Feast of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, Year C
Sunday Within the Octave of Christmas
1 Samuel 1:20-22. 24-28
1 John 3:1-2. 21-24
The Hearts of Grandmothers
The life of families, like that of the Church, is, more often than not, carried in the arms of women and held against their hearts. In Ukraine and elsewhere in Eastern Europe, during the years of Soviet Communist repression, faith and family were held together by a silent but formidable army of church-going little grandmothers, poor women content to pour out their hearts for their husbands, their children, and their grandchildren, weeping and groaning before the holy icons in their temples.
Holy Hannah in today’s first reading is the prototype of all the women who weep and pray in the temples of the world, saving it from annihilation. Hannah is familiar to us; we sing her canticle at Lauds in the Divine Office. Humiliated by her childlessness, the dreaded curse of all women in the Old Testament, Hannah went on pilgrimage to Shiloh. There, “deeply distressed,” she prayed to the Lord and wept bitterly and loudly, disturbing even the priest Eli (1 Sam 1:10-18). God heard her plea and, counting her tears, gave her a son, Samuel. Hannah vowed to give back to God the child received from God “that he may appear in the presence of the Lord and abide there forever” (1 Sam 1:22). And so it is, that Samuel, God’s gift to Hannah, becomes Hannah’s offering to God. “I have made him over to the Lord,” she declares, “for as long as he lives” (1 Sam 1:28).
Little Samuel, “appearing in the presence of the Lord and abiding there forever” (1 Sam 1:22) is a figure of Christ who ministers “in the sanctuary and the true tent which is set up not by man but by the Lord” (Heb 8:2). Hannah is a figure of the Virgin Mother Mary, a figure of the Church, a figure of every one who, with faith and hope, sheds bitter tears in the presence of the Lord.
The Responsorial Psalm emphasizes that praise is the outstanding characteristic of those who dwell in the house of the Lord. “Blessed are they who dwell in your house! Continually they praise you” (Ps 83:4). This is true of the house of Nazareth in which the Praise of the Father dwelt in the flesh. It is true of the Church. It is also true of the monastery in which Christ dwells. Uninterrupted praise is a sign of the abiding presence of Christ in our midst. If praise is to flourish among us we cannot go around locked in introspection, moaning over ourselves and grumbling about others; we have to seek Christ in the eyes of those whom God has given us to love. Every human relationship, every friendship, every situation of life together, is potentially sacramental, that is, charged with grace, and where grace abounds, praise flourishes irrepressible.
The Household of God
In the Second Lesson, Saint John tells us that the Father has given us His love; we are His children (1 Jn 3:1), the cherished members of His household, the family of God. Saint Benedict sets up the monastery as the household of God; the perfection of life together in the monastery is liberation from fear. We don’t always get that piece of the Benedictine paradigm quite right. Fear causes one to lie or at least to dissimulate what one is really thinking. Fear is at the root of the scheming and whispering, the possesiveness and unwillingness to change that so often poison life together. In monastic communities, as in marriages and friendships, fear is the silent killer. Saint Benedict is clear: if we persevere in climbing the ladder of humility in the context of life together, we will arrive, through the Holy Spirit, at “the love of God which, being perfect, drives out all fear” (RB 7:67-68).
The Child Jesus in the Temple
The holy Gospel brings us back to a temple, no longer that of Shiloh as in the first reading, but that of Jerusalem, and to a mother, not Hannah, but the Virgin Mary. Again there is a boy, not Samuel, but Jesus. And again there is an irrevocable “making over,“ we would say dedication or consecration, of the boy to God. In the first reading it is Hannah who declares that Samuel is to remain in the temple at Shiloh. “I will bring him, that he may appear in the presence of the Lord, and abide there forever” (1 Sam 1:22). In the Gospel, although Jesus is brought to the Temple by Mary His mother and by Joseph, it is Jesus himself who probes their understanding of His mystery, “Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” (Lk 2:49).
This question of the child Jesus is ultimately resolved by Saint Luke in the very last sentence of his Gospel: “And they returned to Jerusalem with great joy, and were continually in the temple blessing God” (Lk 24:52). The probing question of the child Jesus reveals the destiny of His Church. Like Jesus at the age of twelve, the members of the mystical Body “must be in their Father’s house” (cf. Lk 2:49), “continually in the temple blessing God” (Lk 24:52). Here we are given a lasting portrait of the Church, of the home, of the monastery — all images of the Father’s house.
In My Father’s House
As always, the Word sends us to the heart of the God’s house, to the altar. There we stand upright and free from fear, made bold by the Holy Spirit, in the presence of the Father. At the altar, the Church, receiving Christ, fulfills the figure of Hannah receiving Samuel. At the altar, the Church offering Christ, fulfills the prayer of Hannah over Samuel, “I will bring him that he may appear in the presence of the Lord and abide there forever” (1 Sam 1:22). At the altar, all are gathered into the Father’s house, the Mystical Body of communicants fulfilling the mysterious word of the Child, “I must be in my Father’s house” (Lk 2:49). Therefore, He says in another place, “With a great desire have I desired to eat this passover with you” (Lk 22:15).
Today’s beautiful photos are from George Strickland’s Flickr site, “About Directions to Orthodoxy.”