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Joy and Sorrow with the Holy Family

The calendar of feasts during this part of the liturgical year is very complicated because it has undergone a great deal of adjustment in a relatively short period of time. Popes moved things around over the last seven decades or so. Our Christmas cycle that began with Advent now continues with the Epiphanytide which embraces the period from real Epiphany, that fixed point of the “Twelfth Night” after Christmas, 6 January, to the celebration of Christ’s Baptism on 13 January as instituted by Pius XII in 1955. Thereafter and until pre-Lenten Shrovetide begins with Septuagesima Sunday, the Lord’s Days, vested briefly in green, are designated as “after Epiphany.”

According to the new-fangled calendar of the Novus Ordo, the Christmas season ends this year on 9 January with the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord. The date of the Feast moves around because Paul VI fixed it to the first Sunday after 6 January, but in some places if – absurdly – Epiphany is observed on a Sunday that isn’t 6 January then the Baptism can be on a Monday because…. Oh, who cares?

Our immediate concern this week is this Sunday after real Epiphany. In the calendar of the Traditional Roman Rite, we venerate the Holy Family. While the Holy Family has been honored with feasts for centuries, it has been bumped around Christmastide like a pinball in the liturgical tinker machine.

When we think of the Holy Family, our minds generally tend to the Christ Child, the Blessed Virgin and St. Joseph. Over the centuries we often see in paintings a somewhat broader view which includes Mary’s mother, St. Anne or also her father St. Joachim, or perhaps St. Elizabeth and young forerunner St. John the future Baptist. If that familial view was a more expansive set, we might recognize the intimate bonds we have as adopted sons and daughters of our common Father God when saints popular at the time of the painting were introduced in a kind of “sacra conversazione … sacred conversation” with the Holy Family.

For example, a donor for a chapel or patron of an artist had a strong devotion to St. Mary Magdalen, the patron saint of his apothecary guild which also made perfumes. Thus, he had the painter introduce her near to the manger of Bethlehem with her jar of precious fragrant nard. Indeed, the patron himself would often be a figure kneeling in wonder and adoration. The anachronisms and interpolations point to deep devotion and a sense of familiar belonging, intimate connection. If those devotional devices brought forth also holiness from the painting’s viewer, then the Holy Family is all the greater for its expansion of the depicted members.

Epiphanytide touches the surface of the mystery years of Christ’s life and Family from the return from Egypt to the beginning of His public ministry. Hence, this Sunday our Gospel reading gives us the 12-year-old Jesus who stayed behind in Jerusalem after His Family’s caravan departed following the holy days of Passover, leading simultaneously to the Third of the Seven Sorrows of Mary, “The loss of the Child Jesus in Jerusalem,” as well that the Fifth of the Joyful Mysteries of the Rosary, “Finding Jesus in the Temple.”

The incidents of the Losing and the Finding point to the Lord’s future ministry, and not just because He was discovered teaching in the Temple and amazing the scribes and scholars.

Young Jesus’ separation from His parents and “being about His Father’s business” presages how He would later gently distance Himself from those whom He loved dearly, family and friends.  For example, in Mark 3:31-34, Mary and other family members (“brothers”) showed up, and when the Lord is told of their arrival He replied,

‘Who are my mother and my brethren?’ And looking around on those who sat about him, he said, ‘Here are my mother and my brethren! Whoever does the will of God is my brother, and sister, and mother.’

That sounds like an expansion of the Holy Family.

Again, when Mary Magdalen tried to grab hold of Christ after the Resurrection, He said in John 20:17, according to the Greek, “Do not cling to me.” He was teaching Mary that she needed a new view of Him that was not earthly. Henceforth, she would have to relate to Him as risen and ascended and sacramentally. Similarly, after the Resurrection, when in John 24 Christ was finally recognized by the travelers to Emmaus in the breaking of the bread, He vanished from their sight. They had to learn that He was going to be with them now, not in His physical, risen Body, but in His Eucharistic Body and Blood, His new way of “remaining.” Something of that is already taking place in the anxious search for young Jesus by Mary and Joseph in Jerusalem and His response when they find Him: “Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?”

Since we could write every day of the year about the mysteries revealed in the Holy Family, extended or simple, let’s stick with the two-fold dimension of joy and sorrow in the Gospel reading.

This is the second time we hear that the Lord was brought to the Temple. All 13-year-old Jewish boys, as well as those who matured early, were bound by Law to go to the Temple for Passover. Samuel was 12 when he was dedicated by his mother Hannah for service at the tabernacle, before the Solomonic Temple was built. Perhaps the mention of Christ’s age harks to Samuel.

However, the first time we hear of Christ at the Temple is when Baby Jesus is presented to God and, in that joyful moment, Simeon tells Mary that a “sword,” in Greek the hideous rhomphia, would pierce her heart. We are told that Mary treasured and pondered these things in her heart. It is unthinkable that she would have forgotten Simeon’s words. It isn’t unreasonable that she was pondering them while seeking here and there for her 12-year-old Son. It is fair to imagine the anxiety of Mary about not knowing where Christ was. After all, at His birth they had to flee to Egypt because of the murderous Herod. They lived in a little village where they were never very far apart. This was a new and uncomfortable development.

Could it be also that St. Joseph had his own heart-piercing moment in this second trip to the Temple? In the sight and hearing of all these important, hot-shot scholars, Christ talks about having to be “about My Father’s business” (Douay-Reims) or “in my Father’s house” (RSV Luke 2:49). Obviously, Jesus didn’t mean Joseph’s house in Nazareth or his builder’s work. What paternal heart would not feel a twinge at this?

The Greek passage doesn’t have the word “house,” but rather says, rather literally, “I must be in my father’s …”.  “In my father’s…” what? In that which pertains to, belongs to the Father. The Father’s stuff… affairs… interests… purposes…. Sometimes this is translated as “be about my father’s business.”I am mindful of John 19 when Christ entrusted His Mother to John and John then “took Mary into his (Greek) ídia, his own.” Greek ídios is that which pertains to oneself, and by extension, to one’s business, or home. In Luke, being “about my Father’s business” and being “in my Father’s house” are two sides of the same “dark glass,” through which Joseph and Mary, and we with them as extended family, are peering.

At the end of this episode of losing and finding, of sorrow and of joy, of puzzling and pondering, we learn that they all returned to Nazareth and Christ was “obedient to them; and his mother kept all these things in her heart. And Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature, and in favor with God and man” (Luke 2:51-52). This is a pretty clear reference to 1 Samuel 2:26: “Now the boy Samuel continued to grow both in stature and in favor with the Lord and with men.” It was right for Christ to go to the Temple for Passover at 12, rather than 13, for his “coming of age.”

It was during that time in Jerusalem that Jesus would have seen for the first time the thousands of slaughtered lambs, being carried by men through the streets, gutted and splayed open on cross-like wooden roasting frames, their entrails wrapped around their heads like crowns.

Surely He pondered that in His Sacred Heart.

What practical point might we learn from our Holy Family? Perhaps something about living in a family? I have in mind especially all the young families, getting started with small children, an ever more frequent sight in the pews where the Traditional Latin Mass is celebrated. That will increase no matter what certain people try next.

One thing we can learn, is that we have to take time to ponder. Ponder is to weigh, from Latin pondus, “weight.” Consider the qualities of things. Things move fast now and not always for the best. Put aside snap responses and unconsidered knee jerk reactions. This is critical in the family home, or at work, but also when we might see a disturbing headline flash across a screen, perhaps about yet another aggravation or annoyance or inexplicable kerfuffle in the Church. Many react without taking a moment to consider if it is true or what it might really mean.

Here is some implicit advice from the head of the Holy Family, St. Joseph. We don’t hear a single word from him in the Gospels. Frankly, we could avoid a lot of sins and tensions in the family and elsewhere by keeping our mouths shut.

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