Readings: Genesis 15:1-6, 21:1-3; Hebrews 11:8, 11-12, 17-19; Luke 2:22-40
It is no surprise that we celebrate a Feast of the Holy Family, given the emphasis the Church puts on the family. But how Scripture describes families, including the Holy Family, reflects the realities we actually know, as opposed to the ideals we never attain.
Family life is difficult and disappointing. Perhaps we don’t picture Joseph and Mary disappointed but they suffered from the start. Fleeing as refugees to Egypt or being told that this Infant would be the rise and fall of many, was probably not what they hoped for. At twelve years old Jesus, like a typical teen, slips away without telling anyone. Mary’s rebuke sounds to me like everyone’s mom: being Son of God doesn’t let him off the hook.
Our children do not develop according to our expectations–not even Jesus.
Each of us shares the experience of the Holy Family. I’m referring to our life with God. As spiritual adults God is no longer data out there, like a distant constellation we admire when we bother to notice it. At some point God is incarnate in my life and, like Jesus, is born as an unavoidable reality in the concrete complexity of my life.
I could be a neglectful parent and just let this New Life fend for itself. Like a helpless infant, that spiritual life won’t last too long, undernourished and unloved.
Like Joseph and Mary in today’s Gospel, I may discover that the path of this newborn King is neither smooth nor insulated by privilege. The reality of this divine life defies my expectations.
And just when I presume we’re all going home together, I discover that special presence isn’t at all where I expected to find it. I must retrace my steps and find my way back to that metaphorical place where divinity has chosen to abide. I must humble my expectations and learn like a neophyte new lessons, even on once familiar territory.
This familiar life with God is creative, developing, startling, more ancient than time but ever new. I can never pigeon-hole God or enshrine divinity like a dependable idol because God is never lifeless.