The days between Christmas and New Years are perfect for taking stock (and making stock ;). What has this year brought and how do we hope to meet next year? These are also the days of the Holy Family. Insights from their experiences can help us understand our own.
Author and contemplative, Michael O’Brien offers a launch point: “As I get older I see more clearly my childish desire for a safe and tidy universe in which to live my life comfortably...But God in his wisdom allows me to have seasons of uncannily converging troubles so that I can open my eyes to the deeper levels of unbelief hiding in the depth of my soul. I want life to be safe, you see. But it is not safe. It is never safe. Indeed, the dangers of human existence are inextricably twinned in this world with astounding graces and blessings, and with a miraculous beauty.” (From Waiting: Stories for Advent , 36.)
A cursory survey of life in the Holy Family echoes O’Brien’s observation: the rough journey nine months pregnant toward Bethlehem for the census; birth in a cave; escape to Egypt by night; raising Jesus in a foreign land with no family close by. Our Gospel today (Lk 2:41-52) recounts Jesus lost for three days, and found in the temple dialoguing with the elders. Mother Mary confronts him, “Son, why have you done this to us? Your father and I have been looking for you with great anxiety.” And her son bewilders further, “Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” But they did not understand what he said to them.
The life of the Holy Family is full of troubles, twists and turns, uncertainty. There is little “safe and tidy” about their existence. The Father has not spared the Son travails and challenges. Again O’Brien, “The Lord of the universe calls his children to grow -- to grow in responsibility and love - to become more and more like Him,” (ibid). We must ponder not only Nazareth but also Calvary to gain the full sense. Words placed on Jesus’ lips: “When the worst happens, you are not alone. I am with you. I suffer with you and within you, and even beyond what you could even suffer. I have known absolute abandonment and horror. The heart of God was pierced. The heart of his mother too was pierced and she felt all that you can feel. She holds you now, just as she once held my body on Calvary,” (42).
The pierced heart of Mary is the same heart that “kept all these things,” that pondered the depths of the unfolding mystery from the time of Gabriel’s announcement.
Mary pondering is a refrain in Luke’s Gospel. Mary brings all of life into the depths of her heart and there waits, sifts, lingers, and hopes. It is the going deep, in the silence of her heart’s deep waters that brings mystery and even tragedy into clarity.
The other ingredient is togetherness. Mary and Joseph journey together. Even after Joseph’s death, Jesus and Mary live a life of silent preparation in Nazareth. Mary and the women keep vigil at the Cross. Sharing in life together is part of the secret of meeting travails in hope.
Pondering and togetherness - aspects for living through the travails of life with resounding hope. Happy Feast of the Holy Family!