitude and surrender.  I am even reminded of Abraham and his offering of Isaac.  Why?  If we believe that Mary gave birth only once, or if we remember long ago and modern day martyrs, we know that the primordial duty to perpetuate a family name can be superseded by God’s call.
  • Climax: Now I in turn give him to the Lord.  A woman took the decisive step here.  Though there are commas in the passage, I will read it right through.
  • Message for our assembly: How grateful are we for God’s gift to us of family?
  • I will challenge myself: To find Hannah’s story and bring it out.

2. I John 3, 1-2 and 21-24

  • The apostle writes of self-giving love such as Christ has for us.  See what love the Father has bestowed on us. 
  • I don’t hear much about human families here, but instead about something more fundamental: God’s family.  Beloved, we are God’s children now.  When it is revealed we shall be like him.   
  • And why do the commandments come in when we talk of love?  I am reminded once again of covenant love.  We welcome and keep his commandments, in which we believe in the name of Jesus Christ and love one another.  For this apostle, God first loved us and gave his Son.  And so, again quoting the medieval hymn, we ”love God in return.” 
  • The Spirit he gave us.  Is this a throwaway line pulled from a catechism, or does it tell us something we need to know about community?  The apostle says that it is the way we know, and that makes it the touchstone or proof of our life together.
  • Climax: We are God’s children, because this is Holy Family Day and because this is a central truth of our faith.
  • The message for our assembly: This kind of community is supposed to transform us, as we hear today.  Having confidence in God, receiving whatever we ask, doing what pleases him.
  • I will challenge myself: Not so much to tell the church about something they don’t know, as to remind them of what we should be.  Liturgy helps build community, and to a certain extent creates it.  By my ministry, by the way I repeat the apostle’s word, I can witness to this and stimulate it.

Gospel. Luke 2, 41-52

  • Each year Jesus’ parents went up to Jerusalem.  According to Luke they were observant Jews who could quote scripture at will, but they begin the story as part of the people, part of the larger crowd.
  • The boy Jesus remained behind in Jerusalem, but his parents did not know it.  When I considered a musical arrangement for this story I chose comic opera, because the boy is never in danger but only out of his parents’ sight.  That’s how I would tell the Gospel today, feeling that Mary is protesting too much (We have been looking for you with great anxiety). 
  • They found him in the temple sitting in the midst of the teachers.  Two weeks ago I attended a Bar Mitzvah in which the young man in his early teens amazed us all with his dexterity in chanting the Hebrew texts at great length.  The rabbi and congregation rightly applauded him and recounted his good works.  I think that Jesus has made this an inside event by joining the specialists in the scripture.
  • And his mother kept all these things in her heart.  Now it makes sense to say this, if she still had to learn just the kind of boy she was raising.
  • Climax: I must be in my Father’s house.  In other words, if they really knew their son they would have looked there first.  I will say it more in innocent surprise than in the snobbishness I noticed when I heard the passage in my youth with the mistranslation “my Father’s business.”
  • Message for our assembly: Yes, I will quote Kahlil Gibran.  Our children are not our own.
  • I will challenge myself: To maintain the light nature of the story without letting it become an object of our laughter.

From Word to Eucharist: Here is the food that sustains the family, both the small ones in homes and the larger ones in parishes.  Does this listening together, this eating together, bring our hearts closer together?

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