Sunday, December 31, 2006

The School of Nazareth

Holy Family Sunday is an important piece in the mosaic of the mystery not only of the Incarnation but also of our Salvation. The Scripture readings for this Sunday are rich especially in answers to the battery of questions concerning what Christmas has to say to me; what are the implications of the Christmas story, the infancy, the childhood, the boyhood of Jesus for me personally, for family life today, for life in the world?

One of my favorite "Holy Family Sunday things" is reading again the excerpt found in the breviary from Pope Paul VI's meditation offered in Nazareth in 1964, during the Holy Father's pilgrimage to the Holy Land. It has been an almost obligatory point of reference in the last now over four decades for reflections on the meaning and importance of Christian family life for the world, for the growth of children, for happiness. Pope Paul talks about the "school of Nazareth" and all the lessons a child, an adult, even a pope (who never stops learning) can draw from that school and briefly elaborates on what he means, mentioning three lessons concerning the importance of: 1) silence; 2) family life; 3) work.

Parents, children still at home who are big enough to play a role in family life, and all this world's mentors and teachers could profitably try to claim those three lessons for their own and for other families in our day and time.

My own thought today, however, circles around the words of the first preface for Christmas, which the celebrant at Mass may have chosen to sing or read today: "In the wonder of the incarnation your eternal Word has brought to the eyes of faith a new and radiant vision of your glory. In him we see our God made visible and so are caught up in love of the God we cannot see." In whom do we see our God made visible? In him, Baby Jesus! In him, that twelve year old with a purpose, "lost" in the Temple and "found" by his worried parents! In that boy, subject to his parents, learning an ordinary trade and learning the lessons of life!

Holy Family: not a holy card, not a pretty picture or an icon, but a family, that through youth, innocence, poverty, anguish and exile (Flight into Egypt), hard work, play, generous and self-sacrificing love puts the baby in our arms and lets us hold God and God's love. Verbum caro factum est - and his name is Jesus, born this holy night, yes, born. The Evangelists don't mention that Mary let the shepherds hold the new born in swaddling clothes, but Simeon took him in his arms in the Temple and exclaimed, "Now, O Lord, you can let your servant go in peace, because my eyes have seen...!" our God made visible.

We hold the Gospel Book high carrying it in procession, we enthrone that Book, we bow before it, we kiss it, we honor it with incense: why? Because it's not a story book but the words of life, given to us, which put us in touch not with fables but with the Truth, who is Christ, in whom we see our God made visible and are caught up in love. Holy Week and Easter shine from end to end, but Christmas' gentle light is not to be ignored: it's part of the picture.

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