When we celebrate Holy Family Sunday the Sunday after Christmas, it comes at a time for most of us when we either have just gotten to spend more time than usual with our family or, because of our circumstances, have not been able to be together. Either way, this time of year makes us reflect on the gifts and challenges of being a family, and the Church presents to us the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph as the perfect model of family life. We may think, “But how can my family be more like the Holy Family?” How can we relate to the Holy Family? How could my family possibly be more like them? But what made the Holy Family “holy” is something that is open to all of us. It is worth looking at what formed the Holy Family. What is it that Jesus, Mary, and Joseph had in common? What brought them together was that Mary, Joseph, and Jesus were all open to the mystery of God as it was given to them by the Father. They were all presented with a circumstance that didn’t make sense from a human perspective, and they each were obedient or followed what was proposed. The mystery of God presents itself as something contradictory or impossible – something beyond our logic – and invites us to accept it. The mystery asks us to follow a plan not of our own choosing – something beyond our capacities – something for which we do not seem worthy.
For Mary, this came at the Annunciation. Upon hearing the proposal that she will conceive and bear a son, she is filled with wonder at this apparent contradiction. How can she be both virgin and mother? Her question, “How can this be?” is not an expression of doubt but an expression of wonder with an eagerness to see how God will work the “impossible” in her. “May it be done to me according to your word” is Mary’s consent or “yes” to the mystery unfolding in her life.
The scripture tells us that when Joseph heard what had happened to Mary, he was afraid to take her into his home. He was afraid not because of what other people would think. He was afraid because he knew what it meant for Mary to become the Mother of God. Joseph was filled with “holy fear” – a wonder and awe before this mystery. Joseph knew what it meant for his wife to be found with child through the Holy Spirit – that God would take flesh and dwell in his home. It would be like his house being turned into the Holy of Holies of the Temple, and his response is, “Lord, I am not worthy!” His decision to divorce Mary quietly was based on the sense of his personal unworthiness and his reverential fear of God’s presence and work. The angel visited Joseph to confirm him in his conviction that Mary’s child is indeed of the Holy Spirt, and assure him of his vocation to marry Mary and to adopt Jesus as his son. Yes, Joseph, you are unworthy, but you have been chosen by God for this role – you are wanted by God. Joseph doesn’t put a limit on what God can do, but is totally open to what God is asking him to do through this “sign” which is not something he would ask for. The Lord came to Joseph in a dream. While dreaming, our human logic is suspended and we can become open to a truth beyond our measure. “When Joseph awoke, he did as the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took his wife into his home” (Mt 1:24).
And Jesus, himself, as a twelve year old, as we hear in today’s Gospel account of the Finding in the Temple, knows who he is. “Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house.” Jesus knows he is the Son of God. Yet, Jesus, as God, becomes obedient to Mary and Joseph. Jesus subjected himself to the authority of these creatures – God humbled himself in this way – letting go of all his privileges as God – because Joseph and Mary were given to him by the Father. Jesus says “yes” to the Father’s will when it makes no sense from a human perspective because of his profound awareness of belonging to the Father – that he is “in the Father’s house”, i.e., his life is in the Father’s hands. Jesus demonstrates the way to “advance in wisdom and favor before God and man”: humbly following the circumstances given to us.
We should not read Mary saying, “Son, why have you done this to us?” as Mary scolding Jesus. Rather, she is looking at her son with the same astonishment she had before the mystery at the Annunciation. “Why have you done this?” is an echo of her “How can this be?” – a great desire and eagerness to discover God’s will in what she doesn’t understand. When Jesus says to Mary and Joseph, “Why were you looking for me?”, he is not implying that they shouldn’t have been looking for him, rather he poses the question, “Why were you looking for me?” Mary and Joseph are in touch with their need to stay in front of the mystery of the presence of God dwelling among them. They don’t take it for granted. They are not in charge but are following another’s plan. The mystery of God is something that they don’t control but must be always seeking.
We grow in holiness and grow closer as a family when we approach the mystery of life and the challenges we face with the same openness as Mary, Joseph, and Jesus. It is not about controlling, managing, or even understanding why things are happening, but being open to reality and following it with the same wonder and awe as Mary, Joseph, and Jesus. Can we say with Mary in our prayer to God seeking his will, “Why have you done this?” We, like them, have been chosen, wanted, and loved by God and invited to participate in his plan for our salvation and the salvation of the world. It is beyond our imagining, yet it is true. “See what love the Father has bestowed on us that we may be called the children of God. And so we are.” We are God’s children now. May we pray for the same openness of heart to listen, i.e., be obedient, to the circumstances we are given and be eager to follow the plan of God, for as St. John says, “what we shall be has not yet been revealed. We do know that when it is revealed we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.” That is the certainty of being God’s beloved children and living in the Father’s house.