Homily: The Holy Family 2018

Feast of the Holy Family.                                                                                                            Luke 2:41-52

Every year the parents of Jesus used to go to Jerusalem for the feast of the Passover. When he was twelve years old, they went up for the feast as usual. When they were on their way home after the feast, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem without his parents knowing it. They assumed he was with the caravan, and it was only after a day’s journey that they went to look for him among their relations and acquaintances. When they failed to find him they went back to Jerusalem looking for him everywhere.

Three days later, they found him in the Temple, sitting among the doctors, listening to them, and asking them questions; and all those who heard him were astounded at his intelligence and his replies. They were overcome when they saw him, and his mother said to him: ‘My child, why have you done this to us? See how worried your father and I have been, looking for you.’ ‘Why were you looking for me?’ he replied. ‘Did you not know that I must be busy with my Father’s affairs?’ But they did not understand what he meant. He then went down with them and came to Nazareth and lived under their authority. His mother stored up all these things in her heart. And Jesus increased in wisdom, in stature, and in favour with God and men.


On the Sunday after Christmas, we celebrate the feast of the Holy Family.

If you are fortunate, you will have been able to spend some time with the members of your family over the past few days, and you will have seen lots of Facebook pictures of the children enjoying their celebrations. These are good and holy things, and great blessings.

Today we think of the Holy Family – not just the immediate circumstances of the birth of the Christ child in Bethlehem and the visit of the wise men, but also their subsequent period of exile in Egypt, followed eventually by the return to their home in Nazareth. There they could pick up the threads of their lives once again, after their extended absence. Yet there is very little in the gospels about this period, only a couple of verses in Luke, which state that they went back to Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth; that the child grew to maturity and was filled with wisdom, and that God’s favour was with him. How wonderful that image is!

These are some of the things we recall and commemorate on this feast, but it is also a day for our own special prayers.

Certainly for our own families and for those whom we love, we think of the children and hope that they will be able to grow up in happiness and security. We hope that they will be healthy and successful. At the same time, we remember those for whom this may not be possible in every way, especially for children who are sick and who need our prayers. We think also of young people at University or beginning their working lives. Some will be looking forward to marriage, and we pray that their lives may be secure and successful. We also pray for the older members of our families, including parents, whom we have loved greatly as we’ve gradually seen them becoming older.  More than anything, they depend on our love and concern for them, not just at Christmas but throughout the year. So let us bless them all as we pray for them in a special way today.

These are our immediate concerns, but there are other things to pray for as well, if we extend the sense of family. For example, we share in different ways here as part of a parish family – so often represented by the children carrying the chalices in the offertory procession, who are asking on behalf of the parish family for the Eucharist to be celebrated.  Then there is the thought that we belong to the wider family of the Church. One of the ideas that we developed at a recent Confirmation class is that the Church should not be compared to a formal organisation, – like a branch network, where we find many places that we are can visit – but rather that we are the Church: wherever we are present, the family of the Church is present. The Church is not just confined to structures or buildings.

And then let us think of the wider human family to which we belong. There is a great deal to reflect on – the things which seem to divide us – rationality, race, culture, gender, religious belief, and political opinions. Never mind financial problems, and problems of immigration – there seem to be so many things which divide us. That is if we want them to. We can continue to build up barriers across our world – sometimes quite literally, as walls are built across national frontiers.  These may not be easy times in which to live – even compared with say 20 years ago – and yet, there are ways in which we can reach out to others. We can overcome our hostilities to recognise that they are our sisters and brothers. There are many ways to express this idea, but in this centenary since the end of the First World War, I thought particularly of the words from Wilfred Owen’s poem, “Strange Meeting”, when he meets his former enemy:

“Strange friend,” I said, “here is no cause to mourn.”
“None,” said the other, “save the undone years,
The hopelessness. Whatever hope is yours,
Was my life also”

So many things to pray for today – to give thanks and to rejoice – and to pray for all our families, in the widest sense, in the year to come.




Strange meeting – Wilfred Owen.

It seemed that out of the battle I escaped
Down some profound dull tunnel, long since scooped
Through granites which titanic wars had groined.
Yet also there encumbered sleepers groaned,
Too fast in thought or death to be bestirred.
Then, as I probed them, one sprang up, and stared
With piteous recognition in fixed eyes,
Lifting distressful hands as if to bless.
And by his smile, I knew that sullen hall,
By his dead smile I knew we stood in Hell.
With a thousand pains that vision’s face
was grained;
Yet no blood reached there from the upper ground,
And no guns thumped, or down the flues
made moan.
“Strange friend,” I said, “here is no cause
to mourn.”
“None,” said the other, “save the undone years,
The hopelessness. Whatever hope is yours,
Was my life also;
I went hunting wild
After the wildest beauty in the world,
Which lies not calm in eyes, or braided hair,
But mocks the steady running of the hour,
And if it grieves, grieves richlier than here.
For by my glee might many men have laughed,
And of my weeping something had been left,
Which must die now. I mean the truth untold,
The pity of war, the pity war distilled.
Now men will go content with what we spoiled.
Or, discontent, boil bloody, and be spilled.
They will be swift with swiftness of the tigress,
None will break ranks, though nations trek
from progress.
Courage was mine, and I had mystery,
Wisdom was mine, and I had mastery;
To miss the march of this retreating world
Into vain citadels that are not walled.
Then, when much blood had clogged their
I would go up and wash them from sweet wells,
Even with truths that lie too deep for taint.
I would have poured my spirit without stint
But not through wounds; not on the cess of war.
Foreheads of men have bled where no
wounds were.
I am the enemy you killed, my friend.
I knew you in this dark; for so you frowned
Yesterday through me as you jabbed and killed.
I parried; but my hands were loath and cold.
Let us sleep now…”

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