Theme: The family
In a rare personal interview ever granted not long before her death, Mwalimu Julius Nyerere remarked: “If you mismanage raising your children, I don’t think whatever else you do will matter”. For a man whose fame and prestige was impeccable, he considered his family priority number one to everything else. Mwalimu was fully convinced that every family should occupy a privileged place because it is the place where values and virtues are inculcated and cultivated. During the past quarter century the family is facing progressive fragmentation due to 1- increasing rate of divorce; 2- a steady rise in the number of single-parent householders; 3- absent parents because of employment outside their home; 4- mobility of African families who change their residence annually due to economic fatigue causing cultural disintegration. Due to this we have ceased being clear about the standards we hold and the principles by which we judge. We are suffering a cultural breakdown which is undermining education but promoting domestic violence, drug abuse and life in crime. The family seems to be bracing for tougher times ahead unless some divine intervention is sought.
First reading: Sirach 3:2-6, 12-14
Veteran authors advice novice writers to ‘write only what you know’. This is precisely the track followed by Joshua Ben Sira, a wise and experienced Jew who shared the wealth of his knowledge and insight on a variety of topics during the second century B.C/about year180 to his contemporaries. A native of Jerusalem Sirach was prosperous enough to have been well educated in the Tanack, an acronym for the Torah/Law, Nebiim/Prophets and Kethibh/Writings. Ben Sira was also a seasoned teacher and an ambassador who represented Israel abroad cf. Sirach 34:12-13. His journeys afforded him an overabundance of experiences inculcating in him an appreciation of cultures, philosophies and traditions other than his own. As an admired teacher and scribe, Ben Sira operated an academy in Jerusalem cf. Sirach 51:23-39. He shared what he knew on a larger scale through one of the largest of all the biblical books; the work that bears his name Sirach.
In addition to all his other pursuits, Joshua Ben Sira was a family man, a husband, father and grandfather whose values and parenting expertise are clearly evident in his writings. Today’s first reading cf. Sirach 3:1-16 concerns the honor due to parents. Joshua Ben Sira believed that the obligation of honoring a parent was an integral aspect of the life of faith. True religion, meaning, fear of the Lord in all its implications, necessarily involves duties to others, most of all to parents. The cornerstone of biblical ethics found in Exodus 20:12 about honoring father and mother will, promised Ben Sira; bring long life, forgiveness of sins and blessings. Convinced that family bonds endure throughout life, Ben Sira recommended the obligation of honoring parents even when they had grown old, forgetful, feeble and or senile. Love and discipline in a family are great gifts from God which humanity should treasure. As we celebrate family, let us identify our needs and cherish them.
Second reading: Colossians 3: 12-21
When it comes to parenting, there are two kinds of messages which family members impart on one another; hurtful ones, that belittle or diminish them and love-messages that reinforce the other’s goodness creating better possibilities. What a difference a parent can make if they treat a child not as they might be at that moment but as they know they can become. Messages which can build up rather than tear down, messages which coax toward growth rather than crush the spirit, these provide the healthy framework within which mutual love and respect can flourish. It was just such a healthy framework that St. Paul wished to recommend to the Christians at Colossae. In this reading Paul offered sound counsel in regard to interpersonal relationships upon which the family is founded. Without over emphasizing St. Paul recommendations, each one of us is invited to allow virtue speak to our heart.
The word of God prompts us to be “clothed with mercy and to put on love” Colossians 3:12,14 like in our baptismal rite in which as newly initiated catechumens we were vested in white garments as a symbol of the new life into the family of faith in which we have been born. We ought to be ready to put on the mind, heart and spirit of Christ. Because we belong to God, we are called to treat one another with the kindness, humility, patience, meekness, forgiveness and love. This would preclude nagging negative and hurtful messages that erode the fabric of the family and shred the self-esteem of the members. Wives and husbands, parents and children are reminded that “whatever you do, whether in speech or in action, do it in the name of the Lord Jesus” Colossians 3:17. Suffice it to say, that if all family members were to keep this maxim uppermost in mind and heart, the inclination to bicker, berate and/or belittle would probably be seriously curtailed.
Gospel: Luke 2:41-52
Any parent whose child has strayed, even momentarily, from his/her side has known firsthand the gut-wrenching feeling that Mary and Joseph must have experienced during that Passover celebration in Jerusalem. However, we the listeners of Luke’s gospel today are invited to look beyond the trappings of this narrative, moving and educative as they are, in order to discover the evangelist’s real print and purpose. In fact today’s gospel can be identified as a biographical apophthegm/paradigm, meaning, a short story focus upon a central saying. In this narrative, the central statement is Jesus’ question, “Do you not know I had to be in my Father’s house?” Luke 2:49. Through this statement, Luke has made a profound Christological affirmation; indeed the entire Lucan infancy narrative is offered to us as an affirmation to what we may call the Christological gold mime.
In his infancy narratives, Luke has pushed the moment of the revelation of Jesus as God’s Son back from the baptism where Mark presents it “you are my beloved son” Mark 1:11 to the time of Jesus conception and birth. Jesus statement to us, to Mary and Joseph affirms his identity as God’s son and reinforces earlier Christological statements made by Gabriel “he will be called Son of the Most High” Luke 1:32, the angels “for today a Savior has been born for you who is Messiah and Lord” Luke 2:11 and Simeon “my eyes have seen your salvation” Luke 2:30. In this narrative’s central pronouncement, Luke uses the term dei ‘I had to be. . ./ literally meaning, it is necessary’ for the first of many times in his two volume opus of Luke and Acts. A term which denotes a sense of urgency/necessity, dei also communicates Luke’s particular soteriological insights. According to Luke, those events ‘had to be’ dei or were necessary to the saving plan of God made manifest in Jesus. That he had to be in his Father’s house underscores Jesus awareness of his special mission and the special filial relationship with God which carried him through his ministry. Moreover, his acknowledgement that ‘he had to be’, who he was, and where he was also signals his acquiescence to God’s will for him and through him, for others.
By sharing with his audience Mary’s thoughtful response to what had transpired in Jerusalem, Luke offers yet another lesson in discipleship. Without fully comprehending Jesus the events that were unfolding in her family, Mary was willing to believe and trust in the wisdom of God. No doubt it is faith like hers that inspired the prayer of John Cardinal Newman and can still inspire searching struggling families today. . . ‘Lead, kindly light, amid the encircling gloom; lead thou me on. The night is dark and I am far from home; lead thou me on. Keep thou my feet, I do not ask to see the distant scene; one step enough for me. . .’ Ever aware and sensitive to the needs of the people and the signs of the times, the Catholic Church gathers us together today for prayer and celebration of the family. Today is not a time to lament the obvious difficulties which threaten us but to accent the unique and good qualities which every family enjoys. Today is not a day for dredging up an unrepeatable past by reciting the litany of how things used to be ‘when I was your age. . .’ Today, with its newness, affords each family an opportunity to look truthfully and without regret at how things are and then to envision realistically the direction we want to follow.
First, we need to be and build a family on the father, mother and children. We must respect all human beings, but at the same time we need to identify situations with honesty and frankness so as to provide solutions instead of creating more problems. Second, being a family means building it day after day, brick after brick. The family is built with the partnership of all of its members, with each fulfilling his/her duties, a task that requires sacrifice on the part of all. Third, we all need to put in our best to save the family! The family is being attacked from all sides by political scientists, sociologists and activist groups. It is mainly the Catholic Church that has sustained a clear voice that the family must be saved from, infidelity, hedonism (pleasure seeking), selfishness, individualism and wearied categories disoriented groups who camouflage as family when they are not. The model to imitate is the Holy Family of Nazareth. May God protect your family.