Mystic Nativity, Botticelli 1501, The National Gallery, London, UK.

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[Simeon said when he took the baby Jesus into his arms] “Now, Master, you may let your servant go in peace, according to your word, for my eyes have seen your salvation, which you prepared in sight of all the peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and glory for your people Israel.” Luke 2:29-32.

Words and phrases highlighted in red are links to supporting materials.

Well Botticelli’s spectacular Mystic Nativity above, and the abundance of choices in today’s Sunday Mass Readings (two choices for the first reading, the psalm and the gospel, and three for the second reading) impress upon the reader that there is an effort going on here not to leave anything out! The quote above, spoken by the old man Simeon, possibly a priest in the Jerusalem Temple, was God fulfilling a promise made to Simeon that he would not see death until he had seen the Christ of God, which is to say, the Anointed One of God. The Latin name for his prayer is the Nunc dimittis and has been said as part of daily night prayer (Compline) for centuries, just as the Benedictus and the Magnificat are said at morning (Lauds) and evening prayer (Vespers). In today’s gospel, Joseph and Mary were obeying Jewish law that required any first born baby boy to be presented to God and “bought back” by a sacrificial offering. That would be two doves for a poor family, as you can see below. The mother would also be “purified” at that time. This is the origin of feast of Candlemas, usually celebrated in February.


The Purification of the Virgin and the Presentation in the Temple, de Morales 1562, The Prado Museum, Madrid, Spain.

All this and Christmas a couple of days ago! It’s hard to figure out where to start. One thing that occurs to me is not mentioned anywhere, and that is the parallelism between the Holy Family and Blessed Trinity. Father, Son and Holy Spirit together constitute God; Joseph, Jesus and Mary are rather like a human representation of that Trinity, remembering that the Holy Spirit in Hebrew and Aramaic has a feminine gender…. We know little about the Holy Family from Scripture, save the situation before, during and a little after Jesus’ birth, and the one incident in the Temple when he was at about the age of reason, and that’s it. But from that, and what the personality of Jesus was like from the gospels, we can with confidence say it was a happy, ordered and accepting household. We are all hostage, as it were, to our early years and how super precious they are from every point of view in moulding who we are. So today we see a family obeying the Jewish law, even apparently  making the arduous journey from Nazareth to the Temple in Jerusalem (64 miles, or 104 kilometers, and on foot if you are a poor family, taking perhaps two days, which is to say four, there and back). The Holy Family certainly seems to have been a loyal, real and noble reflection of the Blessed Trinity. That seems to blend with Sirach and the letter to the Colossians, today’s first choice of the first and second readings. 

Today, the bases of our civilization are being reformed and reshaped. The traditional model of the family seems to be on the way out. A profound equality seems to be taking its place. The old pyramidal model, father on top, wife below and children at the bottom seems to have been replaced by a horizontal model of equality. Now we can see families where there is a “stay at home dad”, for example, unthinkable even a few years ago. Wives now may earn significantly more than their husbands, a reality which is more and more taken as a plus for the family, rather than an insult to masculinity. Children, of course, have to learn how to behave appropriately and safely, which calls for occasional “tough love”, by which I do not mean physical punishment, which is simply bullying under a different name. No, there are many effective ways of disciplining through tough love, and I think of my sister’s family where, as far as I can see, never a blow was given, and her children are now law-abiding, peaceful and productive citizens. and practice the parenting skills evident in their own childhood. Isn’t that a better reflection of the Blessed Trinity? There we find absolute equality between the three persons, as we traditionally call them, united in an eternal bond of absolute love. That love is the reason we are all here, invited to share in it for eternity, as true love is open and welcoming, the bigger the better! So our task here is to try and conform to that love in all its dimensions, whether we be married, single or separated in some way. As God is forgiving, loyal, merciful, one who listens, one who loves freedom and is powerful and one who is open to friendship and relationship, all seen from Scripture, so should we be, as each and every one of us can demonstrate all of those qualities in our lives. Power? you might say. Yes. My favorite example of the fact we are all powerful is this. Ask any young child this question: When you go home today, do you have the power to make your mother’s day one of total misery? Answer: Yes. Or can you make it so nice that she glows with happiness? Answer: Yes. We all have enormous power, and it is to be used as God uses divine power, for the benefit of those around us, which in turn redounds on us. In that way we all live in one family of humanity, created by God and one day to be joined together in eternal joy. After all, “God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). 


Eternal Joy, Scorpio Poetry.

Reflections on next Sunday’s Mass Readings will be posted on Wednesday.

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