On the Sunday after Christmas, we usually celebrate the Feast of the Holy Family. Surprisingly, this feast day is relatively new (placed in the calendar officially in 1921) and it was originally celebrated after the Epiphany. Each year of our three-year cycle invites us to reflect upon a different aspect of this feast (although we can use the Year A readings each year). Incidentally, in Year A, the focus is about the flight into Egypt of Jesus, Mary and Joseph and then of their return to domestic life in Nazareth. In Year B, we would hear the Gospel about the presentation of Jesus in the Temple. This event invites us to reflect upon God’s promises and of the enduring relationship or covenant between God and His people. In Year C, we read about the finding of Jesus in the Temple, and all the readings focus on God’s gift of life and our response to that gift. The commentary below is for the alternative readings given for Year C.

In the First Reading (1 Samuel 1: 20-22, 24-28), we hear the concluding part of the moving story of Hannah and her husband, Elkanah. They had been childless and so Hannah had prayed to God for a child, even though she was beyond the usual childbearing years. God grants her request and she has a son. Her son is named “Samuel’, a name which means “God’s gift.” She also responds to this great gift of God by making Samuel a nazarite. Nazarites were people who were consecrated and dedicated to God by a special vow. This event gives us a renewed sense that all is a gift, including our children and our family. We can never possess them as such. Indeed, all life is a gift including our own self! So, for example, we should look after our bodies and our physical and spiritual health; but it can never be a case of “my body” or “my life.”

The Psalm (Psalm 84) sings of the delights of dwelling in God’s house, as members of God’s family. It also reminds us of our “thirst” for this home. This should not surprise us as we are created in God’s image and likeness and so we can only find true fulfillment and happiness when we are with God. Our Second Reading (I John 3: 1-2, 21-24) also makes this clear. It reminds us of God’s love that has been lavished upon us. What is more, we are the “children of God.” The word in the original language for children is tekna. It is a very intimate or endearing term and one might almost translate it as “kid!”

As noted, our Gospel for Year C concerns the finding of Jesus in the Temple. We might say that it is both a very homey Gospel, but also an astonishing one. Mary and Joseph are desperately searching for the 12-year-old Jesus, who had been left behind in the big city of Jerusalem. Parents and grandparents know well the fear and panic when a child goes missing. They do find Jesus and are amazed to hear him teaching in the temple. Of course, 12-year-olds can sometimes surprise us with what they do or say; but this is of a different order! Jesus shows his wisdom as the divine Son of God and also reveals his mission.

At the end of the Gospel, we have that important detail that can be easily missed. Jesus is not only truly God, but also truly human. He lived with Mary and Joseph as the Holy Family of Nazareth and, as a human person, he also “advanced in wisdom and age…” Jesus as true God and true man is indeed God’s gift to us: a gift that invites our human response.

Our feast of the Holy Family ties in closely with the great sacrament of baptism. The Rite of Baptism reminds us about all the life-giving gifts we receive in and through the sacrament. The rite also makes clear that our whole life’s journey will be about using these gifts wisely and well.  We are presented to God by our parents and extended family. In a way, our vocation and mission as a member of God’s family is then revealed and begun. We too are now part of the covenant, of that relationship of gift and response. We are asked to become like an offering to God. Indeed, God’s covenant, that is his relationship with us, most certainly endures forever. Let us then not only give thanks for this gift, but also respond to it with all our heart and soul.