Luke alone gives us this episode in our Lord’s childhood, in what are otherwise the hidden years in our Lord’s life at Nazareth. And it gives us an incisive insight into life of the Holy Family and of our families.
This scene shows us our Lord as God and man, the Word made flesh, who dwelt among us. He is in the Temple, about His Father’s business, where He was first presented and proclaimed by Simeon as the fulfillment of the salvation of Israel and the nations, and in Jerusalem, where He will undergo His cross and resurrection, and from whence the Church will go out to all the world. And yet he is human. He submits to Mary and Joseph. This is the last reference to Joseph in the Gospels and a wonderful tribute to his guidance, and that of the Blessed Mother, that the Christ Child grew into perfect manhood.
It also gives us the relationship between the Temple, a portent of the larger Church, and Nazareth, of the little church, based on the presence of Christ. This scene in the Temple, of our Lord with Mary and Joseph and their bonds of mutual love, makes us think of it in a Eucharistic sense. Just as Christ is the center of the Church, so Christ is the center of the Holy Family. And just as Christ is the center of the Holy Family, He is the center of every Christian family. Our redemption first began in the home, in the manager at Bethlehem. The Christian home is founded on the Sacrament of Marriage, in which Christ is present. It is in the home that faith is handed on. Parents have the great privilege of assisting their children as they address their first words to God in prayer, which God hears and is so pleased. The home is where we first learn what it means to love.
In our Epistle reading, St. Paul addresses the newly baptized Colossians about the life of grace. Remember that the epistles predate the Gospels, so that the references are subtle. He speaks of the virtues, and of charity which binds them together. St. John the Evangelist says, “God so loved the world that He sent His only Son,” the only explanation we will ever have for the gratuitous gift of the birth and Incarnation of Christ. Love is the greatest gift. St. Paul says, “Forgive as the Lord has forgiven you.” This reminds us of the Lord’s Prayer, the Our Father, “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” And he says, “Always be thankful.” These are simple but meaningful words, they remind us of the Eucharist. The word Eucharist comes from the Greek meaning thanks. Moreover, he says we are “eucharistoi.” We do not have a word for it. We are people who are thankful. We are people who are Eucharistic, our lives centered on the Body of Christ, God Incarnate, present in the home, the little church, present in the larger Church. If our redemption began in the home, it finds its consummation in the larger Church, in the Sacrifice of Christ in the Mass.
A great drama of our day is the movement in our society to redefine marriage. Other expressions can only imitate marriage. However, they are not founded in the plan of God. They are not based in Christ. They can never be Eucharistic. There is another drama which is more subtle. Historically, our nation has been established on a policy of tolerance. Others will believe and live differently than we. But now tolerance has become a demand for acceptance and endorsement. When we profess our belief in marriage, we are judged. But is this not an infringement of religious freedom?
While the waves of the current mood buffet us, we can be like the Holy Family, we can strengthen our family life, we can strengthen our faith, by being a Eucharistic people. We can give a great gift to the society in one simple albeit challenging way. We can reclaim Sunday.
What is Sunday, but the day of the Eucharist? It is the Lord’s Day, the day of resurrection. In the world, it is accounted as the first day of the week, but in our faith, it is the eighth day, it is the day of the new creation, the day of heaven. We have the witness of the Abitene Martyrs, 52 faithful of the early fourth century, during a renewed persecution under Diocletian, who outlawed the celebration of the Eucharist and the keeping of the sacred books. Charged with treason, the persecutors asked them, “Do you keep the sacred books in your homes?” They replied, “We keep them in our hearts.” They had thoroughly interiorized the letter and meaning of our sacred worship. Their testament as they went to martyrdom speaks eloquently and powerfully for the Eucharist, “Without Sunday, we cannot live.” Not, “Without Sunday we cannot worship,” but “Without Sunday we cannot live.” The Eucharist was the center and basis of their lives.
The other wonderful things that we used to do on Sundays and still do strengthen our family life, that the Lord’s Day, unlike any other, is a time when we set aside every other concern for our heavenly pursuits. There will be no work in heaven. We will be united in love, like the love of the Holy Family and of our families. Love is the greatest gift, but in our busy society, the gift of time may not be far behind it. To take time in a special way for the Eucharist, for blessed rest with the Lord, for the joy of recreation with our families, our extended families, our loved ones, we exemplify Christ, Who so deeply entered into humanity, that He became flesh and dwelt among us, we strengthen the family. From the Temple to Nazareth, from larger Church to the little Church, He lived in the Holy Family, and He lives in our families.