Feast of the Holy Family / C / II / 2018
Msgr. Patrick S. Brennan
We celebrate today the Feast of the Holy Family. Many people will tell you what makes a family happy, integrated, functional, and so forth. But the feast today, and our readings, tell us what makes a family holy.
We start by looking at the story of Hannah and Elkanah from the First Book of Samuel. The story is fascinating—like the Book of Samuel itself! Elkanah has two wives, Peninnah and Hannah; Peninnah has given birth to many children, but Hannah is sterile. The family would periodically travel to the temple at Shiloh, the place of the Ark of the Covenant. There, Hannah would beg the Lord to give her a child.
We have to remember that in ancient Israel a sterile woman was considered pathetic, a person of low status. Hannah finds herself among a number of biblical women who are sterile: Rebecca, Rachael, the mother of Samson; and Elizabeth in the NT. Through these women (all of whom ultimately give birth) the Bible tells us something about God: that God works through the weakest and the most despised. What we consider suffering, God considers an entry point. Through weakness, God shows power.
When Hannah prays for a child, she says, "Lord, if you give me a child, I will return the child to you." Instead of clinging to God’s gift, she will give it back to God.
The Lord hears her prayer, and she gives birth to a son. She names him Samuel, "claimed by God." When little Samuel is weaned, Hannah is faithful, and she brings Samuel to the temple. In joy, not sadness, she sings this song: "My heart exults in the Lord, my horn is exalted in my God." Like Mary’s Magnificat: "My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord, my spirit rejoices in God my savior."
What do we see here? We call it the Law of the Gift. Simply stated, it is this: your being increases in the measure that you give it away. Just the opposite of what we might
expect. Society tells us to grasp, hoard, possess, keep, build up riches. The Bible says, "give it away and you will increase." When we give what the Lord has given to us, we are "lifted up." Happiness comes from "letting go," not "holding on." God "lifts up the lowly."
Hannah did not see her son, Samuel, as a vehicle for her own advancement. Rather, she let him go to serve God’s will and purpose. (Modern day equivalent?)
In other words, your life is not about you; it’s about God. The family is not about itself, it’s about God, and God’s purposes. The family is the place where the mission of each family member is discerned and prepared.
The Gospel today continues that same theme. Seen from a natural and psychological perspective, the story is a little odd. Mary and Joseph are exasperated at Jesus, who takes off for three days; and Jesus is a bit cool in response to his parents’ concern.
But from God’s perspective, there is something more going on here, something more important than these human emotions.
So, what makes a family holy? Surrendering to the will and purpose of God. Hannah comes to the temple to offer her son; Jesus comes to the temple to offer himself. In the family they found their mission: to serve the Lord. In a "holy family," each person finds his or her mission.
The family is the place where God’s will is discerned—and once discerned, followed.
The Law of the Gift—returning to the Lord what the Lord has given us.