The readings for the Feast of the Holy Family demonstrate the transforming power of faith.
In the first reading, Hanna is a remarkable example of a woman of faith. Her husband, Elkana, had another wife, Peninnah. Hanna was childless, but
Peninnah had several children and made fun of the childless Hanna. She suffered so much from this that she went to the temple to pour out her sorrow before the Lord.
In her prayer, she promised that if she would have a male child, she would dedicate this boy to the Lord. “Hanna was praying silently; though her lips were moving, her voice could not be heard.” The priest Eli, who was nearby, thought she was drunk and said to her, “How long will you make a drunken spectacle of yourself? Sober up from your wine!”
She replied to Eli, “No, my lord! … I am an unhappy woman. I have had neither wine nor liquor; I was only pouring out my heart to the Lord. Do not think your servant a worthless woman; my prayer has been prompted by my deep sorrow and misery. … Eli said, ‘Go in peace, and may the God of Israel grant you what you have requested.’”
After the child was born and weaned, she brought him to the temple and said to Eli, “Pardon, my lord! As you live, my lord, I am the woman who stood near you here, praying to the Lord. I prayed for this child, and the Lord granted my request. Now I, in turn, give him to the Lord; as long as he lives, he shall be dedicated to the Lord.”
This child grew up to be the powerful prophet Samuel.
Hanna’s prayer of thanksgiving in Chapter 2 of Samuel contains many of the elements found later in Mary’s Magnificat. God uses prayer and persistence to produce remarkable results. Even the hurtful comments from Eli didn’t stop her prayer. Relying totally on God, Hanna was vindicated, and God, in Samuel, gave a great prophet to Israel.
In the second reading, the beloved apostle speaks from personal experience of being loved by God. “See what love the Father has bestowed on us that we may be called the children of God.” He knows he is a beloved son of the Father and a beloved disciple of Jesus. “The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know Him. Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we shall be has not yet been revealed.”
John knows his faith in Jesus is the reason the world hates him. The world also hated Christ so much that it crucified Him. God’s love and his perception of being a beloved son of the Father qualifies John to be a witness to Jesus Christ. He is in love with God. What can any creature aspire to that is greater than loving God?
“If our hearts do not condemn us, we have confidence in God and receive from Him whatever we ask, because we keep His commandments and do what pleases Him,” John wrote. When at home with God, we care less about persecution, because persecution furthers the work of God.
In the Gospel, the faith of Mary and Joseph is tested as they discover that they lost Jesus. They suffered intensely in coming to terms with His loss.
On the third day, they found Him in the temple in the midst of teachers, “listening to them and asking them questions.” They were unaware that Jesus enrolled in advanced learning at the age of 12!
“When His parents saw Him, they were astonished, and His mother said to Him, ‘Son, why have you done this to us? Your father and I have been looking for you with great anxiety.” Though conceived without sin, Mary’s human nature was taken aback by her son’s actions.
Jesus responded: “Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?”
Even though Mary didn’t understand this, she “kept all these things in her heart.” She remembers all too vividly the sting of Simeon’s prophecy at the presentation in the temple: “…and you yourself a sword will pierce so that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.” God is preparing her heart for a much greater sorrow.
On Holy Family Sunday, the readings tell us that family life is hard but transforming. If Mary and Joseph weren’t spared suffering and misunderstanding, why should we expect family life to be easy and simple?
If the Savior of the world suffered crucifixion, why should we think we would be spared family misunderstandings or even betrayal by a child or by a parent?
Because family life is transforming, it’s difficult. Prayer and nurturing ourselves with the sacraments makes family life possible.
For hundreds of years, parents have found the daily Rosary an invaluable gift in helping children and parents to relate in love. What about making monthly confession an intentional part of family living, in which parents and children go together?
Every night at 8:30 p.m. on EWTN is a broadcast of Mother Angelica leading the Rosary. Why not make this a part of family prayer? Her voice, the images and the music are faith inspiring.
Father Patrick Peyton of the Family Rosary Crusade said many years ago “the family that prays together stays together.” Msgr. Martin Hellreigel, former pastor of Our Lady of the Holy Cross in Baden, added: “The family that sings together clings together.” Happy Family Sunday.