By Fr. Angelo Anthony, C.PP.S.

Today we move quickly from the story of Christmas to Jesus as a boy of 12. We do not know much about the early years of Jesus’ life, so today’s Gospel gives us an unusual glimpse into his family life. Luke tells us that the Holy Family would go to the temple every year to celebrate the feast of Passover. What makes a family holy is the desire to live in right relationship with God and one another. This relationship involves a constant conversion within the heart of all the members of the family.

There was once a senior judge of the Supreme Court who congratulated the bride and groom with a pertinent piece of advice: “See that you never convert your family into a courtroom; instead let it be a confessional. If the husband and wife start arguing like attorneys in an attempt to justify their behavior, their family becomes a court of law and nobody wins. On the other hand, if the husband and the wife—as in a confessional—are ready to admit their faults and try to correct them, the family becomes a heavenly one.”

We tend to cherish a pious notion of the Holy Family as a family without problems. What panic Joseph and Mary must have felt at not being able to find Jesus for three days. From a human perspective, they worried about the safety of their son. When they find him in the temple, the response Jesus offers is from the spiritual perspective, “I must be in my Father’s house.” Just as in any family, there are times when we are not on the same page. This interchange between the members of the Holy Family in the temple offers us several qualities that important for healthy family life: acceptance, obedience, loyalty and love.

A holy family is accepting of the frailty of its members and of behaviors that may not be what the family conceives of as ideal or even normal. Think of Joseph taking the pregnant Mary into his home despite the vicious gossip that must have been shared about her “situation.” In today’s reading we can see how Joseph and Mary seem to accept that their son was motivated by something greater than they could explain and so they learned to ponder and treasure these experiences in their hearts.

A holy family is obedient and loyal. The word obedience comes from the Latin word meaning “to listen.” Mary and Joseph listened deeply for the voice of God in their lives. Luke tells us that after the confusion in the temple, Jesus was obedient to his parents just as he was obedient to God the Father, even when that meant embracing the cross. As a model of faith, Mary remained loyal to her son and stood with him at the foot of the cross. Sometimes when we are confronted with the cross we want to fight back or run away, but Jesus and Mary teach us to embrace whatever challenge is before us with unconditional trust in God, who always leads us to life.

A holy family is loving. The love and faithfulness the Holy Family experienced from God enabled them to love and trust one another as they moved forward into an uncertain future. This love reflected their relationship with God the Father. As St. Thomas Aquinas reminds us, “To love is to will the good of the other and to act upon it.” Jesus, in his dying moments, expresses his concern and love for his mother by entrusting her to the faithful disciple’s care. Unconditional love calls us to die to self so that we can live for one another and for God.

As long as we work to model our lives upon the love of Jesus, Mary and Joseph, we can trust that God will shape our hearts into the holiness we desire and the unity we seek. It is in the family that we learn how to communicate and to express our love for God and one another. In the family we learn right from wrong and the importance of forgiveness and prayer. And so, don’t let your family become a courtroom, let it be like a confessional. May this Christmas season and new year be a time of conforming ourselves and our family life to embody the qualities of acceptance, obedience, loyalty and love so that our families can be a witness to the world of holy family life.

To view the full scripture reading, click here.

Fr. Angelo Anthony, C.PP.S., is the pastor of the Downtown Dayton parishes, which include Emmanuel, Holy Trinity and St. Joseph. He also serves as the vice moderator general of the worldwide Congregation.