Sirach 3: 2 – 6, 12 – 14; Collosians 3: 12 – 21; Gospel Luke 2: 22 – 40
This celebration of the Holy Family is one that puts the birth of Jesus into an important context for us. When God sent his Son he did drop down to earth from Heaven or mysteriously appear from nowhere. The Redeemer is God himself, the second person of the Trinity. This second person is also the Word of God which is the creating power that made all of creation. In the Prologue of John’s Gospel we are told that “the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.” God himself as second person of the Trinity, is the Divine Word, who took on flesh and was born into the world just like those who he came to re-create. We have just celebrated his birth to Mary in Bethlehem, and today we celebrate how they truly Jesus, Mary and Joseph were a Holy Family.
This Gospel describes a ritual that would take place Forty Days after a woman gave birth to a Son, and we celebrate this event on February 2nd, the Feast of the Presentation. In the midst of their completion of this purification in the Temple and elderly man approaches them with a work of knowledge. He knows that this forty day old baby is not just any baby, but he is the Messiah. He has been waiting for this day and had been inspired by the Holy Spirit so as to know that he would not see death before he had seen Christ the Lord. He is drawn to the Holy Family and in his short prayer says much. 1. Simeon may now approach death for he has seen the Messiah, 2. Jesus would be the fall and rise of many in Israel, and 3. A sword will pierce your heart. His prayer is knows as Simeon’s Canticle and is part of Compline, Night Prayer of the Church.
This encounter of the Holy Family and Simeon was probably not noticed as being special by others in the Temple. There were numerous families who came to Jerusalem for this ritual each day and to the eyes of many they were just another family with their forty day old baby. However, this was an encounter that brought peace to Simeon for he saw that God was true to his word and allowed him to see the Messiah. He also spoke in somewhat a prophetic way as he revealed what the presence of Jesus meant to Israel and to Mary and Joseph. To the Holy Family it was a confirmation of the message of Gabriel to Mary, and the dream of Joseph in which the Angel told him to trust. It confirmed that this child born of a virgin was truly God Himself and would change the world. How often in our lives do the seemingly insignificant events and encounters turn out to be moments of profound confirmation to God’s work in our lives.
This Feast of the Holy Family presents us with two important reminders that can help us in our faith. The first is that Jesus, Mary and Joseph were the Holy Family. And even as the Holy Family they faced the knowledge that things would not be perfect. The second point is that each family is called to be a Holy Family. We grow in holiness by growing in unconditional love for one another, praying for one another, and praying for each other. This Feast calls us to ask the Holy Family to intercede for us in our various needs as God’s families. As Servant of God taught us, Fr. Patrick Peyton taught us, “The family that prays together, stays together.”
Father Killian Loch, O.S.B.