Holy Family Sunday

by Fr Dumisani Vilakati

  • First reading : Genesis 15:1-6; 21:1-3
  • Psalm : Psalm 105
  • Second reading : Hebrews 11:8, 11-12, 17-19
  • Gospel : Luke 2:22-40

The readings on this last Sunday of the year invite us, as the collect (opening prayer at mass) indicates, to practise the virtues of family life in such a way that in the bonds of charity we may delight one day in eternal rewards.

The first reading from Genesis places into prominence the figure of Abraham, our father in faith. He has a vision where God promises that he is his shield and will make his reward great. Obviously, Abram is confused by these words as he is still lacking the most important aspect of life, namely a son. After some protestations from Abram, God promises an heir to him. The promise is more than just an heir but that his descendants will be as numerous as the stars of heaven. With this promise, Abram puts his faith in the Lord and this accrues to him as an act of righteousness. We know that Abram did become a father of a nation culminating in Jesus of Nazareth. Today, billions of people look to Abraham as their father in the faith for indeed nothing is impossible with God. As we come to the end of the year, let us be truly grateful for the gift of faith which is the great virtue that strengthens our relationship with God and also strengthens the bonds of charity in the family. Moreover, as we celebrate the feast of the Holy Family, let us be truly grateful to all our relatives and friends who have assisted us in the journey of faith.

The psalm explodes into a thanksgiving which is immediately directed to the Lord. This thanksgiving is due to the deeds of the same Lord. The psalmist does not clearly indicate what the Lord has done for him in this psalm. We probably need to look to the previous psalm (104) for a clue. In there (Psalm 104) we note God’s providence for the psalmist including issues provision of protection and food and drink. As we come to the end of the year, we all have a right, and indeed an obligation, to give thanks to the Lord for his goodness in the past year. As families, we need to give thanks for God’s protection as well as his provision of food and other needs whilst at the same time praying for the same in the year about to be born.

The second reading, like the first reading, recalls the figure of Abraham who obeyed by faith when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance. We note the invitation to Abraham, already recorded in Genesis 12:1-3 is to go out. Going out in faith is a missionary posture. It is said that prior to being elected as Bishop of Rome, Pope Francis addressed the Cardinals in the following manner: “The Church is called to come out of herself and to go to the peripheries, not only in the geographic sense but also the existential peripheries: those of the mystery of sin, pain, of injustice, of ignorance, of doing without religion, of thought and of all misery”. I dare say therefore that, with Abram as a model, Christian families can begin learning what it means to be missionaries in this present age.

This is not the only thing that Abraham held onto by faith. He believed that he was to generate even though he was past the normal age with Sarah being sterile. The reasons for all this was the trustworthiness of God who had made the promise and indeed the trust that Abraham had on his God. Abraham never wavered from trust in God even when he was tested to offer Isaac, his only son. Without trust in God we cannot really speak of faith. At every mass on Sundays and great feasts we recite the creed beginning with “I believe in God”. Another way of translating the combination “I believe in God” could very well be “I trust in God”, which, in my opinion, is to be preferred. As we prepare for the coming year, let us also resolve to trust all the more God who has given us so much and who promises to be with us right up to the end of the age.

The gospel places us in the holy city of Jerusalem where Mary, Joseph and the child Jesus find themselves for the singular obligation of presenting Jesus in accordance with the law of the Lord. Looking at Mary and Joseph, Christian parents are thus invited to learn from this family of Nazareth as to what it means to bring up children in a correct manner. Once Mary and Joseph arrive at the Temple area, they are met by two devout persons, namely Simeon, probably elderly given his words that he may be allowed to leave in peace, and Anna who is clearly presented as an elderly woman. Both of them are thrilled at having encountered the Holy Family from Nazareth. Simeon cries out and says that his eyes have seen the salvation prepared for all peoples. Anna on the other hand gives thanks to God and proceeds to speak about the child to all who were awaiting the redemption of Jerusalem.

There are two missionary activities that are clearly noticeable with today’s gospel. The first is the gesture of both Mary and Joseph when they brought Jesus to Jerusalem which may be seen as missionary work ad intra, i.e. within the family. Notice that they did not say, as some parents say, that Jesus would grow up and indicate whether he wants to be a faithful Jew or not. From the onset they brought him to the presence of God. As we come to the end of the year, which signals the beginning of yet another year, let us pray that Christian parents may never tire in bringing their children before God by teaching them the Word of God and enabling their participation in the sacramental life of the Church. The second matter worth underlining is the missionary activity ad extra i.e. outside the family. Notice how Mary and Joseph together with Jesus ministered to both Simeon and Anna. As such, we note the vocation of the Christian family as missionary, not only within the family but also to other persons. Of course the goal of every missionary activity is eternal life, i.e. the salvation of souls. Again, as we come to the end of the year, let us pray that Christian families may once again discover their missionary vocation and lead many more people to the joys of eternal life.