Spirituality of the Readings
In the Shade
In my childhood—which happened a while back, I admit—I used to look forward every year to the big New Years Eve party that my parents had. A number of times, I—ever inventive—wrote and dittoed off a tiny newspaper for the entertainment of everyone in attendance.
For me, that party came second only to Christmas! And of course, Christmas was the big deal. It was the main holiday—the presents, the Christmas village that my mother constructed each year on the mantel, and increasingly for me, the birth of the Christ child.
The holidays had and have a big footprint. That is why I wonder about the Church having placed the feast of the Holy Family in between Christmas and New Years. Mightn’t this put family into the shade? Who has energy to concentrate if they have put effort into shopping, decorating, hanging lights, putting up Christmas trees, leaning out to relatives, giving, giving, giving, and obviously, cleaning up. Not to mention the big and late midnight Mass.
The Holy Family feast happens between them. How can we make room for it, tired or not?
Maybe by looking at what we would miss if we ignored this particular Sunday, especially the Gospel. We can start by asking what is the Holy Family feast for?
The actual Presentation in the Temple, portrayed in its Gospel, will be celebrated on February 2nd, using exactly the same Gospel reading. Thus the “historical” significance of the event is reiterated later when it can have full significance. It is as if the Church has something besides chronology in mind when it put this reading right after Christmas.
What? Its spiritual content.
1. This Sunday contains one of the few descriptions of the Holy Family in all scripture. Their appearance here emphasizes how important family care is for children and for all human beings. Mary and Joseph seem hesitant but have exquisite care for the baby Jesus.
2. Look at the important words of Simeon, which interpret the Nativity for us, though they may not seem to:
Now, Master, you may let your servant go in peace,
according to your word,
for my eyes have seen your salvation,
which you prepared in sight of all the peoples,
a light for revelation to the Gentiles,
and glory for your people Israel.
Simeon at last holds the baby in his arms. His famous words are like using an underliner on the Christmas story: the child brings peace; he is a fulfillment of the Lord’s word, that a Messiah would come; he is an entrance of God into the whole world not just to a part of it, being sent to the Gentiles as well as to Israel; he is a revelation and he is a glory. Don’t we need this kind of interpretation? Why ignore it?
3. There is not only Simeon, but also Anna. We are told she had done Advent fasting and prayer in the temple until she was 84! Now, poignantly, she begins to speak out about the child to anyone who had been awaiting redemption. Isn’t she a symbol of the Advent we have just been through, the period of waiting, learning, and patience?
These are only three of the quiet beauties in the Gospel this Sunday, celebrating family, and bringing out spiritual qualities of the birth of Our Lord.
What if we let this Sunday quietly unpack Christmas and our lives for us?
John Foley, SJ
* The Synod convoked by Pope Francis has put out its conclusions on the subject of family. This document specifically recognizes human growth and feelings within marriage. In a time when so many have turned away from this felt and formal union, how important is such a reconsideration by the Church.
**From Saint Louis University