FEAST OF THE HOLY FAMILY

TO WHOM DO WE BELONG?

First Reading : ( Gen 15:1-6; 21:1-3) : God promised Abraham descendents
Second Reading : ( Heb 11: 8, 11-12, 17-19 ) : Faith of Abraham
Gospel : (Lk 2: 22-40 ) : Jesus' circumcision and presentation Simeon and Anna's prophecies
Chinese classics:
My husband 1000 years of age my one desire to wish
Myself in good health the second desire
Like those swallows high on the beam together
Year after year always together.(1)

After eight days had passed, it was time to circumcise the child; and he was called Jesus. When the time came for their purification according to the law of Moses, they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord (as it is written in the law of the Lord, “Every firstborn male shall be designated as holy to the Lord”, and they offered a sacrifice according to what is stated in the law of the Lord, a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons…When they had finished everything required by the law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth. The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favor of God was upon him.” ( Lk 2:21-24;39-40 )

Jesus' parents, Mary and Joseph, were devout Jews. They were simple, honest and sincere, always obeying God's Law. In the above Scripture passage we see how they acted according to the three ancient tenets required by Jewish law: circumcision, offering and redeeming the first-born son and purification.

Circumcision: Every Jewish male child was to be circumcised on the eighth day after birth. “It shall be a sign of the covenant between me (God) and you... my covenant be in your flesh an everlasting covenant.” (Gen 17 :11, 13 ) Accordingly, Jesus accepted to be circumcised because though he was God, Saviour of humankind above all cultures, tribes and religions, he also chose to be fully a Jewish man. Jesus was a Jew. He loved his fellow-tribesmen and later wept over the fate of Jerusalem. Jesus was human and had close friends, Peter, John, the family of Martha and others. He treated others with fairness and sincerity. He loved deeply and was full of compassion for others. He was truly God and truly man, a friend to all, a person full of passion and emotions.

Of course if a person has been circumcised physically, it does not guarantee he absolutely belongs to God. Many Scripture passages emphasize that there must be interior circumcision before we truly and entirely belong to God. (cf. Deut. 30:6; Jer. 9:25; Rom. 2:29) All these passages emphasize one must be circumcised “in heart and soul” before one can truly belong to God and remain loyal to the covenant throughout life.

Redeeming the first-born son: The Jews believed that God is the Lord of life. We come from Him and when we die we return to Him. Therefore the first-born male, whether human or animal, belonged to God. The child who was a free gift from the merciful God, should be offered to God, then received back from God's hands. Jesus is God's Son. In performing this ceremony, Mary and Joseph without doubt were deeply moved. After they had offered Jesus to God, they received back into their home the gift which had come from God originally! They would live with him in a life of love, peace and unity. In this offering and redeeming their hearts were filled with gratitude and hope for happiness.

Purification: According to Jewish custom, after a woman had given birth to a child, she was unclean. She was not allowed to enter the temple or take part in religious rites. When this period was ended she must go to the temple and according to the Law offer a lamb or dove in reparation. If she could not afford a lamb she could substitute a pair of pigeons, which was then termed “the offering of the poor.” Since Mary was poor she presented the poor person’s offering.

This three-fold rite of circumcision, redemption and purification was a sign of deep religious truth, that we all belong to God. God is the Source of all that is, the foundation of all happiness, indeed the foundation of a happy family, as he was the foundation of the “Holy Family,” Jesus, Mary and Joseph.

There is an ancient poem describing Chinese women's devotion to their husbands and their ardent love for them. They considered themselves as nothing, they lived only for their husbands. So during their lifetime they had only three great desires:

My husband 1000 years of age my one desire to wish
Myself in good health the second desire,
Like those swallows high on the beam together
Year after year always together.(1)

Of course, the Holy Family was filled with an incomparable sense of belonging to God and love for God. Any family who live according to God's will for them is a “holy family”, with God at the centre.

We do not know much about Joseph. But if we look at the two events recorded about the early life of Jesus, his taking Mary as his wife even though he did not understand about Jesus' conception, and again when in a dream he was told to flee to Egypt with Mary and the Child, it is enough to see that he was a man who trusted in God and obeyed Him totally.

Mary's “I am the handmaid of the Lord, be it done unto me according to thy word.” is the supreme model of humankind's submission to God. As for Jesus, Paul described him as a person who “humbled himself, becoming obedient until death, even to death on a cross.” His obedience to his Father was total, absolute submission!

I have seen some Catholic families who display a plaque upon which is written, “God is the Lord of our Family,” or “Christ is the Lord of our Family.” These are surely holy families who place God at their centre!

(1) 一願郎君千歲,二願妾身常健,三願如同梁上燕,歲歲長相見。