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Hear the Word! By Bill Ayres: The Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph

familyA reading from the Book of the First Book of Samuel
(Chapter 3:20-22, 24-28)
This is a heart-warming and heartbreaking story, especially for those of us who are parents. Many of us have prayed for a child as Hannah did and were overjoyed when that child was born. I suspect that none of us would do what Hannah did nor would we ever be asked to do so. This story, however, took place thousands of years ago in a different culture. Hannah did what she thought was right and, in a sense, sacrificed the life of her child to God’s service. He did indeed perform great service to God and to God’s people.
Sometimes, we make sacrifices for our children and for others, and make do them with some pain but also with the joy of giving from deep in our hearts.
Responsorial Psalm
(Psalm 128: 1-2, 3, 4-5)
“Blessed are those who fear the Lord and walk in his ways.” The expression “fear the Lord” has been misunderstood for centuries and has been used to frighten and mislead people into both spiritual and emotional illness. The fear of the Lord that the Psalmist is talking about is not the cringing, debilitating fear that drains the joy from people and keeps them from the all-powerful and all-forgiving love of God. The real meaning of the word “fear” in Hebrew is awe and wonder at God’s great power and might.
Are you truly in awe of God, enthralled with his goodness, in wonder of his great creation? Or are you still caught up in the words you may have heard in your childhood: “You better be good, or God will punish you.” How you answer that question may either bring you a powerful sense of God’s peace and protection or encourage that little voice that sometimes in your head that says, “You’re not good enough.”
A reading from the first Letter of Saint John
(Chapter 3:1-2, 21-24)
Saint John is writing to people who have been shunned by their fellow Jews and persecuted by the ruling Roman Empire. These Christians risk their lives every day. What do they have to show for it? First, they are the “children of God.” “They shall be like him.” They “shall see him as he is.” And, “the way that we know that he remains in us is from the Spirit he gave us.” That’s not bad for anyone but especially for people who were on the bottom of the social and economic ladder. Imagine that you are being told that you are like God, that you will see him face to face, and that his very Spirit lives in you right now. That was John’s great message then, and it is ours now. This is what we have been told. This is who we are. God’s Spirit lives in us, now and always.
As we celebrate this feast of the Holy Family, we need not only to look into the past at the family of Jesus but also to look into our own families. We can rediscover the Spirit that can help us heal all our wounds, including those that we inflict on one another. We can celebrate the Spirit-filled family that we are, despite our faults and insufficiencies, and forgive each other as the Father forgives us.
A reading from the holy Gospel according to Luke
(Chapter 2:41-52)
Some years ago, I read a novel about a man who takes his daughter, his only child, to the supermarket and has her sitting in the shopping cart as they reach the checkout. She asks him to take her down and let her stand behind him as he puts the items on the counter. Against his better judgement, he agrees, and when he is finished and turns around, she is gone. He never sees her again even though he spends the rest of his life looking for her.
Losing a child, even for a while, is a horrifying experience. Imagine how Mary and Joseph must have felt. They knew how special Jesus was, and now he was nowhere to be found. How distraught they must have been until they found him in the temple conversing with the teachers.
Mary “kept all these things in her heart” until one day when she lost her son for what may have seemed to her forever. But a short time later she had him back in a new life that he shares with her and offers to share with all of us—life in his presence forever.
Excerpts from the English translation of the Lectionary for Mass © 1969, 1981, 1997, International Commission on English in the Liturgy Corporation (ICEL). All rights reserved.
Bill Ayres was a founder, with the late singer Harry Chapin, of WhyHunger. He has been a radio and TV broadcaster for 40 years and has two weekly Sunday-night shows on WPLJ, 95.5 FM in New York. He is a member of Our Lady Queen of Martyrs Church in Centerport, New York.

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