THE FEAST OF THE HOLY FAMILY (Cycle C)

Readings:
Sirach 3:2-6, 12-14 or 1 Samuel 1:20-22, 24-28
Psalm 128:1-5 or 84:2-3, 5-6, 9-10
Colossians 3:12-21 or 3:12-17 or 1 John 3:1-2, 21-24
Luke 2:41-52

Abbreviations: NJB (New Jerusalem Bible), IBHE (Interlinear Bible Hebrew-English), IBGE (Interlinear Bible Greek-English), and LXX (Greek Septuagint Old Testament translation).  CCC designates a citation from the Catechism of the Catholic Church. The word LORD or GOD rendered in all capital letters is, in the Hebrew text, God's Divine Name YHWH (Yahweh).

God's divine plan for mankind is revealed in the two Testaments and that is why we reread and relive the events of salvation history contained in the Old and New Testaments in the Church's Liturgy.  The Catechism teaches that the Liturgy reveals the unfolding mystery of God's plan as we read the Old Testament in light of the New and the New Testament in light of the Old (CCC 1094-1095).

The Theme of the Readings: The Perfection of the Human Family reflected in the Holy Family
God instituted marriage and the family when He created the first man and woman (Gen 1:27; 2:21-24).  He blessed marriage and the family and endowed both with their necessary function for the common good of its members and the good of society as a whole, giving us the family as a refuge in a hostile world. 

Both marriage and the family have had an important role in God's plan for man's salvation.  The "promised seed" of Genesis 3:15 from which the promised Redeemer-Messiah was to come was generated and protected down through salvation history by marriage and the family.  The line was protected and flourished in the families of the descendants of Seth, son of Adam and Eve, and his descendant Abraham and his wife Sarah.  Their son Isaac continued the line of the "promised seed" in his marriage to Rebekah as God continued the Abrahamic covenant through their son Jacob-Israel.  St. Matthew and St. Luke traced that family line in Jesus' genealogy in the Gospel of Matthew 1:1-18 and the Gospel of Luke 3:23-38.  It is a line that culminated in the Holy Family of Joseph and Mary of Nazareth, and Mary's son, conceived by the Holy Spirit, the "promised seed" sent to undo the work of Satan (1 Jn 3:8)—He who is the Redeemer-Messiah, Jesus Christ. 

In the ecclesial community, we experience the Christian family which constitutes a specific revelation and realization of that which is called the "domestic Church."  The Christian family is a communion of persons in the Body of Christ; it is "a sign and image of the communion of the Father and the Son in the Holy Spirit" (CCC 2205).  In the procreation and raising of children in the Christian family, we reflect the Father's work of creation and become His partners in the flow of salvation history.  The spiritually re-born children of God in the Christian family still have a mission to fulfill in salvation history.  The Christian family is called to partake of the prayer and sacrifice of Jesus Christ and to fulfill the mission to evangelize within the family and outside the family to the human families in the world.

The First Reading Sirach 3:2-6, 12-14 ~ Duties towards parents
2 for the Lord honors the father above his children and upholds the rights of a mother over her sons.  3 Whoever respects a father expiates sins, 4 whoever honors a mother is like someone amassing a fortune.  5 Whoever respects a father will in turn be happy with children, the day he prays for help, he will be heard.  6 Long life comes to anyone who honors a father, whoever obeys the Lord makes a mother happy.  [...] 12 My child, support, your father in his old age, do not grieve him during his life.  Even if his mind should fail, show him sympathy, do not despise him in your health and strength, for kindness to a father will not be forgotten but will serve as reparation for your sins (NJB).

The focus of the inspired writer of the Book of Sirach in this passage is the relationship between children and parents based on the 4th of the Ten Commandments to honor one's father and mother (Ex 20:12 and Dt 5:16).  Of all the Ten Commandments, it is the only one that contains a blessing.  Sirach lists the blessings that belong to those who fear offending God by honoring parents in obedience to the 4th commandment, and he begins by saying that it is God who gives parents authority over their children (verse 2).  Blessings in verses 3-6 and 14 for giving honor and respect to one's parents:

  1. Whoever honors his/her father makes atonement for sins (verses 3 and 14).
  2. Whoever glorifies his/her mother lays up reward in heaven (verse 4).
  3. Whoever honors his/her father will have good relationships with his or her own children (verse 5).
  4. God will hear the prayers of those who honor their fathers because the sin of disrespecting one's father in violation of the 4th commandment will not be a barrier (verse 5).
  5. Whoever glorifies his/her father will enjoy a long life (verse 6; also Ex 20:12 and Dt 5:16).

12 My child, support, your father in his old age, do not grieve him during his life.  Even if his mind should fail, show him sympathy, do not despise him in your health and strength, for kindness to a father will not be forgotten but will serve as reparation for your sins.
Jesus recalls these duties of gratitude to parents in Mark 7:10-12.  The Church teaches: "The divine fatherhood is the source of human fatherhood; this is the foundation of the honor owed to parents.  The respect of children, whether minors or adults, for their father and mother is nourished by the natural affection born of the bond uniting them.  It is required by God's commandment" (CCC 2214; also see 2215-19).  And in another passage the writer of the Book of Sirach admonishes: With all your heart honor your father, and do not forget the birth pangs of your mother.  Remember that through your parents you were born, what can you give back to hem that equals their gift to you? (Sir 7:27-28).

Alternate First Reading 1 Samuel 1:20-22, 24-28 ~ The Child Samuel is dedicated to God
20 Hannah conceived and, in due course, gave birth to a son, whom she named Samuel, "Since," she said, "I asked Yahweh for him."  21 Elkanah, the husband, went up with all his family to offer the annual sacrifice to Yahweh and to fulfil his vow.  22 However, Hannah did not go up, having said to her husband, "Not before the child has been weaned.  Then I shall bring him and present him before Yahweh and he will stay there forever."  [...]  24 When she had weaned him, she took him up with her, as well as a three-year-old bull [or three bulls], an ephah of flour and a skin of wine, and took him into the temple of Yahweh at Shiloh; the child was very young.  25 They sacrificed the bull and led the child to Eli.  26 She said, "If you please, my lord!  As you live, my lord, I am the woman who stood beside you here, praying to Yahweh.  27 This is the child for which I was praying, and Yahweh has granted me what I asked of him.  28 Now I make him over to Yahweh for the whole of his life.  He is made over to Yahweh."  They then worshipped Yahweh there.

Hannah was barren after many years of marriage, and when she accompanied her husband to the Sanctuary of Yahweh at Shiloah, she made a vow to the Lord: Yahweh Sabaoth!  Should you condescend to notice the humiliation of your servant and keep her in mind [remember her] instead of disregarding your servant, and give her a boy, I will give him to Yahweh for the whole of his life and no razor shall ever touch his head (NJB). As a result of the vow Hannah made to dedicate him as a lifetime Nazirite (Num 6:1-21) in 1 Samuel 1:11, God gave her a son.  Hannah named her son "Samuel," which verse 20 suggests is derived from Hannah's "asking" God for a son.  While the verb sha'al/sha'ul = "to ask" will reoccur in the narrative several times, including in the name of the first man Samuel will anoint as Israel's king, Samuel's name is derived from shem-el, "name of God" or "God's name."  Hannah will keep her vow to give up her son to God after he is weaned.  Her husband Elkanah, according to the Law, has the responsibility of confirming his wife's vow (Num 30:13), which he does, and he also agrees to her decision to wait until the child is weaned to fulfill the vow.

Samuel's parents offered an expensive sacrifice at his dedication.  An individual's whole burnt offering was usually selected  according to one's wealth and could be an unblemished male animal from the herd or flock (bull, lamb or goat), or if he was poor, he could offer a turtledove or a young pigeon, which Joseph and Mary offered at Jesus' Temple dedication when He was forty days old (Lk 2:22-24). 

The bull offered in sacrifice at Samuel's dedication ceremony at the Shiloh Sanctuary was either three years old or there were three bulls that were offered.  The Hebrew phrase can be translated either way.  If there were three bulls, only one was sacrificed (verse 25) and the other two were given as gifts to the Sanctuary, probably to offset the expense of the priests who will raise Samuel.  Nevertheless, the sacrifice was generous and suggests the wealth of Samuel's father.  The offering of the flour was also generous.  One ephah of flour is about 3/5th bushel (about 22 liters). The priestly regulations for accompanying grain offerings specify 1/10 ephah for each lamb sacrificed (Lev 14:10, 21; Num 15:4; 28:4-9) but 3/10th for each bull (Num 15:9; 28:12, 20, 28).  The prescribed grain offering for three bulls would then be 9/10th ephah which is a little less than what Hannah and her husband offered.

Samuel was taken to the Sanctuary when he was weaned; a child was usually weaned at age three (see 2 Mac 7:27).  Hannah reminded the priest Eli of her vow almost four years earlier and then placed her child into his care to be raised as a life-time Nazirite and a servant of God.  Samuel's parents worshipped Yahweh as they offered their sacrifice at the Altar of Burnt Offerings and took part in the daily liturgical service.  It is the adult prophet Samuel who will anoint young David to be God chosen king of Israel; David is the ancestor of Jesus Christ (1 Sam 16:1, 13; Mt 1:1).

Responsorial Psalm 128:1-5
The response is: "Blessed are those who fear the Lord and walk in his ways."
 
1 Blessed is everyone who fears the LORD, who walks in his ways!  2 You shall eat the fruit of the labor of your hands; you shall be happy, and it shall be well with you.
Response:
3 Your wife will be like a fruitful vine within your house; your children will be like olive shoots around you table.
Response:
4 Behold, thus shall the man be blessed who fears the LORD.  5 The LORD bless you from Zion!  May you see the prosperity of Jerusalem all the days of your life! 
Response:

The blessing in verse 5 suggests the psalm was sung during pilgrimage journeys to the Jerusalem Temple where a priest welcomed them and pronounced a blessing over them.  Zion is the symbolic name for the Church of the Sinai Covenant.  This psalm then is concerned with instruction and blessings for people making a religious pilgrimage to the Temple of God.

"Fear of the Lord" in verse 4 is the same thing as the desire to please God by keeping His commandments (Ps 1:1).  St. Hilary of Portieres wrote: "For us, fear of the Lord is part of love, and its expression in the practice of perfect charity: obey the counselor of God, hold fast to his commandments, trust in his promises" (Tractatus super Psalmos, 128.1-3).  The psalmist declares that children are a gift from God, and in verses 2-4 he describes blessings based on happiness in the family.  The psalm ends with a blessing formula invoking the Lord God in His Temple on Mt. Zion where the families of the family of the covenant people come to worship the Lord God (verses 5-6).

Alternate Responsorial Psalm 84:2, 4-5, 8-9
The response is: "Blessed are they who dwell in your house, O Lord."
 
2 My soul yearns and pines for the courts of the LORD; my heart and flesh cry out for joy to the living God.
Response:
4 How blessed are those who dwell in your house; they shall praise you continually.  5 Blessed those who find their strength in you, whose hearts are set on pilgrimage [to Zion].
Response:
8 O LORD of Hosts, hear my prayer; listen, God of Jacob.  9 God, our shield, look, and see the face of your anointed.
Response:

The psalmist writes of his desire to go to God's dwelling place—the holy Temple in Jerusalem, because those who make pilgrimage to the Temple and sing praises to God are blessed by the experience (verse 2 and 4). 

The Septuagint and the New Vulgate translate verse 5 as "blessed is he who in his heart resolves to go on pilgrimage to Zion."  Zion is the symbolic name for the faithful community of the Old Covenant Church.  The inference is that the joy or blessedness begins with the decision to commit to making the pilgrimage (verse 5).  Having made the pilgrimage and taking part in the daily Temple liturgy, the psalmist offers a prayer for himself and for the king.  God is invoked as the covenant people's divine protector (shield) because it is through His anointed Davidic king that His protection comes to the people.  Jesus is the final and eternal Davidic King who shields and saves His people and who is Himself the Living Temple of God.

The Second Reading Colossians 3:12-21 or 3:12-17 ~ Being Christ to One Another
12 Put on then, as God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassion, kindness, lowliness, meekness, and patience, 13 forbearing one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.  14 And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.  15 And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body.  And be thankful.  16 Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, as you teach and admonish one another in all wisdom, and as you sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs with thankfulness in your hearts to God.  17 And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.  18 Wives, be subject to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord.  19 Husbands, love your wives, and do not be harsh with them.  20 Children, obey your parents in everything, for this pleases the Lord.  21 Fathers, do not provoke your children, least they become discouraged.

In this passage, St. Paul calls upon Christians to take on a total transformation in body and soul in imitating Christ.  The interior change begins with conversion that leads to baptism.  Baptism, in which the Christian receives the indwelling of God the Holy Spirit, calls for the resolution to lead a life that is fully in imitation of the life of Christ.  That commitment leads to an exterior transformation in our dealing with our families, friends and even strangers.

The virtues of that new life that St. Paul lists are all expressions in one form or another of charity—love in action; it is the belt "that binds everything together in perfect harmony" (verse 14).  Without it the other virtues would fall apart and the supernatural gift of charity could not survive.  The realization then comes to us that these acts of love that we perform are not ours alone but works generation by Christ through us.

In verses 18-21 Paul addresses the family relationship that begins with the bond of love and respect between husband and wife.  He has already taught that they are equal in their relationship to God (Gal 3:28); it was a revolutionary statement for its time when women had very few legal rights and were considered inferior to their husbands.  In verse 18 he asks that wives recognize the leadership role of their husbands, but he also defines their mutual respect by asking a greater burden on the husband's part because he is called to put his wife first and to demonstrate his love for her by his actions.  Children are called upon to be obedient to their parents in every way.  This is pleasing to God who is the divine Father and who expects obedience from all His human children.  Finally, he urges fathers not to use their leadership in the family to bully their children but to encourage them.  His advice is as sound today as it was when it was first given to the Christian community at Colossus in the first century AD.

Alternate Second Reading 1 John 3:1-2, 21-24 ~ Children of God
1 See what love the Father has given us that we should be called children of God; and so we are.  The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him.  2 Beloved, we are God's children now; it does not yet appear what we shall be, but we know that when he appears we shall be like him for we shall see him as he is. [...]  21 Beloved, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have confidence before God; 22 and we receive from him whatever we ask, because we keep his commandments and do what pleases him.  23 And this is his commandment, that we should believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us.  24 All who keep his commandments abide in him, and he in them.  And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit which he has given us.

In chapter 3 St. John contemplates the wonderful gift of divine sonship (filiation) that makes baptized Christians children of God.  When John mentions "the world," he is referring to those who do not belong to Christ but belong to the world that is opposed to God's plan for saving humanity through the sacrifice of Christ.  The world did not "know" or understand Him and so we must accept that the "world" cannot "know" or understand us.  We are in the world, but we are not part of the world (Jn 15:18-19).

The children of Israel were collectively sons and daughters of God through their covenant relationship with Yahweh that was ratified at Mt. Sinai (Ex chapter 24), but Christians are sons and daughters in a unique way that was not available under the Old Sinai Covenant.  Under the Sinai Covenant, the Israelites remained children in the family of Adam who were banned from entrance into heaven because of the "original sin" they inherited from our original parents (CCC 390, 397, 416-17, 536).  They were, however, the "firstborn" sons and daughters in rank among the children of the nations in the family of Adam because of their covenant union with God (Ex 4:22) because they were the means God chose to preserve the "promised seed" (Gen 3:15) through which He would bring about mankind's redemption through an Israelite mother and her son.  But unlike the Old Covenant "created" sons and daughters of God, in the Sacrament of Christian Baptism, we have been reborn: born "again" or born "from above" by water and the Spirit (Jn 3:3-5), and we have been "begotten" (1 Pt 1:3; 1 Jn 5:1, 18), not created like other creatures, by God as His sons and daughters who are infused with His divine life (2 Pt 1:4).  Being a divine son/daughter of God is an essential aspect of a Christian's life and is a supernatural dignity that is the result of an indefinable intimacy with God as Divine Father.

St. Paul speaks of this divine sonship in terms of adoption: For those who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God.  For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you received a spirit of adoption, through which we cry, Abba, "Father!" The Spirit itself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if only we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him (Rom 8:14-17).

This gift of divine filiation cannot be fully experienced by Christians until it reaches its final expression when we are untiled with the Most Holy Trinity in eternal life.  It is then that we will see Him "as he is," "face to face" (verse 2; 1 Cor 13:12).  As St. John wrote in his Gospel from Jesus' final prayer to the Father during His Last Supper Discourse when He said: "Now this is eternal life, that they should know you, the only true God, and the one whom you sent, Jesus Christ" (Jn 17:3).  In the meantime, it is our Christian duty as sons and daughters of God to keep ourselves "pure" and free of sin as "He is pure," in preparation for that final transition into the life of the Most Holy Trinity.

In verse 21 St. John says if we are obedient to God's commandments, our confidence in God should be reflected in our confidence in our prayer life.  Jesus promised us "If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you will, and it shall be done for you" (Jn 15:7).  Jesus summed up the commandments of God in the Old Testament in terms of love (Mt 22:37-40; Mk 12:28-31; Lk 10:25-28), and at the Last Supper discourse He commanded the disciples: "I give you a new commandment: love one another.  As I have loved you, so you also should love one another.  This is how all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another" (Jn 13:34-35).  This is St. John's message in verses 22-23.

In verse 24 St. John uses the verb menei/meno meaning "to remain, abide or live"; it is the same Greek verb found in the Bread of Life Discourse in John 6:56: Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood lives remains [menei] in me and I in him, and seven times in Jesus' "True Vine" discourse in John 15:4-7:  Remain in me, as I remain in you.  Just as a branch cannot bear fruit on its own unless it remains on the vine, so neither can you unless you remain in me. 

St. John sums up the commandments in terms of love for Jesus and love for our brothers and sisters in the community of faith.  St. Bede wrote: "We cannot rightly love one another unless we believe in Christ, nor can we truly believe in the name of Jesus Christ without brotherly love" (In 1 Epist. St. Ioannis).  Faith and love cannot be separated (Gal 5:6).  Jesus Himself said it would be the disciple's love for one another that would mark them as His, as He abides/remains in them and them in Him (Jn 13:34-35).

The Gospel of Luke 2:41-52 ~ The Boy Jesus teaches in the Temple
41 Jesus' parents went to Jerusalem each year for the feast of Passover, 42 and when he was twelve years old, they went up according to festival custom.  43 After they had completed its days, as they were returning, the boy Jesus remained behind in Jerusalem, but his parents did not know it.  44 Thinking that he was in the caravan, they journeyed for a day and looked for him among their relatives and acquaintances, 45 but not finding him, they returned to Jerusalem to look for him.  46 After three days they found him in the Temple, sitting in the midst of the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions, 47 and all who heard him were astounded at his understanding and his answers.  48 When his parents saw him, they were astonished, and his mother said to him, "Son, why have you done this to us?  Your father and I have been looking for you with great anxiety."  49 And he said to them, "Why were you looking for me?  Did you not know that I must be in my Father's house?"  50 But they did not understand what he said to them.  51 He went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them; and his mother kept all these things in her heart.  52 And Jesus increased in wisdom and age and favor before God and man.

The feasts of Passover and Unleavened Bread took place during an eight-day period in the early spring as a required memorial of the Exodus redemption (Ex chapter 12; Lev 23:4-14; Num 28:16-25).  The feast of Unleavened Bread (Nisan 15-21st ) began at sundown on the day of the Passover sacrifice and was one of the three "pilgrim feasts" in which every man of the covenant who was thirteen years and older was required to appear before God's altar with his sacrifices (Ex 23:14-17; 34:18-23; Dt 16:16-17; 1 Chr 8:13).  In the first century AD, the two feasts were celebrated as though they were one feast lasting eight days, and were referred to simply as "the Passover."  It was a joyous time and many families made the journey to Jerusalem, like the Holy Family on this occasion.

Jesus was twelve years old when He made the journey (verse 41).  Biblical scholar Joachim Jeremias writes "... the Talmud speaks of thirteen years as the border-line for the fulfillment of the law.  Luke 2:42 is not in contradiction with this rule; the twelve-year-olds were brought on the pilgrimage in order to get them used to the event which would become a duty the next year" (Jerusalem in the Time of Jesus, page 76).

After the festival, Joseph and Mary began their return, probably in a caravan with other Galilean families, and at first they did not miss the twelve year old Jesus.  They probably assumed that He was with the other youngsters.  As soon as they realized that He was missing, Joseph and Mary returned to Jerusalem.  He was missing for three days in Jerusalem, as He will be missing in Jerusalem on the three days between His crucifixion and Resurrection years later in 30 AD.  "Finding" Jesus on the third day prefigures the events of Easter Sunday when Jesus was hidden in the tomb for three days but arose from the tomb and appeared to His disciples on the third day (as the ancients counted without the concept of a zero place-value but two days as we count,).

After three days, Joseph and Mary found Jesus at the Temple conversing with the teachers of the Law who were astonished at His knowledge and understanding.  As time had passed since His birth and Jesus grew up like any child, his parents may have begun to take His promised mission for granted.  This episode reminded them that their son was indeed the Son of God and that He knew His true identity and His destiny when He said to them: "Why were you looking for me?  Did you not know that I must be in my Father's house?"  This is the first manifestation that Jesus was conscious of being "God the Son" as He confirms in Joseph's presence that God is His Father.

Luke 2:51, He went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them; and his mother kept all these things in her heart.  52 And Jesus advanced in wisdom and age and favor before God and man.
Jesus was obedient to the commandment to honor His earthly parents (Ex 20:12).  That Mary contemplated these events probably means that she did so in terms of what had been revealed to her in the past and what was likely to unfold in the future, according to the prophecy she had received and the teaching of the prophets (see Lk 2:19).  Her continuing thoughtful contemplation shows her appreciation of God's Divine plan and her part in it.

Luke 2:52, And Jesus increased in wisdom and age and favor before God and man.
This verse echoes 2:40 where Luke writes that Jesus "grew to maturity" and "he was filled with wisdom and God's favor was with him." Throughout salvation history, women have played a vital role in God's divine plan.  In the Old Testament covenants, the mission of many holy women prepared the way for Mary of Nazareth.  "Against all human expectation God chooses those who were considered powerless and weak to show forth his faithfulness to his promises: Hannah, the mother of Samuel; Deborah; Ruth; Judith and Esther; and many other women" (CCC 489).

Michal E. Hunt Copyright © 2012

Catechism references:
Sirach 3:2-6 (CCC 2218); 3:12 (CCC 2218)
1 Samuel 1 (CCC 489)
Psalm 84:3 (CCC 1770)
Colossians 3:14 (CCC 815, 1827, 1844); 3:16-17 (CCC 1156, 2633); 3:16 (CCC 2641); 3:18-21 (CCC 2204); 3:20 (CCC 2217); 3:21 (CCC 2286)
1 John 3:1-2 (CCC 425)

Catechism references for Luke 2:41-52 (* indicates Scripture is quoted or paraphrased in the citation):

2:41-52 534*
2:41 583*
2:46-49 583*
2:48-49 503*
2:49 2599
2:51-52 531
2:51 517*, 2196, 2599*
2:52 472

Michal E. Hunt Copyright © 2015