SUNDAY MASS READINGS’ REFLECTIONS
Feast of the Holy Family (Cycle C) – December 30, 2018
The Liturgical Season of Christmas Time begins with the vigil Mass on Christmas Eve and then Christmas Day – The Nativity of the Lord, followed by Sunday Masses for: The Feast of the Holy Family, The Epiphany of the Lord, and concludes with The Baptism of the Lord. During this season, we celebrate the birth of Christ into our world and into our hearts, and reflect on the gift of salvation that is born with Him…including the fact that He was born to die for us. The Liturgical Color is white – a festive, joyful color. And, we can say “Merry Christmas” to our friends throughout this entire Christmas Season!
This Sunday’s Theme: The Feast of the Holy Family Jesus, Mary, and Joseph.
Today we celebrate the Feast of the Holy Family that was established for the Universal Church in 1921 under Pope Benedict XV. It is a liturgical celebration in honor of Jesus, His mother – our Blessed Mother Mary, and His legal father – Saint Joseph, as a family. The primary purpose of this feast is to present the Holy Family as a model for Christian families.
The family unit is needed to ensure that God’s Will shall be done by all of its members. Reading 1 and the Gospel focuses upon the parents doing what is necessary to foster God’s will in their children. The Responsorial Psalm identifies that the Church is where the family is to make their pilgrimages – for blessed are they that dwell in the House of the Lord. Reading 2 encourages the family to keep God’s commandments so that the Holy Spirit will remain within them to help their belief in, trust in, and obedience to God.
“The word of God is the source of life and spirituality of the family.” (Synod on the Family)
“The first thing that a person finds in life and the last to which they hold out their hand, and the most precious thing that they possess, even if they do not realize it, is family life.” (Blessed Adolph Kolping)
Reading 1 – 1 Samuel 1:20-22,24-28 Hannah dedicates her son, Samuel, to the Lord.
Responsorial Psalm – Psalm 84:2-3,5-6,9-10 Those who dwell in the Lord’s house are happy.
Reading 2 – 1 John 3:1-2,21-24 We are God’s children now.
Gospel – Luke 2:41-52 The Boy Jesus is found in the Temple.
This Bible Study’s primary references used are from St Joseph Sunday Missal, LoyolaPress.com, CatholicCulture.org, Ascension Catholic Church Sunday Reflections, USCCB, Understanding the Scriptures by Scott Hahn, St Thomas Aquinas’ Works, RSV Oxford Annotated Bible, Ignatius Catholic Study Bible, St Charles Borromeo Bible Studies, LUMINA Bible Study, The Franciscans St. Anthony’s Guild, and Haydock’s Catholic Bible Commentary.
NOTE: The Lectionary Bible Readings for this Sunday – Readings 1 & 2, Responsorial Psalm, and the Gospel, all appear in purple in the following.Footnotes are included in these passages and the contents of all the footnotes appear at the end of this document.
Reading 1 1 Samuel 1:20-22,24-28 (Hannah dedicates her son, Samuel, to the Lord)
Context – 1 & 2 Samuel – God writes lessons for us not only in words but also by events. Among these events, one of the most prominent is the dependence of a nation’s happiness on its leaders’ personal holiness. First and Second Samuel contrasts the personalities and events in the lives of the early Israeli leaders – Eli, Samuel, Saul, and David. 1 Samuel begins by telling how the prophet Samuel is chosen by Yahweh, the God of the Israelites, at his birth. The story of the Ark of the Covenant which follows tells of Israel’s oppression by the Philistines, which brings about Samuel’s anointing of Saul as Israel’s first king. But Saul proves unworthy and God then has Samuel choose David instead, who defeats Israel’s enemies and brings the Ark to Jerusalem. God then promises David and his successors an eternal dynasty.
Todays’ Reading – In this story, the figures of Hannah and her husband, Elkanah, are held up as exemplary because of their willingness to give to the Lord a child destined to be a chosen instrument of His. The piety of the couple is evident in the sacrifice they make: giving to the Lord’s service their longed-for child. Hannah was barren, so at the temple she prayed that if God gave her a son, she would give him up to become a priest. After many years of praying for a son (sounds familiar – St. Monica’s prayers for her son – St. Augustine), she was blessed with a son and named him Samuel. Samuel’s birth and dedication took place at Shiloh where the Ark of the Covenant was until King David brought it to Jerusalem. Subsequent stories of the exploits of Samuel reveal just how significant his parents’ sacrifice was to be in God’s plan. Samuel is regarded as the last of the Israeli Judges. God uses him to anoint Saul as the first king of Israel and later, to anoint David as Saul’s successor. This text is clearly in the background of Luke’s infancy narrative, in which he describes how the parents of Jesus have to make a similar sacrifice of their son in order for God’s plan to unfold in Jesus’ life. Like Hannah and Elkanah, Mary and Joseph cannot grasp the full significance of the role their Son is destined to play in God’s plan. Nonetheless, their piety leads them to obedience, even though “they did not understand.”
In those days Hannah conceived, and at the end of her term bore a son whom she called Samuel, since she had asked the LORD for him. The next time her husband Elkanah was going up with the rest of his household to offer the customary sacrifice to the LORD and to fulfill his vows, Hannah did not go, explaining to her husband, “Once the child is weaned, I will take him to appear before the LORD and to remain there forever; I will offer him as a perpetual Nazirite.” [i]
Once Samuel was weaned, Hannah brought him up with her, along with a three-year-old bull, an ephah [ii] of flour, and a skin of wine, and presented him at the temple of the LORD in Shiloh. After the boy’s father had sacrificed the young bull, Hannah, his mother, approached Eli [iii] and said: “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.” Hannah left Samuel there.
PAUSE and reflect on how the above speaks to you. The story of a formally barren woman, who bears unusual offspring late in life as a special favor from God, appears several times in the Bible. In addition to Hannah, there is Sarah (wife of Abraham who gave birth to Isaac), Rebekah (wife of Isaac who gave birth to twins Jacob and Esau), Rachel (wife of Jacob who gave birth to Joseph), an unnamed woman (wife of Manoah who gave birth to Samson), and Elizabeth (wife of Zachariah who gave birth to John the Baptist).
Song of Hannah – was a prayer delivered by Hannah, to give thanks to God for the birth of her son, Samuel. It is very similar to Psalm 113 and the Blessed Mother Mary’s Magnificat.
And Hannah prayed: “My heart exults in the LORD, my horn (my strength and honor) is exalted by my God. I have swallowed up my enemies; I rejoice in your victory. There is no Holy One like the LORD; there is no Rock like our God. Speak boastfully no longer, Do not let arrogance issue from your mouths. For an all-knowing God is the LORD, a God who weighs actions (He judges us). “The bows of the mighty are broken, while the tottering gird on strength. The well-fed hire themselves out for bread, while the hungry no longer have to toil. The barren wife bears seven sons, while the mother of many languishes. “The LORD puts to death and gives life, casts down to Sheol and brings up again. The LORD makes poor and makes rich, humbles, and also exalts. He raises the needy from the dust; from the ash heap lifts up the poor, To seat them with nobles and make a glorious throne their heritage. “For the pillars of the earth are the LORD’s, and He has set the world upon them. He guards the footsteps of His faithful ones, but the wicked shall perish in the darkness; for not by strength does one prevail. The LORD’s foes shall be shattered; the Most High in heaven thunders; the LORD judges the ends of the earth. May He give strength to His king (the Old Testament kings and then Jesus), and exalt the horn of His anointed (us)!” (1 Sam. 2:1-10)
Responsorial Psalm – Psalm 84:2-3,5-6,9-10 (Love for God’s House)
Today’s Psalm – This psalm speaks about the beauty of dwelling in the house of the Lord. The Jerusalem Temple is the longed-for goal of the pilgrim.
R. — Blessed are they who dwell in Your house, O Lord.
How lovely is Your dwelling place, O LORD of Hosts! My soul yearns and pines for the courts of the LORD. My heart and my flesh cry out for the living God.
R. – Blessed are they who dwell in Your house, O Lord.
Happy they who dwell in Your house! Continually they praise You. Happy the men whose strength You are! Their hearts are set upon the pilgrimage. [iv]
R. – Blessed are they who dwell in Your house, O Lord.
O LORD of Hosts, hear our prayer; hearken, O God of Jacob! O God, behold our shield,
and look upon the face of Your anointed [v].
R. – Blessed are they who dwell in Your house, O Lord.
PAUSE and reflect on how the above speaks to you. Hannah truly felt as this Psalm states that “blessed are they who dwell in Your House, O Lord” as she dedicated her son to reside there – “presented him at the temple of the LORD.”(Reading 1)
Reading 2 1 John 3:1-2,21-24 (Children of God)
Context – 1, 2 & 3 JOHN – These letters are assumed to have been written by the same author as the Gospel according to John. Their purpose is to deepen the spiritual life of its readers and to correct popular heretical views such that God did not become man in Jesus.
Today’s Reading – This reading speaks about our adoption into the household of God. As children of God, we are called to keep God’s commandments.
Beloved: See what love the Father has bestowed on us that we may be called the children of God. [vi]
And so we are. 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. We do know that when it is revealed we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is. [vii]
Beloved, 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. And His commandment is this: we should believe in the name of His Son, Jesus Christ, [viii] and love one another just as He commanded us. Those who keep His commandments remain in Him, and He in them, and the way we know that He remains in us is from the [Holy] Spirit He gave us. [ix]
PAUSE and reflect on how the above speaks to you.
Gospel Luke 2:41-52 (Jesus Was Obedient to Them)
Context – Luke was a physician and a follower of Paul. His Gospel was written in 59-61 AD. He was probably the only Gentile writer in the Bible. Luke’s gospel includes Jesus words and works in Galilee, His journey to Jerusalem, and His last week in Jerusalem. For later chapters of Luke: Jesus is now in Jerusalem for His passion; He has made His triumphal entry which we celebrate on Passion (Palm) Sunday; He has upset the establishment by cleansing the temple. The Pharisees, scribes, and Sadducees are all now interested in getting rid of Him. He identifies three epochs of salvation history: the time before Christ, the time of Christ, and the time of the Church and the Holy Spirit. And the two primary themes of his Gospel are: the Christian faith is expressed in one’s actions, and the call to salvation is extended to everyone, Jews and Gentiles.
Today’s Reading – Mary, Joseph, and Jesus are presented in this Gospel as a faithful Jewish family. Jesus shows Himself faithful to both His heavenly Father and earthly father. In doing what He did in the Temple, He was obeying God, but then we are told He goes home with His parents to Nazareth and is obedient to them. Obedience is in fact an underlying theme for proper family life in this Gospel. Four times in this passage, Luke says that the actions of Mary, Joseph and Jesus are carried out in accord with their obedience to the law. With Jesus being obedient to both His heavenly Father and earthly parents – All children are hereby taught what subjection and obedience is due from them to God and to their parents.
On a lighter side, we can say that this story shows us that even in the best of families, things can go wrong. Perhaps, we could say that Joseph and Mary should have been more vigilant of their young Son, or that Jesus should have told His parents where He was going. Nothing brings a family closer together than a crisis, especially a crisis which involves a child who is lost. Today we hear of such a crisis involving the Holy Family as we hear of “the finding in the Temple”. This is an event which is reported only by St. Luke, and is a mystery which we celebrate as the Fifth Joyful Mystery of the Rosary.
Each year Jesus’ parents went to Jerusalem for the feast of Passover, and when He was twelve years old, they went up according to festival custom. [x] After they had completed its days [xi], as they were returning, the Boy Jesus remained behind in Jerusalem, but His parents did not know it. Thinking that He was in the caravan [xii], they journeyed for a day and looked for Him among their relatives and acquaintances, but not finding Him, they returned to Jerusalem to look for Him. After three days they found Him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions, and all who heard Him were astounded at His understanding and His answers. 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.” [xiii] And He said to them, “Why were You looking for Me? Did You not know that I must be in My Father’s house?” [xiv] But they did not understand what He said to them. [xv] He went down with them and came to Nazareth [xvi], and was obedient to them [xvii]; and His mother kept all these things in Her heart. And Jesus advanced in wisdom and age and favor before God and man.
PAUSE and reflect on how the above speaks to you.
Catechism 1655 – Christ chose to be born and grow up in the bosom of the Holy Family of Joseph and Mary. The Church is nothing other than “the Family of God.” From the beginning, the core of the Church was often constituted by those who had become believers “together with all [their] household.” When they were converted, they desired that “their whole household” should also be saved. These families who became believers were islands of Christian life in an unbelieving world.
[i]Reading 1 Footnotes: “I will offer him as a perpetual Nazirite.” = The vow of a Nazarite involved these three things: 1) abstinence from wine and strong drink, 2) refraining from cutting the hair off the head during the whole period of the continuance of the vow, and 3) the avoidance of contact with the dead. Samuel’s mother is offering him as a perpetual Nazarite which means that these things will be forever forbidden. When we normally think of a Nazarite, we think of Samson rather than Samuel. (Remember Samson – The guy with the long curly hair who was betrayed by his lover Delilah.)
[ii]“ephah” = An ephah is approximately one bushel.
[iii]“Eli” = Eli was high priest at the sanctuary of Shiloh. Hannah presented Samuel to him when Samuel was about 3 years old. (Remember Eli – He was the High Priest who had 2 sons who were very evil in God’s sight and therefore Samuel was made his heir apparent.)
[iv]Responsorial Psalm Footnotes: “the pilgrimage” = “The more you love, the higher will you ascend through life’s pilgrimage.” (St. Augustine) The person who sets his or her heart on finding strength in the Lord experiences great blessings through life’s pilgrimage.
[vi]Reading 2 Footnotes: “children of God” = In the truest and most absolute sense, God’s gift of love has been the gift of His only Son as Savior of the world (see John 3:16). It is this Gift which has opened heaven and allows us to approach God as His children to seek forgiveness for our transgressions. Because of this Gift we can be called “children of God” rather than “servants or slaves of God” as was the condition of the chosen people after the sin of the golden calf.
[vii]“for we shall see Him as He is” = The image of God which is manifested to the Christian in this life is seen through the eyes of faith (our obedient belief); in the next life the image we will see is much more intimate and immediate.
[viii]“believe in the name of His Son, Jesus Christ” = In Semitic usage, the “name” is equivalent to the person. Faith is not simply the acceptance of a proposition, but a total personal commitment (belief in, trust in and obedience) to a person.
[ix]“the way we know that He remains in us is from the Holy Spirit He gave us” = Not only does obedience to the commandments guarantee continued communion with God, we have the further guarantee of the help of the divine presence of the Holy Spirit within us.
[x]Gospel Footnotes: “according to the festival custom” = The Law prescribed the Jerusalem pilgrimage for three major feasts: Passover, Pentecost, and Tabernacles (Exodus 23:14; Deuteronomy 16:16); but custom excused those who lived at a distance from all but the Passover. The rabbis were not in agreement whether or not women and children were required to make the pilgrimage, but males aged 12 and over were required to make it. The distance the Holy Family would have traveled (from Nazareth to Jerusalem) is about 60 miles as the crow flies; 85 miles by road.
[xi]“completed its days” = The celebration of the Passover meal was a week-long feast of the unleavened bread.
[xii]“Thinking that He was in the caravan” = Entire villages joined in the pilgrimages, breaking up into two groups; one of men, the other of women. Children could go with either group. This explains how they could go a day’s journey before they discovered the Child was missing when the families regrouped to camp.
[xiii] “Your father and I have been looking for You with great anxiety.” = Imagine the thoughts which ran through the minds of Mary and Joseph when they realized that they had lost track of the Son of God (a fact of which they have been aware since the Annunciation), who was placed into their care by God Himself!
[xiv]“I must be in My Father House” = This Greek phrase can also be translated “about My Father’s business”. It implies a close personal relationship between Jesus and His heavenly Father. These are the first words of Jesus recorded in the Gospel. They form an explanation and they clearly show His divine Sonship; and they also show His determination to fulfill the will of His Eternal Father. This is the only information in the Bible on Jesus maturing as a youth.
[xv]“they did not understand what He said to them” = Mary and Joseph realized that His reply contained a deeper meaning which they did not grasp. They did not understand the full implication of what divine Sonship entailed, that His relationship to God takes precedence over His relationship to them. One of a parent’s greatest sorrows afflicts Mary; not to always understand Her own Child’s behaviors.
[xvi]“He went down with them and came to Nazareth” = Literally, down in elevation. Jerusalem is located on a mountaintop, a holy mountain. And all references to “traveling to” or “coming from” Jerusalem, anywhere in Israel, is always stated as “up to Jerusalem” or “down from Jerusalem”, respectively. As in this instance – Nazareth is located north of Jerusalem, but Biblically it’s stated that they went down from Jerusalem to Nazareth.
[xvii] “Jesus was obedient to them – Mary and Joseph” = This is the last reference to Saint Joseph in the Gospels.