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

1. Genesis 15, 1-6 and 21, 1-3

  • The word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision.  God is present throughout the events reported here, protecting and encouraging.
  • O Lord God, what good will your gifts be, if I keep on being childless?  I hear two separate complaints, and perhaps Abram has made the same prayer night after night.  In the congregation today there are couples who would love to have children and are praying for children.  Will they make Abram’s prayer their own?
  • Your own issue shall be your heir.  Today we may adopt children and make them our legal heirs.  At the same time, we wonder whether they will do us proud.  Times may have changed, but this anxiety remains the same.  We need assurance.
  • Look up at the sky and count the stars; just so shall your descendants be.  I want to prolong this nighttime experience and its wonder, with the incredible comparison of a man’s descendants.  Is anyone’s faith capable of such expansion?
  • Sarah became pregnant and bore Abraham a son in his old age.  In a reading filled with faith, the accomplishment forms a kind of anticlimax.  I notice that both forebears have had a change of name, since the church has joined two separate passages in today’s reading.  It is not a misprint!  I will speak the new names proudly.
  • Climax: Abram put his faith in the Lord.  It is a classic verse that became the major theme of Paul’s Letter to the Romans.
  • Message for our assembly: Are we persistent?  Are we willing to wait for God to deliver in God’s own time?
  • I will challenge myself: To bring out the honest concern of an old man for his legacy, and the faith that God requires of him. 

2. Hebrews 11, 8, 11-12 and 17-19

  • By faith…  It is repeated three times.  The entire chapter, from which three selections were taken for our reading today, tells of the faith of Abraham and other stalwarts of Israel.  If the letter is a homily on the entire scriptures, this section would form a homily on Abraham’s faith.  By faith Abraham obeyed.
  • He went out, not knowing where he was to go.  Here is the first episode, in which he left his father’s house to settle in wider spaces.  This first decision was perhaps the easiest to make, and I will make less of it.
  • He received power to generate, even though he was past the normal age.  This was the most difficult act, insofar as he defied physical limitations.  It deserves to be read with some surprise and admiration for the one who had made the promise.  If I don’t read these cumbersome phrases carefully, my listeners may not realize that we’re looking at the act of having children and heirs.
  • He who had received the promises was ready to offer his only son.  The act in itself was easy, but the decision must have been heart-rending.  I will read in a bit of disbelief but mainly in sorrow.  Too many parents have indeed lost their children to satisfy bloodthirsty gods in our own time.  The author of Hebrews can justify Abraham’s resolve only through a belief in resurrection: God was able to raise even from the dead.  (The argument is anachronistic by two millennia, of course, but perhaps the first listeners didn’t know this.)
  • The message for our assembly: We should not be ashamed to base our most important family decisions on our faith.
  • Central theme: Scripture can be understood only in terms of a people’s faith, that sometimes makes them do incredible things.
  • I will challenge myself: To breathe humanity into this figure, so remote in time but so close to his Jewish descendants.

Gospel. Luke 2, 22-40

  • They took him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord.  Such a tiny unit of three could be lost in the great city.  I want to give an impression of anonymity, that no one noticed this family entering the temple, in contrast to what will follow.
  • Again I notice in the infancy narratives that we hear the name Jesus so seldom.  There is not a single mention in this long passage.  I remember that his name was given by God and that it indicated his mission to Israel, which was not to begin until his baptism and definitive manifestation.
  • Just as it is written in the law of the Lord.  Three times the evangelist remarks on the family’s strict observance of the law, though they did not live in Judea.
  • Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon.  Three times we hear of the holy Spirit who was upon him.  We know such holy men and women today.  What makes us trust them?  Perhaps their single-minded dedication to God, but also the fact that their words are fulfilled, as this man’s words were.
  • Now, Master, you may let your servant go.  It is a joyous prayer, as anyone would say who had completed their important work.  I have goals that I want to achieve; let me imagine how I would feel after having achieved them.
  • Destined for the fall and rise of many in Israel.  There is no shame in what he tells Mary his mother, but he wants her to know that times will be rough.  I must make sure to read the contorted language intelligently.  The most difficult part would read like this: “They’ll see a man and then reject the sign.”
  • There was also a prophetess, Anna bet-Phanuel.  Let me read warmly the story of her witness to all who were awaiting the redemption of Jerusalem. 
  • Climax: Behold, this child is destined.  It is not to be whispered!  The old seer’s voice does not falter.
  • Message for our assembly: Do we dream great things for our children?  And do we do everything necessary so that they can achieve them?  Some parents raise their children to be superstars or entertainment idols, but who is concerned about the ways of God and the kingdom?
  • I will challenge myself: To speak with wonder of the surprising revelation.

From Word to Eucharist: We walk up the aisle in relative normality.  Who among us has eyes to see the special gifts and calling that God intends?  Are we afraid to accept it?

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