On Sunday, we celebrate the Feast of the Holy Family, coming just the day after Christmas. The Church invites us to reflect not just on the birth of Jesus, but what it was like for Him, as well as for Mary and Joseph, to grow up in the little town of Nazareth.  What might that home have been like?

The Gospel for Sunday (Luke 2:41-52) sheds some light on this — how Jesus in many ways seemed like every other child, but one time surprised Mary and Joseph with a very different understanding of Himself. On the feast of Passover, when Jesus was still a boy, He traveled with His parents to Jerusalem. Instead of returning with them, however, He remained behind, much to the distress of Mary and Joseph. They expected Him to be with them, just like any parent would. Apparently, Jesus had never given them any reason to think that He would do something so surprising as to stay behind while the rest of their family and neighbors went home. Mary questioned Him directly about this, saying, “Son, why have you treated us so? Behold, your father and I have been looking for you anxiously!” There is a sense of bewilderment in the question — Mary has never seen this side of Jesus before.

Jesus, at the age of 12, makes no apologies, but instead replies (perhaps almost equally surprised): “How is it that you sought me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” St. Luke then comments that Mary and Joseph did not understand what Jesus meant by this reply.

What a mysterious thing for them to experience! This child whom they thought they knew, whom they had reared together, acting so certain about His disconcerting behavior in spite of their distress and anxiety. They must have wondered: what does He see or know that we do not? These are not questions that can be answered immediately. St. Luke tells us that Mary “kept all these things in her heart.” We can imagine her watching Jesus praying, wondering what He would become.

Outside of this one story, we have no other information about what is called Jesus’ hidden life, meaning the time before He began to preach, teach and heal in Galilee and Judea. It seems that Jesus, Mary and Joseph lived a normal life. Jesus learned carpentry from Joseph and lived with His parents, growing up just like each one of us does.

There is something very comforting about that thought. The humdrum domestic lives that people lead are not void of God’s presence. Sometimes Joseph and Jesus probably had difficult clients, or they didn’t have enough work, or they had too much. Mary had to clean and keep the house, prepare the meals, care for their neighbors and relatives, perhaps her own parents for a time. All of us have these experiences. Because they are normal and every day, we may think they are not worthy of God’s time or attention, but that is not true. God took on that same reality in the house at Nazareth.

Sunday’s First Reading from Sirach (3:2-6, 12-14) emphasizes the harmony that can exist in the home, especially in regard to the honor due to parents. St. Paul, in Sunday’s Second Reading from Colossians (3:12-21), speaks about the virtues that especially bring peace to family life. No family is perfect, of course, so we need to remember patience, forbearance and forgiveness, and constantly ask the Lord to help us grow in those virtues. To imitate the Holy Family even in small ways would bring God’s blessing down upon our homes.