December 31, 2023: Feast of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph
Gospel: Luke 2:22-40
When the days were completed for their purification according to the law of Moses, they took him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord, just as it is written in the law of the Lord, Every male that opens the womb shall be consecrated to the Lord and to offer the sacrifice of a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons, in accordance with the dictate in the law of the Lord. Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon. This man was righteous and devout, awaiting the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he should not see death before he had seen the Christ of the Lord. He came in the Spirit into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus to perform the custom of the law in regard to him, he took him into his arms and blessed God, saying: “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.” The child’s father and mother were amazed at what was said about him; and Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother,“Behold, this child is destined for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be contradicted — and you yourself a sword will pierce — so that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.” There was also a prophetess, Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was advanced in years, having lived seven years with her husband after her marriage, and then as a widow until she was eighty-four. She never left the temple, but worshiped night and day with fasting and prayer. And coming forward at that very time, she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were awaiting the redemption of Jerusalem. When they had fulfilled all the prescriptions of the law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth. The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favor of God was upon him.
When I think of this feast of The Holy Family, images of Jesus, Mary and Joseph naturally come to mind, especially those of their flight into Egypt. Paintings, statues and holy cards in abundance all bear witness to this depiction. And, my thoughts also contemplate their everyday relationship with one another based on the love that they shared among them, demonstrated by their absolute faithfulness to God and to God’s Covenant with them. Certainly, these images and thoughts are consistent with our understanding and we reverently hold them in our hearts and strive to emulate them and their loving relationship. Yet, I also believe that this Gospel passage provides us with an insight into the greater Holy Family of God.
Today’s Gospel includes reference to Simeon and Anna who were in the Temple where Mary and Joseph brought their newborn son, Jesus. These elderly persons show us that their long lives were marked by love of and faithfulness to God. Just listen and observe them. Simeon unfailingly comes to the Temple because he has received the promise that, before his death, he would see the Anointed One of God. He was vigilant and attentive, fully trusting in the Holy Spirit’s promise. He continued to wait with hope and expectation and never despaired. His faithfulness was rewarded as he gazed on Jesus while he held him in his aged arms. He sang, “My eyes have seen your salvation which you prepared in sight of all the peoples.” This promised salvation is for all the human family. Anna’s lifetime of being present to God in daily worship and continual prayer and fasting was a life of hope and fidelity. She saw the fulfillment of God’s promises in Jesus, seeing her God face to face in the vulnerability and dependence of this infant. Anna praised and thanked God and then went out nd spoke to all the people she encountered about the fidelity of God to God’s people.
Simeon and Anna show us that faithfulness to prayer can help make us all more sensitive to the various and sometimes surprising ways that God becomes present to us throughout our lives and the lives of others. For those who faithfully spend time in prayer, a relationship based on love of God and of others, identifies us as one Holy Family of God, that sings God’s praises and goes about the world sharing the good news of the salvation of all people.
Today’s Responsorial Psalm is from Psalm 128. In Nan Merrill’s Psalms for Praying: An Invitation to Wholeness, the psalmist intones: Blessed are you who reverence the Beloved, who walk in Love’s way! You radiate an inner joy and peace where’er you go; compassion draws you to the gates of those in need. Families and friends gather upon your doorstep; children run to great you with open arms. Yes, blessed are you who reverence the Beloved! Strangers feel at home in your presence; the oppressed are comforted by your support. Blessed indeed are you who reverence the Beloved! Peace be with you!
Perhaps this week, we might take some time in prayer to discern how we are living as a spirited part of God’s Holy Family. How are we using our lives to lovingly and loyally witness to the truth of God’s faithfulness as Simeon and Anna did and to recognize the presence of God among all members of the human family, often in unexpected and surprising ways?