Written by: Father Jim Chern
Montclair State University
If Catholics ever needed a good reason to explain why the saints – especially two of the most pre-eminent ones, Mary and Joseph – are so important to us, this Feast of the Holy Family and this Gospel seems to give excellent examples.
We know that Mary was chosen by God to give birth to Jesus and we know that Joseph was told by God through an angel it was okay to take Mary as his wife and to trust and believe what she was telling him. For those things to happen, Mary and Joseph had to have been open to hearing God’s voice - and they had to trust, to believe and to follow that voice. That’s pretty characteristic of what makes a saint a saint.
But part of what makes them important to us is the human dimension. That relate-ability between us and them:
We try to picture and relate to Mary as a Mother; Joseph as a Father.
We like to imagine them just as young people, young parents.
Here they were normal, everyday type of people, a carpenter and his wife who were called into beautiful, divine, heavenly things that were anything but normal. And in today’s Gospel, we get a glimpse that the normalcy didn’t go away just because they were God-loving, God-listening people.
We hear this story of Jesus getting lost in the temple. Jesus was 12 years old. This had been an annual event to go to Jerusalem for the Passover feast. It had also been a long trip with a lot of people, family and friends all going together. Often times, hearing this story, I’ve imagined it as Jesus kind of slipping out of his parent’s care. Being disobedient, for the moment - and just hanging back in the temple.
But there’s a different aspect that doesn’t often get a lot of attention: Joseph and Mary screwed up. They took their eyes off of Jesus. They were distracted.
Maybe Mary and Joseph were having a couples squabble “what is with your relatives? Next year, we’re not traveling to Jerusalem with that cousin of yours!” Maybe in all of the confusion they were preoccupied with trivial things - “did we pack everything? We’re going to be doing a lot of walking - are you sure you don’t want to get a new pair of sandals for the trip home?”
It’s hard for us to imagine that Mary and Joseph might have fixated on those minor details, those ordinary, every day matters - and lost sight of the savior. Lost sight of God’s son - their son. That they would lose sight of Jesus.
Yet you and I know how easy it is for all of us to do the same. We often talk about, think about, pray about how we want to be peaceful, joyful people - yet when confronted by the reality that Christ is calling us to change and let go of a sinful habit; that Jesus is probing our hearts to forgive that relative - we lose sight of Jesus.
We often desire to know God’s love in a real, personal, intimate way - yet somehow we allow the busyness of life, the obligations and responsibilities to eclipse that desire - and all of a sudden, not thinking that we’ve made a conscious decision to do so, the reality is - we lose sight of Jesus.
Mary and Joseph, the first two who lost sight of Jesus show us that he can always be found. When they realize what has happened they drop everything they had, they leave behind the crowd they were traveling with (even including people they loved) and turn around to go look for Jesus. To go search for Him.
They panic as they spend three days looking. Heartsick as they wonder could he ever be found. They finally come upon him, sitting in the temple amidst the teachers as they would be discussing Jesus’ (and our) Heavenly Father. Again we can appreciate the relate-ability of Mary and Joseph. The temple wasn’t the first place they imagined they’d find him, and upon discovering him, they let Jesus know how upset they were.
“WHY HAVE YOU DONE THIS TO US? Your father and I have been looking for you with great anxiety” - this being the scriptures, I’m wondering if St. Luke cleaned that up a bit… But the boy Jesus speaks honest words speaking of who he is and what is most important most essential for him - “I must be in my Father’s house.” As he returns to Nazareth with his parent’s Joseph and Mary, he doesn’t leave his Father’s house. That union between Father and Son will never be broken. But now Jesus’ earthly family, this Holy Family is included in the Father’s house as he goes back to Nazareth and was obedient to them.
For you and I, this feast asks us to consider, where is Jesus in our lives, in our families? Has he been relegated to a minor place - someone we forget about in the ins and outs, the daily stresses, responsibilities, confusions? Have we lost sight of him? If we have, Joseph and Mary offer us their life witness and testimony that the only way we can achieve the peace the fulfillment and love we long for is if we drop everything, even leave the crowds we are traveling with and go search for him. For if our desire is to be included in the Father’s house for all eternity, that is only achievable if we never lose sight of Jesus.