Sunday, December 27, 2009

Homily for the Feast
of the Holy Family

Dec. 27, 2009
Ps 84: 2-3, 5-6, 9-10
Willow Towers, New Rochelle

“Blessed are they who dwell in your house, O Lord” (Ps 84: 5).

Being in the house of the Lord is the evident theme of the Sacred Scriptures today. Hannah brings her child, the boy Samuel, to the shrine of the Lord at Shiloh—this is before King Solomon has built the great temple in Jerusalem, and the Ark of the Covenant is kept in a tent a Shiloh; so Hannah brings the son for whom she begged the Lord to serve there in Shiloh for the rest of his life. He’ll grow up to become judge over Israel, unofficial leader, ruler, and anointer of kings (Saul, David).

In the 2d reading St. John reminds us that God has given us the Holy Spirit. He doesn’t say it, but we remember from the catechism that we are temples of the Holy Spirit. We are dwelling places of God as long as we live in his grace.

In the gospel we heard that very familiar story of the child Jesus separating himself from his parents in order to remain in his Father’s house, the great temple in Jerusalem. This story goes so far back in Christian tradition, in the pre-history of our written gospels, that it seems to be unaware of the tradition of the virgin birth, since St. Joseph is 4 times referred to as Jesus’ father. While we understand why Mary would lament publicly, “Your father and I have been looking for you with great anxiety” (Luke 2:48), it is less clear why St. Luke would narrate that “each year Jesus’ parents went to Jerusalem” (2:41), “his parents did not know the boy had remained behind” (2:43), and “when his parents saw him” (2:48). Possibly Luke lacks the nuanced vocabulary that we’d use; perhaps he’s acknowledging the legal status of Jesus, as distinct from his genetic origin, as the son of Joseph.

Be that as it may, Jesus feels drawn to his heavenly Father’s house. Like the psalmist, his soul yearns and pines for the courts of the Lord; his heart and his flesh cry out for the living God (84:3). There he can pursue his calling of studying the Scriptures with the priests and rabbis who serve and teach there, and of praying and learning his Father’s will for him, of giving due praise to his Father for his love for Israel: “Happy they who dwell in your house! Continually they praise you” (84:5). What better place for God to “look upon the face of his anointed” (84:10), i.e., upon his Christ?

The boy Jesus learned that he could serve his heavenly Father by going back to Nazareth with his mother and foster father and obeying them, growing up into manhood with them. He “advanced in wisdom, age, and favor before God and man” (Luke 2:52) in Nazareth, not in Jerusalem, going to the synagog and not to the Temple, living among his relatives and fellow citizens of a very small village, not among the rabbis of the big city.

God can be found, known, studied, and adored wherever he has placed us. The Holy Spirit already dwells with us. The Scriptures are in our homes, and not only in church. We can pray at any time. The Father’s house is more than a physical building. It’s the entire world. It is also the company of our fellow Christians, who are temples of the Spirit just as we are. It is the company of his chosen people Israel, who are his children according to the covenant with Abraham. If we should be able to get out and go to a parish church, that’s a good thing. But even here at Willow Towers we can dwell in the house of the Lord. We have ample opportunity to meet God and be with God and serve God and pray to God all day long: in our Bibles, our practice of kindness toward one another, and our prayer in our own apartments.
Stained glass: Jesus amid the doctors in the temple, cathedral of the Holy Savior, Bruges.

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