The Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph
Luke 2: 22-40
And when the day came for them to be purified as laid down by the Law of Moses, they took him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord – observing what stands written in the Law of the Lord: Every first-born male must be consecrated to the Lord – and also to offer in sacrifice, in accordance with what is said in the Law of the Lord, a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons.
Now in Jerusalem there was a man named Simeon. He was an upright and devout man; he looked forward to Israel’s comforting and the Holy Spirit rested on him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death until he had set eyes on the Christ of the Lord. Prompted by the Spirit he came to the Temple and when the parents brought in the child Jesus to do for him what the Law required, he took him into his arms and blessed God; and he said: ‘Now, Master, you can let your servant go in peace, just as you promised; because my eyes have seen the salvation which you have prepared for all the nations to see, a light to enlighten the pagans and the glory of your people Israel’. As the child’s father and mother stood there wondering at the things that were being said about him, Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother, ‘You see this child: he is destined for the fall and for the rising of many in Israel, destined to be a sign that is rejected – and a sword will pierce your own soul too – so that the secret thoughts of many may be laid bare’.
There was a prophetess also, Anna the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was well on in years. Her days of girlhood over, she had been married for seven years before becoming a widow. She was now eighty-four years old and never left the Temple, serving God night and day with fasting and prayer. She came by just at that moment and began to praise God; and she spoke of the child to all who looked forward to the deliverance of Jerusalem. When they had done everything the Law of the Lord required, they went back to Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth. Meanwhile the child grew to maturity, and he was filled with wisdom; and God’s favour was with him.
Members remain standing while the Gospel is read. After the Gospel is read, members kiss the Gospel and are seated. After an appropriate period of reflection, members are invited to share their own lights from the Holy Spirit in relation to this Gospel passage. The secretary synthesizes reflections into a brief summary for the team.
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The Better Part
Consider privately reflecting on the corresponding chapter from The Better Part by Fr. John Bartunek, LC, ThD during the week.
Unit #156 – “The First Christian Homily” – Luke 2: 22-40
“The patriarchs and prophets longed and prayed and yearned with all their hearts for this time. That just man Simeon at long last saw this time and his joy was boundless.” St Charles Borromeo
Christ as Lord
Under the influence of the Holy Spirit, Simeon joyfully explains who this newborn child really is. Christ is “God’s salvation”: God had long ago promised to save fallen mankind (thus he is a “light for revelation to the Gentiles” i.e. the non-Jews), and he had promised to save a remnant from unfaithful Israel (thus he is “glory for your people Israel”) – this child is that salvation.
But Christ is also a sign of contradiction. God will not save us against our will. Many respond to Christ with humility and gladness, pushing aside their selfishness to follow the way of the Lord. Yet others respond with suspicion and disdain; they prefer to clutch their own little kingdoms instead of submitting to the true King. Throughout the Gospels, we see both reactions; in the world today we also see them; even in our own hearts we often vacillate between rising up to follow the Lord and falling away from his friendship. The only constant in this equation is Christ himself, the everlasting Lord; we can always count on him.
Christ as Teacher
Mary and Joseph are obliged to follow the dictates of Jewish law in regards to their firstborn son. Because children are a gift from God, ultimately they belong to God. The Jewish law prescribed a ritual by which the parents could acknowledge this truth: they would offer God a gift in symbolic exchange for their child. This is what St Luke refers to when he writes that Mary and Joseph “consecrated” Jesus to the Lord. (This ritual is also related to the Passover, when God slew the firstborn sons of Egypt, but spared those of Israel.)
After giving birth, women were required by Jewish law to wait for a specified amount of time before they could appear in the Temple or participate in any religious ritual. Once the time had elapsed, they rejoined community worship by offering two sacrifices (this is what the “pair of turtledoves” was for). This requirement reflects the religious value that God’s people have always put upon human life, a way of acknowledging the sacredness of life. When a woman gave birth, she was participating intimately in a mystery that touched God directly, since he was the creator and sustainer of all life (most especially human life – for the Jews – since all men and women were created “in the image of God”). So it was appropriate that she remain segregated from normal activities immediately afterwards.
Christ’s submission to these religious laws shows that he verifies the reverential view of human life that they reflect. Every child, every human life, is a gift from God, a participation in the mystery of God’s infinite power and unwearied love. We can not own, nor govern the life of an individual person, even those of our own children. Jesus is pro-life, because he is the author and protector of life – of each of our lives.
Christ as Friend
Mary offers two pigeons instead of the normal combination of a lamb and a pigeon. A stipulation of the Jewish law allowed this for those families too poor to afford a lamb (pigeons cost much less than lambs).
Jesus Christ, King of the universe, not only became man, but he became a member of a normal, humble, working class family. Mary, Queen of heaven and earth, lived her incomparably holy life as wife and mother in a poor family. Joseph, patron of the universal Church and greatest of all Patriarchs, worked hard just to keep enough bread on the table. Such a normal family, such an ordinary life” God wants us to know that his Kingdom is within us; we can find him in the midst of our normal occupations, where he wants to be with us as our friend. Though we may be ordinary people, by letting Christ into our lives we can end up doing extraordinary things.
Jesus: You don’t need as much as you think you need to be happy. True happiness comes from a kind of wealth that no one sees, the wealth of a heart set on knowing and loving me. If I had come among you as a worldly prince, surrounded by luxury and comfort, I would have given you reason to believe that such things bring meaning and happiness. But I didn’t. Have you thought deeply about my poverty? Do material things have too tight a hold on your heart? Look at me, look at my example, come and live with me in Nazareth, and I will show you the path to lasting happiness.
Christ in my Life
It’s a good thing you are patient with me, Lord; I am inconstant. Every day is a little war between my selfishness and my faith. You know that I wish the war were over, but I know that you want it to continue. Somehow, my efforts to follow you in spite of my selfish tendencies give you glory, extend your Kingdom, and make my soul grow and mature. Never leave me to fight alone…
You despise no human life, because you see every person as they truly are: unique reflections of infinite beauty. You died for every person. Your love has no exceptions. Am I following your example? Is my heart open to all people? You know I have a tendency to play favorites, but I want to love as you love, because that’s what you made me for. Teach me to love, Lord…
Wealth, pleasure, and luxury items are always attracting me, and yet you chose to live in poverty and simplicity. You could have chosen any lifestyle, yet you and your family lived simply, detached from the beautiful things of this world. Teach me to follow in your footsteps. Have mercy on the countless people who idolize money. Make me a good steward of your gifts…
Questions for Discussion
1. What struck you most in this passage? What did you notice that you hadn’t noticed before?
2. What can we do to learn and live out better the Church’s unique and uniquely fruitful and beautiful teaching on family life?
3. How can we increase our sincere reverence for God’s gift of life to us and to those around us, instead of taking it so much for granted?
4. What has helped you let Christ enter more into the nitty-gritty of your most mundane struggles and joys, instead of reserving him just for the times when you go to Church or when you’re really in trouble?