Sirach 3:2-6, 12-14
"[K]indness to a father will not be forgotten, firmly planted against the debt of your sins."
We’ve just celebrated the birth of Christ. It is fitting then that we turn our attention now to the Holy Family-Mary, Joseph and their unique baby boy. I wonder how many of us met with family this past weekend that perhaps we don’t see very much during the year. I hope there was joy and happiness with mothers, fathers, siblings, nieces, and nephews. If I am being honest, seeing some family members at Christmas time also brings with it . . . stress. We worry about what Aunt so-and-so will say about our new boyfriend or what grandpa will think of our new job that doesn’t pay much. We are nervous that mom will return her present again this year. But today’s readings remind us in a very real way the blessing that is family and the respect we must have for those we are tied to by blood.
In the first reading from the Book of Sirach, we learn the great favor that God bestows on those who honor their mother and father. Respect and care for parents brings forgiveness of sins, "riches," long life and children. Divine blessings belong to those who care for elderly parents. Our family then really shapes who we are in so many ways. A life without strong family ties is not a Christian life. Think about it-isn’t our faith first learned and practiced at home? If we don’t show generosity, kindness, love and patience at home-how can we possibly have it anywhere else?
The Gospel holds new meaning for me when I read it now as the parent of small children. Motherhood and fatherhood truly are holy vocations. I know it may not seem that way when we are making peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, driving car pools and certainly not when we are changing diapers. But it is a calling-and one not to be taken lightly.
Can you imagine Mary and Joseph’s panic when they realized Jesus was not among their party as they left the city? When they find him in the Temple, Mary proclaims "your father and I have been looking for you with great anxiety." (I myself may have thought of some more colorful ways of telling my young son what he just put me through.) But this was the burden that Mary took on when she said yes to the angel Gabriel-raising a very special child.
And so the Holy Family becomes a model for all our families. We as parents are asked great things of by God, and the truth is, like Mary, we don’t really know what it entails. We have to sort of learn as we go and do the best we can in each moment. Mary was bewildered when she found her son in deep discussions with the Jewish teachers, saying, "Son, why have you done this to us?" Jesus was beginning to understand who he truly was-what his purpose was on earth. It was Mary and Joseph’s duty-his very human parents-to guide and shepherd him along this divine path, even when it made no sense to them. What a great privilege it is as a parent to be a part of this new person’s discovery of their identity, their meaning, and most importantly, their connection to our Heavenly Father.
By my recollection, this story of Jesus in the Temple is the only Gospel passage that reflects on the life of Jesus before he reaches adulthood. What struck me as I read it this time is something we all know but probably don’t think about too often-Jesus was truly human. Our Father so loved the world that he allowed his only son to be born, live and die a human death. It might be hard to picture him playing ball or arguing with his mom. But this is part of God’s gift to us-Jesus’ humanity. And what marks Jesus’ humanity perhaps more than any other thing-his familial ties. Let’s remember that the next time we complain about who is coming to Christmas dinner.
Marlo Serritella is a former staff member of the Holy Cross Province Development Office in Chicago, Illinois.