Homily for Feast of Holy Family 2006
Like many others I made my annual pilgrimage to Brisbane to be with my family for Christmas. I don't enjoy the drive down the highway at Christmas but it is always worth the effort. I hope your Christmas was as good as mine.
We know the kind of deep anxiety that a missing child causes its parents. We see such stories almost every day on the TV. All kinds of fears about what could have happened. Happy endings do not always arrive. 30000 people are reported missing in Australia every year. Half are under 18 years of age. 99.5% are found within hours. The remaining 0.5% are never found or are found dead. The devastation that even a few hours of loss of a child brings to parents and the stress it places on a marriage can only be guessed at by those of us who have not experienced it.
That is part of the context of the story today about Jesus going missing in Jerusalem. The details are of another time and culture but the human reality is very familiar. Another part of the context is the pilgrimage to Jerusalem itself for the annual Festival of Passover. It was a regular journey for the family and a normal devotional practice for a Jewish family. Like Muslims making their once in a lifetime Haj to Medina, or a Christian making a pilgrimage to Bethlehem, the Holy Family do not make the journey alone. It is a pilgrimage made with what we would now call their extended family along with other families from their village. It was an exciting time in which children are exposed to their religious heritage as well as seeing places other than their own village which they seldom left. It illustrates what a "holiday" originally really meant. It was a far cry from today's effort to find entertainment and leisure on a long weekend in which religious duties are given a very second place. The aim today seems to be to remove any thought of duty or obligation. In Jesus' day it was a handing on of a religious tradition, an act of worship, as well as a time of family bonding and fun together and a break from the work a day world.
Mary and Joseph are among those fortunate ones. They find their lost child. He is in the Temple conversing with the teachers. His blunt reply to his parents distraught question was difficult for them and for us to grasp. It could be paraphrased as, "Where would you expect a child to be but in his father's house." Here Jesus whole mission and purpose is put into the mouth of the 12 year old child. It is clear where his future would be. It foreshadows his later statement in Luke that, "My mother and brothers are those who hear the word of God and do it" (Luke 8:21).
So the Holy Family is holy because they loved one another and let themselves be challenged by Jesus living in their midst. Mary and Joseph obviously were good parents who had their child's best interests at heart. Good and devout Jews though they were, in fulfilling all their obligations of prayer and pilgrimage, they still needed to grow in their understanding that God takes first place Jesus' life and must in their own.
Our families are holy, too, not by an absence of disagreement or conflict or wrong decisions. Nor do we hope for holiness in a return to some idyllic time when Sunday was really a "holy day" in wider society. Rather in the midst of our long weekends with all their demands and activities for families we strive to listen Christ challenge us in what we are doing. Out of that listening we may well find ways of creating a better "holiday" in our culture where many people have no choice but to work so that the rest of us can live the lifestyle to which we are accustomed. One of the important ways for us of course is our presence here together at this Eucharist. Here we are prepared to be open to Christ's call to put God in the centre of our lives as our first and necessary obligation.
May this Eucharist which celebrates the Holy Family be a blessing on your families and on all those who have lost a child, or who have no home, or no family to be with during this Christmas season.
Happy New Year!