Feast of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph
First Reading: Sirach 3:2-6, 12-14 or 1st Book of Samuel 1:20-22, 24-28
Responsorial Psalm: Psalm 128:1-5 or Psalm 84:2-3, 5-6, 9-10
Second Reading: St. Paul’s Letter to the Colossians 3:12-21 or 1st Letter of St. John 3:1-2, 23-24
Gospel: According to St. Luke 2:41-52
In 1891 Pope Leo XIII issued Rerum Novarum. This encyclical, or worldwide letter, initiated the Church’s teaching on economic and social justice matters in the modern world. The word economics comes from two Greek words (oikos and nomos) and literally means “the law of the house or family,” or, more loosely translated, “the correct running of the household.”
It is fitting that two years later Leo instituted the Feast of the Holy Family, and inserted it into the Roman Calendar on the Sunday after the Feast of the Epiphany. After Vatican II St. Pope Paul VI moved the feast up one week so it is now celebrated between Christmas and the Epiphany.
This feast reminds us that the Holy Family is the model for all families, and that the correct running of a household economy is about so much more than the amount of money left over at the end of the month.
“It’s the economy, stupid!” became the “Where’s the beef?” of the 1992 presidential campaign when Bill Clinton took James Carville’s internal statement of campaign focus and made it the public slogan that he rode to the White House. But for Clinton, Carville, and the millions of Americans who went to the polls to cast their votes it probably never crossed their minds that the economy is much broader than money. And when they asked themselves the gold standard of election clichés, “Are you better off now than you were four years ago?” they probably thought about a very limited understanding of the phrase ‘better off.’
It is always about the economy, but for Catholics it is about the economy of the Holy Family. In that context, any question about being ‘better off’ ultimately comes down to questions of being better. Am I better now than I was four years ago? Is my family better now than it was four years ago? To answer these questions in the affirmative is to be able to answer ‘Yes!’ to the question, “Am I better off than I was four years ago?” no matter what the bank statement says.
The Holy Family did not live in luxury by the standards of the day, and most certainly not by the standards that Madison Avenue sets for us today. We have no indication that at the end of any year they were ‘better off’ than they were the year before, but we do know that their love for each other grew as the years passed. All parents understand the emotions that Mary and Joseph went through as they searched for Jesus, and recognize in those emotions the unconditional love that parents have for their children.
All parents understand the overwhelming sense of relief that Mary and Joseph felt when they found Jesus in the Temple. All parents also understand the question that was asked of Jesus, “Son, why have you done this to us?” We all know that I-am-so-happy-that-you-are-alive-that-I-want-to-kill-you feeling. And we also know that gratitude that we feel because our family, our household, is back as it should be.
In the moment, Mary and Joseph, like all parents, would have given all the money and possessions that they had in order to get their child back. In the moment, the economy is not about what you have, but about who you have. Once they have Jesus back in their family, safe and sound, they certainly are better off than they were. The same goes for us and our families. It is always about the economy and being better off always means having Jesus where he belongs – safe and sound in the heart of our families.