Saturday, December 19, 2009

Religious Environment for a Family

Feast of the Holy Family of Year C
(Luke 2:41-52)
December 27, 2009

With the advent of international trade and globalization, nations are no longer far removed from one another. National barriers are falling apart, and the global village, which decades ago was only a dream, seems no longer a remote possibility. But for all their advantages—new ways of communication, for example, have made the world smaller—globalization and international trade have brought values that are foreign to Christian faith, however. One of their known attendant values, because too widespread, is consumerism. Created has been a mentality and lifestyle that prefer having to being. That is why we live in a secular environment in which people think that it is important to have enough of the world’s goods, and spend one’s life in enjoying these goods. Because of this environment, many people crave for items and services that are not needed. Such values enter into the family, and it is not surprising that many families have succumbed to it. They think that the more material things the family possesses and enjoys, the better it is. If one visits a family even in the poorer parts of the metropolis, there he will see appliances and gadgets displayed for all to see, even though one senses that they were acquired at great cost to the family itself. The consumerist mentality can be seen in the attitude of children who put prime value on these devices.

Today is the feast of the Holy Family, and the Sunday gospel provides us with pattern on how our own families ought to live if they are to be called Christian at all. In Luke’s portrayal of the Holy Family, it is difficult to sever it from his description of the events that lead to the nativity of Jesus. It may be recalled that for Luke, Mary is a hearer of God’s word. In his plan to reveal himself and save humanity, God finally spoke his word to Mary who, despite its seeming impossibility, accepted it in faith: “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word” (Luke 1:39). Luke does not have much to say of Joseph, but if we look at Matthew’s portrait of him, it will be noticed that he, too, is described as a hearer of the word: a devout observer of the Mosaic law (Matt 1:19), and at the same time, obedient to God’s communication through an angel who told him not to be afraid to take Mary, who was with child, into his home: “When Joseph awoke, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him, and took his wife into his home” (Matt 1:25). What about Jesus? Of course, he is God’s communication himself, and even though such an understanding of Jesus is Johannine (John 1:1) and quite foreign to Luke, yet it is not inconsistent with Luke’s theology to say that the life of Jesus as a child has the concern of God for its center.

This brings us to the heart of the Sunday Gospel (Luke 2:41-52). This story is traditionally known—one who prays the rosary will easily recall--as the finding of Jesus in the Temple . It may be doubted, however, that this is intended to satisfy curiosity about the boyhood of Jesus. It is most likely that the story is remembered on the principle that what happens to a person in his adulthood is prefigured in the events of his childhood. That is to say, one should not be surprised that Jesus performed mighty deeds and spoke powerful words during his public ministry, for even in his childhood, he was already known to be endowed with much wisdom and power. Thus Luke: “On the third day they came upon him in the temple sitting in the midst of the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. All who heard him were amazed at his intelligence and his answers” (Luke 2:46-47). However, since today is the feast of the Holy Family, what is of relevance to us in this story is a minor theme of Luke: Jesus’ claim that in his life and mission, the claim of God his Father has priority over anything: “Why did you search for me? Did you not know I had to be in my Father’s house?” (Luke 2:49b). His relationship with his Father transcends his relationship with his human family. The latter has meaning which derives from his intimacy with the Father.

Clearly, the Holy Family, as Luke portrays it, lived in an environment which is informed by divine values and concerns. Consequently, Luke teaches us that to be Christian, our families ought to live in an environment in which God’s plan has priority and informs the very life which each member lives.. Our Christian families, in other words, makes God the center of our life. The values of the Gospel form even the air we breathe, our vision in life, and our motive for action. Since God fills up each member of our families, and our relationship with those outside, we will be able to lead holy lives, clothing ourselves “with heartfelt mercy, with kindness, humility, meekness and patience.” We can bear with one another, and forgive grievances. Our families would then be bound love, each member experiencing peace ( Col 3:12-15, First Reading). That is to say, in an atmosphere which is informed by Gospel values, it would be easy to live in harmony with one another, to live as one family like the Holy Family. And precisely because of that environment, it would not be difficult for each member of the family to resist the bombardment of secular values, like consumerism, since a different way of valuing things has already been ingrained in the outlook of each one. The environment of holiness itself is the protection of our families from the onslaught of values foreign to Christian outlook and understanding.

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