in principio

“In Principio Erat Verbum” (In the Beginning Was the Word, John 1:1), inspired by The Winchester Bible c.1150, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City, USA and Pixel Grafica & Design.

Click here for the readings for the Nativity, the Mass for the Day.

Click here for the readings for the Feast of the Holy Family.

[Jesus] went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them;  and his mother kept all these things in her heart. And Jesus advanced in wisdom and age and favor before God and man.   

Words highlighted in red are links to supporting materials.

This feast of the miraculous birth of the Savior is only surpassed by his even more miraculous death and resurrection, the two great pillars of his life story. In between is the reason the Son of God came to us, to demonstrate that God’s teachings and directives are indeed humanly possible, and that we should follow his example in living them out daily, in faith and good will. In doing so we can expect a happy, fulfilled and satisfying life, a foretaste of what to expect after our own death. The juxtaposition of his birth and his upbringing in the Holy Family this weekend provides a double insight into Jesus’ root beliefs and behavior. His birth, of course, is unique, occasioned by the Virgin’s acquiescence in God’s monumental request that she bear the Son of God without human intervention. So Jesus was both man and God. His emphasis, however, seems to have been on the human side, save for the miraculous events usually focused on human misery and pain in order to alleviate them. Jesus never, ever, used this overwhelming power to serve himself, only others. Even under the greatest of all temptations, on the cross itself, being taunted by crowds screaming “if you are the Son of God, come down from that cross” (Matthew 27:40) he did nothing to save himself. The power and talents we each possess must be used to serve other people. That was and is the lesson learned from his life on earth.

Then there is the example of the Holy Family. Consider the gospel of this day, the one and only story of Jesus’ youth. It was Passover time, one of the great Jewish feasts commemorating the release of the Hebrew people from slavery in Egypt to the freedom and hope of the Promised Land. Jesus, unbeknown to his mother and (foster) father, remained in Jerusalem in the Temple conversing with the holy men there. It was three days into the return journey that Mary and Joseph realized he was not with the group of pilgrims from Nazareth returning home. That shows several realities of his upbringing. First, he did not have his guardians breathing down his neck; they trusted him to be doing the right thing at all times. They allowed him a freedom at a young age which could be considered remarkable. On discovering his absence, three days later when they were presumably half way back to Nazareth on foot, they both returned at once to Jerusalem to discover the precocity of their child with the doctors of the Temple, who were impressed by the boy’s knowledge and questions. As a teacher of many years, I knew from a student’s questions in class whether I had a genius on my hands. Or not. The child’s remarkable response that “Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” when asked what had been going on demonstrates a clarity and determination uncommon in one so young. Jesus was clearly aware of his own abilities, the limits to them (hence his questions of the doctors) and his willingness to learn and grow. 

So the linking of the Nativity and Holy Family feasts this weekend allows us to see into the birth and childhood of Jesus, his conception and the way he was being brought up. Divine nature, intelligence, parental freedom and love all figure in his youth. It is a model for all parents it seems. The result will be, in Jesus’ case and after his baptism in adulthood, a man confident in his own abilities and identity, and with a clarity on what he must do throughout his life. That does not spring out of nowhere. The solid bedrock of his youth and how it was guided by loving guardians must provide the answer. That shows even more that those of us who did not enjoy such a background yet rise to become genuine children of God are especially triumphant and beloved of God, becoming truly Christ to the world. So Jesus was indeed blessed in his youth having such people guiding him, allowing him to become the man we all look up to. We, from a galaxy of different backgrounds can all focus on the man he became, and model our lives on his, trusting fully that this is the way to achieve happiness and fulfillment both in this life and the one to come.

Christ in the House of His Parents ('The Carpenter's Shop') 1849-50 by Sir John Everett Millais, Bt 1829-1896
Christ in the House of His Parents (‘The Carpenter’s Shop’), Millais 1850, The Tate Britain, London, UK

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


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