Even if we come from broken, dysfunctional families, deep down we recognize that we are made for family. Family is the school of love - the place we learn that vital virtue: patience. By way of contrast it's relatively easy to love friends. After all we choose our friends. Regarding family, we simply find ourselves thrown into a mix: father, mother, older sister, younger brother, dog and cat - then later sister-in-law, nephew and for lucky ones - grandchild.
This yearning for family is expressed in one of the most popular films ever made. I mentioned it on Christmas Eve: Lord of the Rings. One of the reasons people cherish Lord of the Rings is because of the Fellowship, that diverse group: 4 hobbits, two men, a dwarf, an elf and Gandalf in front - the wizard with his staff. The Fellowship brings together people who would normally keep their distance. It's a odd family.
We desire family, we long for family yet there's something more important than family. Jesus brings it home dramatically in today's Gospel. After the Feast of Passover, when he is 12 years old, Jesus stays behind in Jerusalem. This causes his parents "great anxiety" as they search three days. With Mary we can ask, "Why have you done this?" His response sounds uncomfortably like a modern adolescent: "Why were you looking for me?" Didn't you know...?"
However, rather than read this like 21st century Americans, we have to put ourselves back in 1st century Palestine. If family is important to us, it was supreme for them. So much so it could become an idol. We know Jesus would later say shocking things like "If anyone comes after me without hating father and mother...he cannot be my disciple." Today, rather than apologizing to Mary and Joseph, he says, "I must be in my Father's house." Yes, Jesus belongs to Mary and Joseph, but first he belongs to God.
So do we all. For sure we belong to each other as families, members of a parish or a nation - but in the final analysis, we belong to God. With Jesus we belong in the Father's House.
To acknowledge that one's child belongs to God is not easy. We have the example of Hannah. She and her husband longed for a child, prayed for a child. Her husband tried to comfort her by saying, "Am I not more to you than ten sons?" The Bible doesn't record her answer, but we know she kept praying and God heard her prayer.She conceived a son whom she named Samuel. You can imagine their joy.
They might have clung to that child with all their might. But they didn't. After nursing Samuel for three years (as was the practice in biblical times) she takes the boy to the Temple in Shiloh to dedicate him to the Lord. Hannah's son would play a crucial role in the time between the Judges and the Kingdom of David. Hannah is a popular name today. Well, she is one of the most valiant women of the Bible.
We want to now follow the example of Hannah and make a dedication to the Lord. We will do it by consecrating our families to the Holy Family. Our Knights of Columbus have made available prayer cards for this act of consecration. I will ask you to join me in saying it at the conclusion of the prayers of the faithful. I encourage you take the card home and gather your family for this consecration. You could do it around your dining table - or in front of a crucifix or a sacred image.
What if your children are grown? Maybe they have children of their own. Maybe they are in the middle of some difficulty or have drifted from the faith - or even rejected the faith outright. It's never too late to make an act of consecration - like Hannah to entrust your child to the Lord. Say the prayer of consecration with your spouse - or if you are alone, come to the chapel or to a prayer corner in your home.
Next Sunday, Feast of the Epiphany, may be a good moment- before children head back to school. I encourage you to use the days after New Years for a three-day fast. Please see the bulletin for suggestions. Prayer joined to fasting has great power.
The best thing you and I can do for our families is to bring them in prayer to Jesus. Ultimately we belong with him in the Father's house. Amen.