Much to learn from 'school of Nazareth' by Rev. Paul Grankauskas
Reprinted with permission of "The Arlington Catholic Herald"
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Luke writes to explain that
Christ came to save everyone.
Each year Jesus' parents went to Jerusalem for the feast of Passover, and when he was twelve years old, they went up according to festival custom. After they had completed its days, as they were returning, the boy Jesus remained behind in Jerusalem, but his parents did not know it. Thinking that he was in the caravan, they journeyed for a day and looked for him among their relatives and acquaintances, but not finding him, they returned to Jerusalem to look for him. After three days they found him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions, and all who heard him were astounded at his understanding and his answers. When his parents saw him, they were astonished, and his mother said to him, "Son, why have you done this to us? Your father and I have been looking for you with great anxiety." And he said to them, "Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father's house?" But they did not understand what he said to them. He went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them; and his mother kept all these things in her heart. And Jesus advanced in wisdom and age and favor before God and man.
What kind of image do we have of the Holy Family? Do we imagine that, because they were holy, that they just drifted along free from worry and harm? Maybe we see the sinless virgin and her divine Son as almost ethereal, otherworldly creatures that we cannot possible relate to because we have no hope of ever being so perfect ourselves. We might imagine that they had it easy.
If we consider the scant details the Gospels give us about the early life of Jesus, we might be surprised to find the contrary. Jesus, Mary and Joseph faced struggles and challenges, too. Some were challenges common to all families; others were unique to their situation. We can learn much from contemplating the lives of the Holy Family, from the "school of Nazareth," as it were.
First, we learn from Jesus, Mary and Joseph that saying "yes" to God's will in our lives does not mean we will be free from trial and tribulation. It does not mean that our faith will not be tried and tested in some way. Our Lord makes it quite clear during His public ministry that if we wish to follow him we must be prepared to take up a cross. This lesson is driven home by the lives of Joseph and Mary.
Both listen and respond to a message from an angel. With humility, faith, and even fortitude, they say "yes" to God's will for them. That "yes" has its consequences. The Child of Mary, conceived by the Holy Spirit and whose birth was announced by an archangel, will come into the world in a stable. His family will be forced to flee their home and settle in a foreign country to escape a jealous, power-hungry, homicidal king. Mary's Son is supposed to inherit the throne from the line David and His kingdom is not supposed to have an end ... and yet Jesus' life does not get off to an auspicious start. The "yes" of Mary and Joseph was just the start of a life that had its peaks and valleys, just like many others. They moved forward with faith and hope, knowing that God's will; was being done even though it must have seemed like such a strange and circuitous path.
That brings us to the second lesson: God works even in the midst of the chaos that is family life. As this week's Gospel relates, the Holy Family traveled to Jerusalem for the Passover, the most important and sacred of Jewish feasts, established in the days of Moses. Jerusalem would have been thronging with pilgrims, many traveling in large groups from their homes outside the city. It is no surprise that Our Lord, as a 12-year-old child, might get lost in the crowd. What follows is three days of searching and worrying. The anguish of Mary and Joseph is something that any loving parent can identify with.
That anxiety would be enough for any parent to handle, but there is more to come. When they finally find Jesus, He makes a startling declaration: "Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father's house?"
Joseph is standing right there and Our Lord makes the distinction between His foster father and His heavenly Father. This is a startling revelation, and Mary ponders it in her heart. She is given a little glimpse of her Son's unique relationship with the Father, a revelation that would eventually have a profound impact on their own relationship. Mary and Joseph are taking their first steps in understanding that Jesus is true God and true man. He has come into the world not for them, but to save all men from sin.
The point is that the Holy Family had their frustrating and anxious moments, but God reveals Himself to them even in those moments. Sometimes it just takes a while to grasp that. Family life in the modern world is chaotic, with parents and children running in different directions and its complex weave of interpersonal relationships. In the midst of that chaos, however, we can learn something about how God loves each of us. Mother Teresa used to say that the family that prays together stays together because such a family learns something about how God loves each one of us.
When spouses are able to forgive one another, when parents love their children despite the fact that the little ones can drive them up the wall; or, perhaps most challenging and painful of all, when parents or siblings love each other despite having that love unrequited, we learn something about unconditional love - the same kind of love God has for each of us. Strong family life is so important and critical to us because it is the first and best place to learn how to love unconditionally. If we do not learn how to love there, we may be hard-pressed to know how to love at all. It is not impossible, but it is more difficult if we do not have a strong family to help guide us along our way.
In other words, in the midst of all that chaos, God may be working in ways that we may not see or appreciate right away. But, if families strive to practice the love and mutual respect that formed the heart of the Holy Family, God's love can become visible and concrete. It may not be a gift that is always appreciated or understood, but sacrificial, unconditional love is a gift that is still worth giving.
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