Franciscan Friar Fr. Paul Gallagher reflects on the Gospel text for the Feast of the Holy Family Jesus, Mary and Joseph. Can you recall ways that the culture and values of your parents affected how you were raised?
The content is edited by Franciscan Sister of Christian Charity Sister Anne Marie Lom and Joe Thiel. The excerpts from the Sunday readings are prepared by Joe Thiel. To read or download the complete pdf with excerpts for your prayer, please click here Franciscan Gospel Reflection Dec 31 2023. Excerpts are from the Lectionary for Mass for Use in the Dioceses of the United States of America, second typical edition © 2001, 1998, 1997, 1986, 1970 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Inc., Washington, DC. Used with permission. All rights reserved. No portion of this text may be reproduced by any means without permission in writing from the copyright owner. Photos: Holy Family Convent, Manitowoc, Wisconsin, St. Francis Chapel and Motherhouse hallway
When the days were completed for their purification according to the law of Moses, they took him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord, just as it is written in the law of the Lord, “Every male that opens the womb shall be consecrated to the Lord,” and to offer the sacrifice of “a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons,” in accordance with the dictate in the law of the Lord.
Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon. This man was righteous and devout, awaiting the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he should not see death before he had seen the Messiah of the Lord. He came in the Spirit into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus to perform the custom of the law in regard to him, he took him into his arms and blessed God, saying: “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.” The child’s father and mother were amazed at what was said about him; and Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother, “Behold, this child is destined for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be contradicted (and you yourself a sword will pierce) so that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.”
There was also a prophetess, Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was advanced in years, having lived seven years with her husband after her marriage, and then as a widow until she was eighty-four. She never left the temple, but worshiped night and day with fasting and prayer. And coming forward at that very time, she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were awaiting the redemption of Jerusalem.
When they had fulfilled all the prescriptions of 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.
The Gospel text presents a picture of the faithfulness of Joseph and Mary. In the first verses of the second chapter of his Gospel, Luke tells his community that Joseph and Mary went to Nazareth to be enrolled in order to fulfill the decree of Caesar Augustus (Luke 2:1-5). Just as Joseph and Mary are faithful fulfilling the command of the civil authorities, here they are also faithful fulfilling their religious requirements of purification. In this text, Luke states five times that Joseph and Mary are acting to fulfill the law. (Verses 22, 23, 24, 27, and 39)
The Jews believed that the blood contained the life force of a person and of animals, which it belonged to God, and that it was sacred. Therefore, all contact with blood was avoided and treated with a special reverence. When that separation was not preserved, the people and the object that came in contact with the blood needed to be ritually purified. Naturally, both birth and death became the focus of purification practices. Another belief within the Jewish tradition was that the first-born son belonged to God. That special relationship was acknowledged by the requirement to offer a sacrifice to God for every first-born male child that was born. A poor couple were to offer a pair of pigeons or turtledoves, those who could afford to were to offer a sheep or goat as an acknowledgement of God’s claim on the child.
In the text, Joseph and Mary have taken Jesus the temple to make the necessary offerings in fulfillment of requirements associated with these two beliefs. While they are there, they encounter Simeon and Anna. This encounter probably takes place in the outer courtyard of the temple where women are permitted. When Simeon addresses Mary, he is breaking the code of conduct that prohibits contact and separates men and women, especially in public, this and draws attention to the encounter. Both Simeon and Anna are described as people who had spent much of their lives waiting for the day of fulfillment. Anna is one of a very few prophetesses who are mentioned in the scriptures. But they recognized the presence of the Christ in Jesus, even as an infant, as he is brought to the temple. While it is not directly stated, it is implied that the religious officials, who would have been about the temple area, did not recognize God’s presence within the child.
- Can you recall ways that the culture and values of your parents affected how you were raised?
- How did you feel about those aspects then?
- Do you think you appreciate the importance that your parents’ values had on shaping the person you are today?
- How are you feeling now, reflecting on how the culture and its values affected how Mary and Joseph raised Jesus?
- Luke describes both Simeon and Anna as having waited with prayer and fasting for many days, weeks, and even years for the coming of God’s anointed. What role does this faithful waiting have in the ability of Simeon and Anna to recognize the presence of God in the child that Joseph and Mary have brought this day to the temple?
- What other examples of faithful waiting are present in the scriptures?
- Are there times of faithful waiting also present in your own life?
- What is the Church telling us about our relationship with God and one another by having us reflect on this story of Joseph and Mary’s encounter with Simeon and Anna on the feast of the Holy Family?
- The last verses of the Gospel suggest that Joseph, Mary, and Jesus returned to their home and lived lives that would appear common for poor Jewish families of the day. Can you talk with God now about your life, your upbringing, and how you feel about God being present in your own life?