Today we celebrate the Solemn Feast of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph. The Gospels do not tell us much about the family life of Jesus. We know that his parents fulfilled what the law required by having him circumcised and presenting him in the temple, which was the ceremony of the dedication of the firstborn son to the Lord. The most important family instance occurs in today’s Gospel. Every year Joseph and Mary went to Jerusalem to celebrate the feast of Passover. When Jesus reached twelve years of age, the year before he assumed responsibility for his own life, he went with his parents, for the same purpose. As his parents returned home, Jesus remained in Jerusalem. Only after a day’s journey, they discovered that he was not with the rest of the group on their way back to Nazareth. We immediately encounter the distress and anxiety of parents who have lost a child. They found him three days later in the temple sitting among the doctors, “listening to them and asking them questions”. Here we may find the first steps in exploring what his own ministry would be.
Mary expresses her distress to him when she meets him. “My child, why have you done this to us? See how worried your father and I have been, looking for you.” Jesus responded, “Why were you looking for me, did you not know that I must be busy about my Father’s affairs.” For the first time we encounter his personal inner conflict which occurs often in the gospels. He is torn between family concerns and interests and his own personal mission in carrying out God’s work. His parents were baffled by his response. Mary was especially puzzled by what was happening. “His mother stored up all these things in her heart.” She had a long struggle in discerning what her son’s mission and role was. From his conception and birth she knew that he was special, but still had to discover what his role, mission and ministry would be.
We know little of Jesus hidden life in Nazareth before he began his public work. We can surmise that Joseph was employed as a tradesman in rebuilding the neighbouring city of Sephoris during the reign of Herod Antipas. Then, it is very possible that Jesus frequented the building site as a boy and teenager. There he would have encountered artisans from different parts of the Roman Empire and picked up both wisdom and experience from those he met.
When Jesus began his public ministry there certainly were stresses and strains with his family. There is a very telling observation in Mark’s Gospel. “He went home again, and once more such a crowd collected that they could not even have a meal. When his relations heard of this, they set out to take charge of him; they said, ‘He is out of his mind’.” ( Mk. 3:20-21) It is clear that what Jesus was doing was causing stress in the family. Mary, for her part was very anxious about him as she feared for his life as she realised the growing opposition to his ministry as time moved on. On one occasion someone in the crowd told Jesus that his mother and his brothers were outside asking for him. He seems curt in his reply. “Who are my mother and my brothers?” He goes on to explain that those who do the will of his Father are members of his family. What emerges in the gospels is that the family of Jesus was not unlike many families even at the present time. There were tensions and difficulties. Jesus had to face the inner conflict of involvement with his family and his own ministry. That happens so often in life. Constantly people working in business have to face resolving the difficulties of giving time to family and at the same time upholding a good quality enterprise.
As we celebrate the Feast of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph it is vital for all of us to affirm the value of family life. Without good family life there can be little hope of a strong stable society. Family is the essential foundation of a good community. All of us should strive for the optimum family life of two parents who not only give life to their children but also in time give them the basis for a good, mature and fulfilled life in the future. Both parents exercise important and balanced roles. There are many skills to be learned in being good married partners and good parents. The skills of communication are all important. Communication entails being together as one. Communication is not about winning an argument or coming out on top in a conversation. It is about truly understanding each other. It means much more than talking to each other. There will be no communication unless we listen with full attention in order to know what the other person is saying, but also discerning how they are feeling and how they are within themselves. Parents who develop good skills in their own relationship should also make use of those skills in their conversations with their children. Again, listening will be key. If any person gets the sense of being listened to they will inevitably have the sensation of being loved.
Marriage and relationship can be difficult at times. If we keep afresh the glowing admiration we had for partners at the beginning of the marriage then most difficulties can be more readily overcome. The other solution is to keep learning about relationship life all the time. Keep reflecting positively on experience and much will be learned to make marriage and family life an exciting and fruitful journey.