Today we celebrate the Feast of the Holy Family of Nazareth, rightly portrayed as a model of virtue, and which will stay so till the end of times. Thanks to their supreme example of faith and love, families in our times too can, against all odds, aspire to grow in wisdom and divine favour, if only we fulfil God’s precepts and labour honourably.

In the First Reading (Gen 15: 1-6, 21: 1-3), Abraham and Sarah are precursors to the Holy Family of Nazareth. Abraham was tenth in the descent from Noah and like him kept the faith. When directed to leave his native Ur of the Chaldees (near present-day Baghdad) for an unknown land, Canaan, Abraham did so ungrudgingly. God promised to make him the father of His people Israel, and they would multiply like the stars of heaven. But since until a decade later he was still childless, his overaged wife, anxious to accomplish the Abrahamic covenant, permitted her Egyptian slave Hagar to sleep with Abraham, and she bore him a child, Ishmael.[1]

When Ishmael was fourteen, Sarah, who was ninety-nine and her husband a centenarian, gave birth to Isaac. It could only happen by Sarah’s faith, as the Second Reading (Heb 11: 8, 11-12, 17-19) emphasises. Years later, the near-sacrifice of the same Isaac on Mount Moriah would be another highpoint, however paradoxical, of the couple’s faithful obedience to God’s Word. How was Abraham expected to sacrifice his only son who was destined to continue the family line? The Letter to the Hebrews states, very perceptively: “He [Abraham] was confident that God had the power even to raise the dead; and so, figuratively speaking, he was given back Isaac from the dead.”

God speaks to us in myriad ways, sometimes in paradoxes, obviously to test our faith. His ways are not our ways; his logic not ours. Yet faith is not blind obedience to random demands from human institutions but a willing surrender to God’s will; it is an interior disposition rooted in the certainty that God who is ever faithful fulfils His promises. Scores of things happen that we fail to make sense of at first; they are not of our making nor to our liking, but there comes a point when everything begins to fall into perspective and we feel at peace. So, if the world mock at us and we feel helpless, let it be; like Chesterton’s Donkey, we ought to keep our secret still.

Today’s Gospel text (Lk 2: 22-40) presents two other wise individuals who lived by faith. To Simeon, the last prophet of the Old Testament, the Holy Spirit had revealed that he would not die before seeing “the consolation of Israel”. So, when he recognised the Messiah on the day of the purification, he sighed: “Lord, now let your servant depart in peace… for my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.” And likewise, the elderly widow Anna spoke of Him to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem.

The ending of today’s text evokes the joy of innocence: “And when they had performed everything according to the law of the Lord, they returned into Galilee, to their own city, Nazareth. And the child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favour of God was upon Him.” It was not their will, but God’s will that mattered. Jesus was above all of the Temple’s structures and rites, yet He submitted Himself to the Mosaic law regarding the first-borns. That is a picture of a religious duty properly fulfilled by parents who can thus serve as living examples of faith and integrity to the younger generations. And Like Mary and Joseph, Simeon and Anna, too, belong to the small remnant of Israel who live their faith in humility and faithfulness to God’s law. In our day and age, alas, we too are a small remnant, aren’t we?

May God grant such gratifying experiences to every parent and child in our menacing world so full of uncertainty and turmoil. Isn’t it absurd that the awful spectre of war should loom over God’s own country that gave birth to the Prince of Peace? But that is a paradox that can be resolved when we seek the theology of history. God forever upholds His covenant with us if we remember, as Abraham and Sarah did, that He is our God and we fulfil the law. They conceived, achieving what two dudes never will, try as they might!

The remarkable example of the Holy Family of Nazareth has never been more pertinent than today. It speaks not to individual families alone but to the world as a whole; and it speaks not to the domestic church alone but to the Universal Church. Let us realise that, even while pious appeals are issued to families to aspire for holiness, the very institution of the Family, which is the basic unit of society, is on the point of being destroyed by the stroke of a Vatican pen…. But we are not to lose hope, for popular wisdom has it that God writes straight with crooked lines.

[1] Ishmael and his mother Hagar left to chart a future of their own.