It was just days ago that the Church commemorated in solemn worship the Nativity of Jesus Christ, that is, the birth of God in our flesh. God in Christ accepted a human nature and lived a real human life. This is the central and most important revelation of the Church’s faith. Everything that the Church is and does is directly related to, and only really makes sense because of, the revelation of God in Christ in the flesh.
God’s acceptance of a human nature meant that he also accepted the experience of gestating for nine months in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary. It also meant that he accepted the experience of being born into the world as we are all born into the world. It meant he accepted the experience of having to learn things and the experience of a body that needed food and water to flourish and survive. It also meant that God in Christ experienced a body that would grow and develop from infancy, childhood, through puberty to being an adult.
And it meant that God in Christ experienced for himself what it meant to be part of a family, indeed a particular kind of family, an Israelite family that likely meant a big, loud assortment of aunts and uncles, cousins and second cousins, with little if any of what we call privacy, and having responsibilities, from an early age, for caring for the sick and elderly and those younger than himself. There would have been little time for leisure or the fulfillment of personal goals, as life for Christ and his family would have meant laboring day to day to acquire the necessary resources to sustain the immediate needs and care for a large, extended family. The survival of one person was related to the survival of the whole family and everyone would have had no choice but to take this insight very seriously.
The family of Christ was not just that of Jesus, Mary and Joseph, but would have included all the relatives of Mary and Joseph- like I said, a large family and very likely, in relation to our own experience, a poor and demanding family.
Christ would not have understood himself as an isolated individual, in the manner that we pretend to understand ourselves today. Instead, he would have understood himself in relation to the family that surrounded him and in terms of all those related to him that went back generation after generation.
The Gospels of Matthew and Luke gesture towards all this by including at the beginning of their testimony, a long list of Christ’s relatives going back generations and generations. This is not just meant to provide interesting biographical details, but to signal to us how the Lord Jesus understood himself and his place in the world.
The idea our culture has, that family can be whatever it is we want it to be, would have been absurd to world into which Christ was born. Family, in all its structures and expectations, were a gift from God, a reality that we accepted from him as essential to our understanding of what he wanted for us to be and to do.
The reality that Christ accepted a family as his own family is a great truth of our Christian faith that the Church wants us to remember and understand today. Today, the first Sunday after the celebration of the Christ-Mass, is the Feast of the Holy Family.
That’s Christ’s family is referred to as “holy” means that accomplishing God’s will was the focus of his family’s concerns. Many families have as their primary focus the acquisition of wealth, the attainment of power and honors, or the pursuit of pleasurable experiences as the goals of family life. The purpose of family life is to be prosperous or successful in a worldly sense, and therefore all the vital energies of a family tend in the direction of wealth, pleasure, power and honors.
This was not what the Christ’s family was all about and since our priorities as Christians should be in sync with his, the manner in which Christians set priorities for family life should imitate the priority of the Holy Family, which was, first and foremost, accomplishing God’s will.
God’s will is most often fulfilled as we seek to respond to the demand of love as it presents itself in the immediacy of our life’s circumstances. In other words, one doesn’t usually have to travel very far to discover what God’s will is for one’s life, one will find that opportunity very close, and it will manifest itself in demand that loving another person who is close places upon us.
Fulfillment of this demand of love will inevitably involve sacrifice, for there is no love in this world without sacrifice, but it is through our sacrifices that we can become holy as Christ’s family is holy.
If there are moral lessons for us in relation to today’s commemoration of the Holy Family it is likely that the demand of love is most immediate to our circumstances and that the demand of love will require that we make a sacrifice. In both love and in sacrifice we accomplish God’s will and become holy- which are the very things that impart meaning and purpose to our lives as disciples of the Lord Jesus.
Today’s Gospel, an excerpt of testimony from the evangelist, Luke, presents the family of the Lord Jesus in the midst of a crisis, as it seems that Christ has become separated from his family and his parents cannot find him. In their fear at losing the one who is most precious to them in all the world, Christ’s parents cannot reckon that the place he would most likely be- the great temple of Jerusalem. It is precisely in the temple that they find Christ, and with their discovery, are confronted with the truth that Christ was not lost at all, but he was were he is supposed to be.
We might think of temples as civic monuments or museums, but what the temple of Jerusalem really and truly was supposed to be was God’s literal house on earth. Christ is God and therefore the temple is his house on earth.
I know preachers usually make much, in their interpretation of this story, of a emotional drama of losing a child in a crowded place, but that’s not really what this testimony from the Gospel of Luke is about- it is about our coming to terms with who the Lord Jesus really and truly is- that he is God.
In terms of the story, Mary and Joseph, in their searching for Jesus everywhere only to eventually find him where he is supposed to be, are stand ins for ourselves- how often do we go off searching for God as if he is the one who is lost, not ourselves, and spend our time looking for him in every place, except the one place he always insists he will be.
And what is the one place that God in Christ always insists he will be? He will always be in his temple, and the temple of God in Christ is not in Jerusalem. No! Remember the words of Christ himself that we would not worship him in Jerusalem. Where then is his temple?
Christ’s temple is the Church and the worship of his temple is what we experience as the Mass. The Mass the worship God in Christ reveals that he wants and it the Mass is the place where he will always be. If we are looking for God, the Mass is where God is.
The specificity of this truth about the Mass is a challenge to our cultural assumptions about finding God in our ideas or feelings or in things that we feel comfortable associating with God. Ideas or feeling and experiences might signify what we believe about God or even lead us to God, but they can also represent false beliefs or while seeming to lead us to God, actually lead us from him.
The Mass is different than our ideas and feelings and experiences because Christ makes himself living and present in the Mass and doesn’t need our ideas or feelings or experiences to do so. All we have to do is seek him at Mass, and he will find us, because he is, in the Mass, always there.
It is very important for us to remember (and appreciate) what the Mass really and truly is, and why the Church insists that the Mass, and not something else is “the source and summit of the Christian life”. The Mass is the worship God wants. We might want to give him worship of our own making, but that’s not what he wants from us. The Mass is also where God will always be, for he gives himself to us, shares his divine life and presence with us, in the Blessed Sacrament.
The Blessed Sacrament is not just a symbol of Christ or an expression of ethnicity or culture. The Blessed Sacrament is the divine life and presence of Jesus Christ given to us to adore and to receive.
What is given to us in the Blessed Sacrament is Jesus Christ and it is Jesus Christ in the Blessed Sacrament who gives himself to us
We live in a culture where a lot of people are looking for God, who are looking for the Lord Jesus, and don’t know where they can find him. Bereft of God in Christ many people become prisoners of false gods who wreak havoc in their lives.
God in Christ is not lost, but many people are.
You know that he is here.
You also know people who are searching for him, many of whom are in your own families- and there is your demand of love today!
If you know where God in Christ is, you have a responsibility, indeed a mission, to tell people who are searching where God in Christ is waiting for them.