On Christmas at the day mass, we heard some of the most mysterious and profound words ever written when John stated in the Prologue to his Gospel that The Word was God, existing from the beginning . . . all things were made through him, and without him nothing that is was made . . . and the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us. Each of these phrases taken separately is replete with information suggestive of insight into timeless truths all of which transcend merely human reason, even while being consistent with reason. To believe them is to surrender our very self to their appeal for acceptance and so to enlarge the horizon of our consciousness and sharpen the sensitivity of our inner senses. We enter into a new dimension of reality, a world that is essentially spiritual, and are changed by that contact.
The texts of today’s readings serve as a complement to the Johanine Prologue in that they dwell on the more human dimension of the Word, dwelling on his experience within a uniquely wholesome and loving family. Family relations and experiences have had such an influence on each of us here that we cannot fully separate, even in thought, our sense of self from our closest family members. We become who we are in large measure by interacting with our parents and close relatives and the environment they create for us. Recent studies in molecular genetics reinforce this insight into human psychology and sociology. The way our genes and the structures they give rise to, function depends not only on their original chemical structure, but also on their interaction with their environment. The very pathways of our emotions and the connections they establish with images and words are a function of daily experience.
Jesus experienced himself as a member of a human family. It is obvious at every stage of his life that he enjoyed a unique sense of self-assurance and was extraordinarily free of dependence on approval of others. If he sought their approval it was for the sake of his mission to make the Father known and loved, and so for the sake of others, not from his own need. We find him affirming this already at the age of twelve: “Why did not look for me? Did you not know I must be about my Father’s business?” And yet, he returned to Nazareth and was subject to Mary and Joseph. Obviously, his subjection was a free choice and enhanced his capacity for freedom; it was not from the necessity imposed by mere dependence. Submission given to appropriate authority in freedom is the fruit of love and enhances the capacity for love and induces love in the ones obeyed. That this kind of behavior characterized the life within the Holy Family is shown by every reference to their live together.
We honor Jesus, Mary, and Joseph today in this Feast of the Holy Family so as to give recognition to this pure, selfless love that they shared among themselves. We draw closer to them as we realize how their experience of our human condition reflects our own, not only when we were young and at home, but throughout our life. The daily, seemingly uneventful happenings that constitute most of our life are given a distinction and a significance that transcend the circumstances in which they take place. Life is lived beyond the banal surface of our interactions in the measure that we imitate the faith, the selfless mutual relations of the Holy Family, and the mutual concern for the best interests of one another in their ordinary exchanges. To strive after interior independence, to relate to one another from desire to serve their best interests, even when our intent is misunderstood or taken for granted is to grow in the capacity for true love, based on faith that each of us belongs to God and is made for life with him. It is this feature of the life of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph that we wish to imitate. By taking their example to heart day by day and renewing each day our effort to follow their example we best honor them and show our appreciation for all they give us. In persevering in this interior work of the heart we prepare our self to share with them that life in the Spirit of God which is our hope and our goal.
Abbot John Eudes Bamberger
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