To-day is the feast of the Holy Family. Our gospel reading relates to the purification of Mary and the presentation of Jesus. The reading reminds us that Jesus was part of a faith filled family, a family upholding the traditions of the Old Covenant, the Law of Moses. If you ever visit the Basilica of St. Anne in ‘old’ Jerusalem there is a statue of Jesus with his extended family, Joachim and Anne, his grandparents. Today we are remembering the family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph, placed in the setting of the wider faith family represented by Anna and Simeon.
Jewish law stipulated that within forty days of a child’s birth the parents should present their baby to the temple as an act of thanksgiving. Thanksgiving and presentation to the Lord is still part of to-day’s baptism liturgy. In the Bible the number forty always indicates a time of formation. As Luke describes the scene, Simeon and Anna represent the Old Covenant. Simeon embodies all those who longed to see the Christ. Anna embodies all those who prophesised his coming. In just a few sentences Luke tells us that the time of waiting is over. The Old Covenant has been fulfilled and the New Covenant is established in Jesus.
Moreover, the story in today’s gospel – Mary and Joseph bringing their baby to the temple in accordance with the law – is itself the climax and conclusion of St. Luke’s entire Christmas story, as Simeon proclaims the baby Jesus “a light of revelation to the gentiles and the glory” of His people, Israel. A word of caution – this family’s journey is in the context of real life. Recall that Simeon warned Mary that sadness is to be mixed with the joy.
Today’s feast of the Holy Family is also about faithful love that looks after the most important people in our lives. We all know that fights and bitterness can wreck families for many generations. If today’s feast means anything, it is not about romanticising how difficult family life can be these days. It is about affirming that forgiveness, compassion, and kindness are the blocks upon which Christian family life is built. Without these virtues family life crumbles.
The best way to honour to-day’s feast is to do something about the faithful love it celebrates. How often have each of us reflected that we needed to spend more time with our family? Or wished that we sent a clear message to our loved ones of the importance they have in our daily lives? We shouldn’t assume that our families know about our love for them if we haven’t told them. Words as well as actions matter. So write a letter, make a call, or go, especially this pandemic Christmas, and see them. Let’s pluck up our courage and tell our families that we love them. WE MUST REACH OUT WITHOUT EXPECTATION OF A RETURN COVID-SAFE HUG.
There’s a story told by the Australian Jesuit, priest and author, Fr Richard Leonard. He had realised how important his family was to him. His family wasn’t demonstrative with their emotions but he felt the need to say something. He called out to his mother that he had something important to tell her. There was silence. He plucked up his courage and told his mother, who was watching TV, “I love you”. She replied, “I hope so”, looked at him bemused and quickly turned back to the TV. There were no hugs and kisses, no warming statements as to how long she had been waiting for this self-revelation. The call for us is to get the message across.
The best news is that when we profess our love to our families we get to glimpse the joy holiness can bring.