Saturday, December 20, 2008


December 28, 2008, Year B

The Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph

Reflections on the Readings

By Dennis Hankins

Theme: Family

Simeon said to Mary, a sword will pierce your own soul.

Conforming to the requirements of the law, 40 days after giving birth, Mary and Joseph took Jesus to the Temple in Jerusalem.  They did this to 'present him to the Lord.' Mary's purification as with all Jewish women, culminates in the giving of a sacrifice.  It has nothing to do with any moral failure or guilt.  This performance of the law speaks of the end of a legal impurity.  

Bringing the offering of the poor, either 2 turtledoves or 2 pigeons, the Holy Family also offer Jesus unto the Lord.  The picture this presents is potent.  Together we see that old things are passing away and the new is dawning.

Every Mother hopes that someone will see something special about her children.  Simeon certainly startled the holy couple with his gracious words he spoke about Jesus.  And Simeon blessed the couple.  Then looking right into Mary's eyes he describes events that will thirty years later try her soul.

Imagine being told your son will not be popular.  Many parents live and die with the aspiration that their son or daughter will be accepted.  Heaven forbid that one's child will not be popular, good looking, and making the best grades, excelling in every way and receiving the highest honors.  Such is the pressure many mom's and dad's exert upon their youngsters.  

But Mary.  Mary hears that people will be divided in their acceptance of her son.  Many will take sides; some will be for him and others will be violently opposed to him.  He will be a sign spoken against.  Some like Simeon will see in Jesus their salvation, a light for them and the Gentiles, the very glory of Israel.  But that salvation, that light, that glory will come at a great sacrifice, the sacrifice of him Mary and Joseph presented to the Lord.  And a sword will pierce the heart of Mary.

It is Mary who will be with him at his first miracle; turning water into wine at the wedding of Cana in Galilee.  It will be Mary who witnesses his last miracle; Jesus dying for the life of the world.  And a sword will pierce the heart of Mary.

From beginning to end, Mary unites herself to the Word made flesh. The thoughts of many will be revealed, but Mary will ponder most things in her heart.  When the sword pierced his side, blood and water came forth, only then did she fully understand Simeon's words, "A sword will pierce through your own soul also."  

On one occasion, a woman in the crowd shouted out to Jesus, "Blessed is the womb that bore you, and the breasts that you sucked!"  Jesus responded, "Blessed are those who hear the word of God and keep it."  Jesus' words pay tribute to the womb that bore him and the breasts that gave him milk.  For Jesus knew his Mother had both heard the word of the Lord and faithfully kept it with all of her heart.  Mary was indeed blessed on both counts.  

Jesus, Mary and Joseph were a close knit family.  Mary and Joseph had survived the wagging tongues of accusation.  For when Mary was betrothed to Joseph, she was found to be with child of the Holy Spirit.  "A sword was already beginning to prick her soul."

Herod, a maniac ruler who even killed family members he suspected of disloyalty, lashed out at the Holy Family.  Fearing the rise of a new King, Herod in a furious rage, ordered the killing of all the male children in Bethlehem and region who were two years old or under.  "A sword pursued the Holy family."  Gloriously protected through angelic direction, the Holy family lived to face the "sword" another day.

Pilot will initiate the final sword.  It will descend into the heart of hearts and the Mother of all mother's.  With no brothers or sisters, Jesus looks down from the cross and entrusts his Mother and ours into the care of John, the Beloved.  It is John who had leaned on Jesus' breast at the last Supper.  It was Mary's breasts upon which Jesus had been fed.  And now a "sword will release the church from the heart of Jesus."  Water and blood spew forth from the heart of Jesus, birthing the sacraments of Baptism and Eucharist; sacraments of the Church.  "A sword pierces the soul of Mary, whose heart had pondered the many things her son had said and done."  

The Holy Family continues today in the great family of the redeemed from every tribe and tongue under heaven.  In the midst of trial, torture and martyrdom, this Holy Family has endured affliction, famine and sword.  Although our warfare is not of this world, our sword is the Spirit and our Gospel is peace.  

It is the love and affection each member has for the other that helps us endure with patience.  Forgiving one another and bearing each other's burdens we fulfill the law of Christ.  From the Cross Jesus forgave those who wielded the sword.  Let us embrace the same power.       

May your family have the faith, courage and love of Jesus, Mary and Joseph.  

Let us pray: Dear Jesus, thank you for the family you chose before all time.  First you chose Mary and Joseph.  Then you chose me. Unite all your family; make us one.  Amen.        


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