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 Christ 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.
Today the Church celebrates the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph. It is a day to reflect on the family as God’s means by which redemption is brought to the world in history. Adam and Eve were the first couple and, after the Fall, began having children and creating their own family. Sin prevailed, however, but God destroyed sinners and saved the human race through Noah and his family. Then it was Abraham and Sarah (the first and second readings today from Genesis and Hebrews respectively speak of God’s blessings to Abraham and Abraham’s faith in God) who brought forth the family of the Patriarchs of Israel, through whom the twelve tribes, the sons of Jacob, would become God’s people Israel. The Ten Commandments God gave to Moses on Mt. Sinai command that children honor their father and their mother. The Song of Songs praises the love shared by husband and wife, and the prophet Hosea speaks and lives God’s truth that marriage and family are a sign of God’s love for His people.
It only makes sense, then, that God would bring forth the Savior of the world into the world by way of a family. Mary consented and Joseph submitted to God’s will to bring forth and raise His Son in their family, to teach Him the law and the prophets, to teach Him to pray and to read the Holy Scriptures – all of this that Jesus might grow in wisdom and understand of His favor before God and His mission of redemption. Just as Jesus’ first catechesis was taught to Him by His mother and foster father, so it is for all Christian parents to be the first educators of the faith to our children.
We teach the faith by instruction, of course. We must be prepared and willing to present the faith to our children in a way they can understand, to answer their questions, but also to take the initiative and approach them for the purpose of instruction. Just as important, of course, are lessons learned by way of example. We must be models of faith, of prayer, of virtue, and of good deeds. Our children will learn little of our instruction, or even reject it as false, if it isn’t backed up by the example of our lives. Mary and Joseph were models of faith and submission to God’s will for them. So it must be with every Christian parent.
As a father, I want to address fathers in particular. Studies recommend that the factor that is the greatest predictor of a child who goes to church becoming an adult who goes to church is this: Did the father go to church? If the father goes to church, two-thirds of children who go to church will become adults who go to church. If the father does not go to church, that number falls below five percent! Does this mean that, if a father does not go to church, his children are lost? No! Of course not! I am proof of that. In the last years of his life, my father rarely took us to church. Yet, the impression made in my most early years held fast, and I retained some kernel of faith that, later in my teen years, managed to take root and blossom. What it does mean is that fathers must stand up and take responsibility with their wives of raising their children in the faith. Too often, fathers leave this work to others, to their wives, or their pastors, or the Catholic school. That is not enough. The instruction and example of the father is critical for their children becoming strong in the faith and filled with wisdom. Do not neglect this! We will answer to God for it, just as St. Joseph did so willingly and well.
Be Christ for all. Bring Christ to all. See Christ in all.