Some thoughts on the Feast of the Holy Family and current events. Recently in one of his first tweets, Pope Benedict said the way to live the current year of Faith in our own lives is “By speaking with Jesus in prayer, listening to what he tells you in the Gospel and looking for him in those in need”. This might suggest an insight into the Feast we celebrate today.
There is no doubt that Mary and Joseph had a prayerful relationship with God. In the Annunciation Story the angel appears to Mary while she is in prayer and tells her she is to be the mother of Jesus. And Joseph, in a dream, gets the word that he is still to take Mary as his wife. Both of these stories tell Mary and Joseph to in effect disobey the current religious laws. Mary agrees to become pregnant even though she is not married and pregnancies outside of marriage are forbidden and disparaged by the religious law of the time. Joseph is told to take Mary as his wife even though religious law of the time demands that he put her aside. For both Mary and Joseph having a relationship with God in prayer, listening to what God says in the scriptures, and looking for God in the people of their time, put them at odds with the religious practices and authorities of their time. In the Gospel Story for the Feast of the Holy Family (Lk 2:41-52) Jesus in effect runs away from his parents and goes to the temple. When Mary and Joseph find him, he says “I have to be about my Father’s business”. Rebellion rooted in prayer must be a family trait. As Jesus in his own way imitates his parents, it is a bit unsettling.
Jesus learned from his parents that the will of God cannot be limited to rules and regulations handed down by various religious traditions over the years. He learned that God is not remote and judgmental and to be feared, but very much involved in the happenings of ordinary, and extraordinary, human life. He learned God calls folks to take bold new steps that often lead them to run afoul of religious laws and traditions and the institutions and systems that depend on them for their power. He learned that each of us must be about our Father’s business, and that we find out what this business is for each of us by spending time with him. His parents lived this before him, and he lived this in his own life, and was put to death for it.
Among his teachings in his public life Jesus said that the two great laws are to love God with all we are, and to love our neighbor as ourselves. He showed us in the way he lived that when we see our neighbor being abused or ill treated we have to do something. It does not matter who the abuser is, we have to act. This is especially important when the abuse and ill treatment is alleged to be in his or his Father’s name. We have to act. And we might have to pay the price for acting. He did in his life.
Throughout his life his prayerful relationship with his Father was the basis and source for everything he did. He listened to what his Father said in the scriptures, and then look for his Father in the people who came into his life. He told his friends to imitate him, to live as he lived, to model their lives on his life. He did not tell anyone to worship. He probably knew that worshipping someone is a easy way to keep them at a distance and not let them have any real impact on folks’ lives. Worshiping is a lot easier than imitating, and a lot safer. It makes us feel good. Imitating is hard work and can get us into trouble.
Throughout Jesus’ life he knew that when a religious institution replaces the god it was founded to worship with itself, and makes following its rules either a substitute for or more important than living in a prayerful relationship with God, it can become a source and cause of abuse. Its own preservation becomes the reason for its existence no matter by what name it calls its mission and role. In Jesus’ day the religious ruling class had come with any number of laws and rules to keep the folks in line. The members of the ruling class judged folks and imposed punishments on any who did not live up to the demands of the system. These rules benefitted only the ruing class and made ordinary folk’s lives difficult if not painful. Jesus confronted them any number of times, and in the end, the institution and its minions had him condemned to death. Serving the institution and its leaders was more important than serving God. Fear and punishment were, and are, good tools for keeping folks in line. This is especially true when an institution sees God as its enforcer. It also shows how far some religious institutions will go to protect themselves and their power.
The Feast of the Holy Family shows the impact of a family’s values on the children, and the importance of a prayer life for all. Together Jesus, Mary, and Joseph learned what following God meant in their particular circumstances. Mary and Joseph from their own experience helped Jesus learn to become a person fully and completely open to God in every way. They are an example to us.
Just sayin . . .