Feast of the Holy Family – Cycle B
Note: Where a Scripture text is underlined in the body of this
discussion, it is recommended that the reader look up and read that
The Feast of the Holy Family honors the family group of Jesus, Mary and
Joseph. This feast developed only in the 17th century. Built on the
Gospel accounts, this family is looked upon as an excellent domestic
unit representing the ideal family life. To promote family life and
build up devotion to the Holy Family, a feast was established for the
Universal Church in 1921 (under Pope Benedict XV), and it is currently
celebrated on the Sunday after Christmas or on December 30 when
Christmas falls on Sunday. There is an optional set of readings for the
1st and 2nd Readings, both are presented here.
1st Reading - Sirach 3:2-7, 12-14
Israelite wisdom, like the wisdom of other peoples, was the product of
the scribal schools and the scribal class; this class first appeared
under the monarchy and followed Egyptian models in administration and
procedure. Wisdom is gained by counsel and instruction (Proverbs 1:5;
12:15; 13:14; 19:20f), and the young man is frequently admonished to
accept instruction. Wisdom comes from association with the wise
(Proverbs 13:20). The tradition of wisdom begins with primordial man
(Ezekiel 28:12). The wise man accepts correction and instruction
(Proverbs 9:8ff; 21:11); he is always learning, where the fool refuses
Israelite wisdom was modified by its relation to faith in Yahweh, which
gives it a character of its own. Both Egypt and Mesopotamia had gods
who were venerated for their wisdom, but these gods were specialists.
Yahweh alone is truly wise; His wisdom is exhibited in creation
(Proverbs 3:19; Job 38- 39).
Wisdom is a treasure which men cannot discover, for it is found only
with God, who grants it to men. The wisdom of God is seen not only in
His creation but in His management of human history (Job 12:13).
Wisdom, while learned from tradition, is ultimately a gift of Yahweh
The wisdom literature alone in the Old Testament directs attention
explicitly to the problems of the individual person; it is free of
peculiarly national traits and of messianism. Its merit is that it does
draw attention to the importance of the business of daily life of the
man who is not very important, and its emphasis on the fact that life
is unity and integrity which must be preserved from the disintegration
of folly is not misplaced.
Today we hear Sirach tell us that fidelity to parents (the 4th commandment) is fidelity to Yahweh.
2 For the LORD sets a father in honor over his children; a
mother’s authority he confirms over her sons. 3 He who honors his
father atones for sins;
This goes beyond the 4th commandment which promises long life (Exodus 20:12).
4 he stores up riches who reveres his mother. 5 He who honors his
father is gladdened by children, and when he prays he is heard. 6 He
who reveres his father will live a long life; he obeys the LORD who
brings comfort to his mother. 12 My son, take care of your father when
he is old; grieve him not as long as he lives. 13 Even if his mind
fail, be considerate of him; revile him not in the fullness of your
strength. 14 For kindness to a father will not be forgotten, firmly
planted against the debt of your sins -- a house raised in justice to
This is a commentary on the 4th commandment (Exodus 20:12). Fidelity to this commandment also atones for sins.
Optional 1st Reading - Genesis 15:1-6; 21:1-3
After the fall of our first parents, God announced that a savior would
redeem mankind from the power of Satan. One of the first steps toward
the fulfillment of this promise was God’s choice of Abram (later
renamed Abraham), whose faith would make him the father of a great
people. God told Abram “Go forth from the land of your kinsfolk
and from your father’s house to a land that I will show you. I
will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your
name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who
bless you and curse those who curse you. All the communities of the
earth shall find blessing in you” (Genesis 12:1-3). This is a
three-fold promise of blessing: 1) Nationhood; 2) Name (which is
dynasty or kingdom); and 3) Worldwide blessing. Our reading of today is
the actions immediately preceding the formation of a covenant with God
concerning the first promise, a covenant which is fulfilled in Moses;
the second promise is sealed by covenant in Genesis 17:1-19, a covenant
which is fulfilled in David; and the third promise is sealed by
covenant in Genesis 22, a covenant which finds fulfillment in Jesus the
15:1 Some time after these events, this word of the LORD came to Abram
in a vision: “Fear not, Abram! I am your shield; I will make your
reward very great.” 2 But Abram said, “O Lord GOD, what
good will your gifts be, if I keep on being childless and have as my
heir the steward of my house, Eliezer?”
It was socially and legally acceptable at the time for childless
parents to appoint as their heir either an adopted son or the child of
a concubine. The name Eliezer means “God his help.”
3 Abram continued, “See, you have given me no offspring, and so
one of my servants will be my heir.” 4 Then the word of the LORD
came to him: “No, that one shall not be your heir; your own issue
shall be your heir.”
God rejects the possibility of adopting Eliezer in order to have an
heir and instead states that Abram shall father a son. At this time
Abram is about 85 years old and Sari, his wife, is no spring chicken
5 He took him outside and said: “Look up at the sky and count the
stars, if you can. Just so,” he added, “shall your
descendants be.” 6 Abram put his faith in the LORD, who credited
it to him as an act of righteousness.
This is not salvation by faith alone, Abram has been obedient to God
since Genesis 12 when he was told to leave the home of his kinfolk.
Abram’s obedience to his faith in God is what merits credit as an
act of righteousness. In between where this verse leaves off and where
we rejoin the narrative in Chapter 21, Abram sires a son through
Sari’s maidservant Hagar (means “flight” or
“stranger”) who is also rejected by God, thus rejecting the
second possibility of creating an heir through a concubine.
21:1 The LORD took note of Sarah as he had said he would; he did for her as he had promised.
At this point Abraham (Abram’s and Sari’s names were changed in Chapter 17) is 100 years old.
2 Sarah became pregnant and bore Abraham a son in his old age, at the
set time that God had stated. 3 Abraham gave the name Isaac to this son
of his whom Sarah bore him.
The name Isaac means “laughter.” When Abraham had been told
by God a year earlier that he and Sarah would be parents of a son,
Sarah laughed (Genesis 18:10-15).
2nd Reading - Colossians 3:12-21
The purpose of Colossians was to bolster the faith of the community and
correct errors reported about the church in Colossae. False teachers
are at work in the community and since these false teachers are charged
with “not holding to the head”, the errors must have arisen
within the community. Jewish and pagan elements seem to be interwoven.
The Jewish influence is evident in the references to observing
suggested days, season, circumcision, and other Jewish practices
(Colossians 2:16-17). In some circles of Judaism there was a strong
belief in the mediatorship and power of the angels. The Qumran
community attached a great deal of importance to the angel’s
names and their roles in the affairs of the world.
The pagan influences at work in Colossae are reflected in beliefs that
certain “elements of the world” or angelic beings were in
control of the universe (Colossians 2:8,20). These “elements of
the world” were a series of intermediaries between God and the
universe. Each was considered to contain part of the “fullness of
the Godhead” (Colossians 1:19; 2:9). They were the cause of
creation (Colossians 1:15-17). They also shared control over various
areas of the earth and over the destinies of men.
Paul had to counter the dangerous tendencies by pointing out the
all-sufficiency of Christ in His role in the universe. He had to point
out that the “fullness of the Godhead” was not shared by a
multitude of intermediaries: all the fullness of God and His power was
in Christ himself (1:19; 2:3,9). By His death on the cross, Christ had
won a victory over all the forces that were considered to control the
universe. In Old Testament wisdom literature Paul found proof that the
whole universe had been created and directed by the wisdom of God from
the beginning; now this wisdom had been fully revealed in Christ
In our reading today we hear Paul tell us some of the general principles for a life in Christ.
12 Put on, as God’s chosen ones, holy and
beloved, heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and
When you were baptized, you clothed yourself in Christ. This is a brief
description of that clothing. These terms (chosen, holy, beloved) were
also used in the Old Testament to describe Israel. As a baptized
Christian they have entered the new Israel, a community of God’s
people – their relations to one another should reflect this.
13 bearing with one another and forgiving one
another, if one has a grievance against another; as the Lord has
forgiven you, so must you also do.
Forgive as you have been forgiven. The petition of the Lord’s
Prayer (Matthew 6:12) may be in Paul’s mind (see Ephesians 4:32).
14 And over all these put on love, that is, the bond of perfection.
In verse 12 Paul told us to clothe ourselves in the attributes of
Christ. Now we put on love (agape) as the final garment which covers
all the others and binds them together. In the Sermon on the Mount,
God’s great universal love is the supreme model for man “Be
perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48).
“Now what Paul wishes to say is that there is no benefit in those
things, for all those things fall apart, unless they are done with
love. This is the love that binds them all together. Whatever good
thing it is that you mention, if love be absent, it is nothing, it
melts away. The analogy is like a ship; though its rigging be large,
yet if it lacks girding ropes, it is of no service. Or it is similar to
a house; if there are no tie beams, of what use is the house? Think of
a body, Though its bones be large, if it lacks ligaments, the bones
cannot support the body. In the same way, whatever good our deeds
posses will vanish completely if they lack love.” [Saint John
Chrysostom (ca. A.D. 400) Homilies on the Epistle to the Colossians 9]
15 And let the peace of Christ control your hearts,
the peace into which you were also called in one body.
This is a vivid portrayal of the compact community of brothers in Christ, who is the source of unity, peace and harmony.
And be thankful.
For this one body, this community (common-unity), they must always be thankful.
16 Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, as in all wisdom you teach and admonish one another,
The presence of Christ in the community will manifest itself by a wise
use of words and song to encourage one another.
singing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God.
As used here, this points out that even the singing is used for
instruction of the community (one another). The instruction is for the
whole community – they all have mutual responsibilities.
17 And whatever you do, in word or in deed, do
everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the
Father through him.
Christians must recognize Jesus as Lord both in word and in action. In
words, they will show this recognition best when they call upon Him in
prayer as Lord. For Paul and the early Church, to say “do it in
the name of the Lord” was a way of designating Christians. In the
Old Testament “those who call on the name of the Lord: was a
designation of sincere and pious Israelites; in the New Testament it is
transferred to Christians (1 Corinthians 1:2; Acts 9:14), and the
object of it is Christ. The title once reserved for Yahweh has been
transferred to Christ. “No one comes to the Father, but by
Me” (John 14:16).
18 Wives, be subordinate to your husbands, as is proper in the Lord.
The husband is to be the spiritual head of the household. 1 Peter 3:1-6
expresses this same sentiment where the underlying assumption is that
the wife is Christian and the husband is pagan – she is to win
him over through Christian obedience. Ephesians 5:22-24 again says the
same where the assumption is that both husband and wife are Christian.
The root of this teaching is Genesis 3:16 and it is echoed again in 1
19 Husbands, love your wives, and avoid any bitterness toward them.
This theme is also expanded and expounded in 1 Peter 3:7 and Ephesians
5:25-31. God gave Eve to Adam as his inseparable companion and
compliment (Genesis 2:18); she was therefore duty-bound to live in
peace and with him. Man and woman have different, although
complimentary, roles in family life; they are equal in dignity. The
family needs a center of authority, and that authority belongs to the
husband, in accordance with God’s design (1 Corinthians
“Observe again that Paul has exhorted husbands and wives to
reciprocity. As with wives toward husbands, here too he enjoins fear
and love. For it is possible for one who loves to be bitter. What Paul
says then is this: Don’t fight; for nothing is more bitter than
fighting in marriage, when it takes place on the part of the husband
toward the wife. For disputes between people who love another are
bitter. These arise from great bitterness, when, Paul says, any one
disagrees with his own member. To love, therefore, is the
husband’s part, to yield pertains to the other side. If, then,
each one contributes his own part, all stand firm. From being loved,
the wife too becomes loving; and from her being submissive, the husband
learns to yield.” [Saint John Chrysostom (ca. A.D. 400) Homilies
on the Epistle to the Colossians 10]
20 Children, obey your parents in everything, for this is pleasing to the Lord.
The 4th commandment: “Honor your father and mother.”
21 Fathers, do not provoke your children, so they may not become discouraged.
In every family there should be an “educational exchange”
between parents and children (Ephesians 6:1-4) in which each gives and
“It is the duty of parents to create a family atmosphere inspired
by love and devotion to God and their fellow man which will promote an
integrated, personal and social education of their children”
(Vatican II, Gravissimum educationis).
Optional 2nd Reading - Hebrews 11:8, 11-12, 17-19
The date of composition of the letter to the Hebrews is not known but
we can deduce that it was written prior to A.D. 70 because it warns the
Christian against the temptation of returning to the ancient Levitical
form of worship; a form of worship which disappeared with the
destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem. It is obviously written to a
people who are steeped in the Old Testament, people who in all
probability are converts from Judaism, and who may previously have even
been priests or Levites. After becoming Christians, because of the
persecutions of the time, they had to abandon Jerusalem, the holy city,
and seek refuge in some coastal city such as Caesarea or Antioch. In
their exile they look back with nostalgia on the splendor of the cult
they had played a part in prior to their conversion. They feel
discouraged and are tempted to give up their new faith, in which they
are not yet well grounded.
To bolster their sagging faith, the sacred writer reminds them that
final salvation, to which their faith leads them (and us), can only
happen after death, when man sees God face-to-face, to the degree which
God’s charity allows – in other words, to the extent that
the Christian has put his faith into practice. Chapter 11, from which
our reading for today comes gives an impressive account of the saints
of the Old Testament, who were men of heroic faith, confident of the
day when the divine promises would be fulfilled. Through the suffering,
difficulties and obstacles they experienced in this life, and which
they accepted with an unshakeable faith, they eventually attained the
reward which God had promised them. Our reading for today concentrates
on the faith of Abraham.
8 By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that
he was to receive as an inheritance; he went out, not knowing where he
was to go.
Abraham’s faith is exemplified by his obedience to God’s command to migrate to Canaan
(Genesis 12:1, 4)
11 By faith he received power to generate, even
though he was past the normal age--and Sarah herself was sterile--for
he thought that the one who had made the promise was trustworthy.
Abraham’s faith also allowed him to produce an heir with Sarah,
even though both were well past normal childbearing years. As we heard
in our first alternate reading, Abraham’s faith was tested as he
tried to convince God the declare an heir either by adoption or by the
offspring of a concubine. It was only through Sarah that a righteous
offspring would be produced.
12 So it was that there came forth from one man,
himself as good as dead, descendants as numerous as the stars in the
sky and as countless as the sands on the seashore.
It was through Abraham’s obedience to faith that his descendants
would possess the land, although he would only be a sojourner in it
(Genesis 15:16, 18), and would eventually become too numerous to count.
17 By faith Abraham, when put to the test, offered up Isaac, and he who
had received the promises was ready to offer his only son, 18 of whom
it was said, “Through Isaac descendants shall bear your
The last example given of Abraham’s obedient faith is the case of
his obedience to the command to offer Isaac in sacrifice (Genesis
22:1-19). His readiness to do so is particularly striking because his
hopes for the fulfillment of God’s promise were bound up with
19 He reasoned that God was able to raise even from the dead, and he received Isaac back as a symbol.
Since Isaac didn’t actually die, it is likely that the sacred
author sees Isaac’s deliverance from death as a symbol or type of
the resurrection of Christ.
Gospel -Luke 2:22-40
Tradition tells us that Saint Luke was born in the Antioch of Syria.
This suggests that he was of a Gentile rather than Jewish origin. This
possibility appears to be borne out in Colossians 4:10-14 where Saint
Paul singles some out as being “of the circumcision:”
“Aristarchus my fellow prisoner greets you, and Mark the cousin
of Barnabas ... and Jesus who is called Justus. These are the only men
of the circumcision among my fellow workers for the kingdom of God...
Epaphras, who is one of yourselves... Luke the beloved physician and
Demas greet you.”
When Saint Luke became a Christian is unknown, quite possibly it was
very early in the formation of the Church, but he states very early in
his gospel account that he was not an eyewitness to the life of our
Lord. The Acts of the Apostles, which Saint Luke also wrote, show him
as a disciple and companion of Saint Paul; with some events being
reported in the first person plural, implying that he himself took part
From the very beginning the Church has always regarded Saint
Luke’s Gospel as a sacred book: it was used for liturgical
reading and is found in the earliest lists of books which the Church
considers to be inspired by God. In the fourth century, the Council of
Laodicea (sometime between A.D. 343 and 381) stated that only certain
books could be read out in church and included in this listing were the
“four Gospels according to Matthew, according to Mark, according
to Luke, according to John.” The same regulations, with some
changes in which books were included (so that they conform to what we
know as the canon today), were issued by the Council of Hippo (A.D.
393) and the Council of Carthage (A.D. 397). It is believed that Saint
Luke’s Gospel was written in the year A.D. 62 or at the beginning
Almost half of the content of Saint Luke’s Gospel is not to be
found in the other Gospels. Among the important items exclusive to Luke
are: his account of Jesus’ infancy, his setting of many episodes
of Jesus’ public ministry within the framework of a long journey
from Galilee to Jerusalem, certain parables, and the account of the
appearance of the risen Jesus to the disciples at Emmaus. Today we hear
from his account of Jesus’ infancy.
Our gospel reading stresses the holy family’s strict obedience to
the Law of Moses. Luke 2:21 says “When eight days were completed
for his circumcision, he was named Jesus, the name given him by the
angel before he was conceived in the womb.” The requirement for
circumcision is found in Genesis 17:12. Circumcision is the sign of the
covenant between Abraham and God, a mark which designates that they
belong to God’s chosen people.
Although not mentioned in our gospel reading today, Exodus 13:11-13
requires the sacrifice of all firstborn males (either of the flock or
the family), with the provision that donkeys and sons shall be redeemed
with a lamb, or if not redeemed its neck shall be broken. Numbers 18:16
states that the redemption shall take place at the age of one month and
places a price of five silver shekels (a shekel is about 112 grams or
about $100.00 at 2012 prices) as the price of redemption.
22 When the days were completed for their purification according to the law of
Although the text is correctly translated as “their
purification,” only Mary required purification. Mary’s
uncleanness was not moral but only ceremonial. Leviticus 12:2-4
declares that a woman who has conceived and borne a son is ritually
unclean. Mary is seen as being united with Jesus, and possibly with
Joseph, in the Temple ceremony. Just as Jesus followed the full Mosaic
Law and completely immersed Himself in humanity, Mary is presented as
one with all womankind in giving birth to her child.
they took him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord, 23 just as it
is written in the law of the Lord, “Every male that opens the
womb shall be consecrated to the Lord,”
Jesus’ presentation in the Temple is in accordance with Exodus 13:1-16.
24 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.
Rather than a year-old lamb, Mary and Joseph give the “offering
of the poor”; one bird was for a holocaust of adoration, the
other for a sin offering (see Leviticus 12:6-8; 5:7-10).
25 Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon. This man was righteous and devout,
The name Simeon means “hearing.” The adjectives which
describe Simeon show that he took care in observing the moral
obligations of the Law, a care which springs from a healthy fear of the
awaiting the consolation of Israel,
According to rabbinical tradition, the “consolation of
Israel” was the final, unrecorded words that passed between
Elijah and Elisha (2 Kings 2:11) and that this would be made known when
Elijah reappeared (Luke 1:17).
and the holy Spirit was upon him. 26 It had been revealed to him by the
holy Spirit that he should not see death before he had seen the Messiah
of the Lord.
God is at work in saving His people.
27 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,
28 he took him into his arms and blessed God,
The rabbis took children into their arms in order to bless them. The
Greek word edexato implies that Simeon “received” what was
being presented to him.
saying: 29 “Now, Master, you may let your servant go
This implies the difficult service of Simeon’s days in the Temple.
in peace, according to your word,
Simeon is the watchman who is released from duty. He was most probably
a member of, or at least was closely associated with, the Sadducee
group and must have waited amid great suffering as he witnessed the
priestly betrayal of many sacred obligations.
30 for my eyes have seen your salvation, 31 which you prepared in sight of all the peoples,
The universal scope of salvation reflects Isaiah 42:6; 49:6; 52:10.
32 a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and glory for your people Israel.”
Revelation under the image of light is especially used in the writings
of John. When the glory of the Lord descended upon the ark of the
covenant, Moses could not enter lest he die (Exodus 33:18-20; 40:35);
having seen the glory, Simeon can die peacefully.
33 The child’s father and mother were amazed at what was said about him; 34 and
Simeon blessed them
He proclaimed the fulfillment of Messianic blessings in them and
announced their involvement in the continuation of these blessings
among other men.
and said to Mary his mother, “Behold, this child is destined for the fall and rise of many in Israel,
This is probably a reference to an idea found in Isaiah 8:14 and Isaiah
28:16. The goals and goodness, preached and lived by the Messiah, force
all men to face up to their great sinfulness (their fall). This
knowledge can completely destroy, as it does the proud; or it can
prompt the humble to turn to the Messiah and through Him to rise to a
Everywhere else in Luke the Greek word translated as rise, anastasis,
is used exclusively for resurrection from the dead (Luke 14:14; 20:27,
and to be a sign that will be contradicted 35 (and you yourself a sword
will pierce) so that the thoughts of many hearts may be
The words Simeon addresses to Mary announce that she will be intimately
linked with her Son’s redemptive work. The sword indicates that
Mary will have a share in her Son’s sufferings; hers will be an
unspeakable pain which pierces her soul. Our Lord suffered on the cross
for the sins of all mankind, and it is those sins which forge the sword
of Mary’s pain.
36 There was also a prophetess, Anna,
Rabbinical literature recognized seven (the number of the covenant)
prophetesses: Sarah, Miriam, Deborah, Hannah, Abagail, Huldah, and
Esther. The Bible also mentions that the wife of the prophet Isaiah was
called a prophetess (Isaiah 8:3). These women witnessed to God’s
will, at least by holiness of life, sometimes by speaking in His name.
The name Anna means “grace” or “favor.”
the daughter of Phanuel,
The name Phanuel means “face of God.”
of the tribe of Asher.
There is little known of the tribe of Asher as nothing is recorded
beyond its holding a place in the list of the tribes (Genesis 35:26;
46:17; Exodus 1:4, etc.). Asher and Simeon were the only tribes west of
the Jordan which furnished no hero or judge for the nation; at least
until Anna the prophetess came along. The name Asher means “good
She was advanced in years, having lived seven years with her husband
after her marriage, 37 and then as a widow until she was eighty-four.
She never left the temple, but worshiped night and day with fasting and
prayer. 38 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
The holy city represents all of the elect. Anna’s testimony
is very similar to Simeon’s; like him, she too has been awaiting
the coming of the Messiah her whole life, in faithful service to God,
and she too is rewarded with the joy of seeing Him. The birth of Jesus
the Christ was revealed by three kinds of witness in three different
1) by the shepherds, after the angel’s announcement;
2) by the magi, who were guided by the star; and
3) by Simeon and Anna who were inspired by the Holy Spirit.
All of us who, like Simeon and Anna, persevere in piety and in the
service of God, no matter how insignificant their lives may seem in the
eyes of others, become instruments of the Holy Spirit who uses us to
make the Christ known to others.
39 When they had fulfilled all the prescriptions of
the law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee, to their own town of
Before their return to Nazareth, Saint Matthew tells us that the Holy
Family fled to Egypt where they stayed for some time (Matthew 2:13-23).
40 The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favor of God was upon him.
“Our Lord Jesus Christ as a child, that is, as one clothed in the
fragility of human nature, had to grow and become stronger but as the
eternal Word of God he had no need to become stronger or to grow. Hence
he is rightly described as full of wisdom and grace [favor].”
[Saint Bede the Venerable (ca. A.D. 710), In Lucae Evangelium
expositio, in loc.]
St. Charles Borromeo Catholic Church, Picayune, MS http://www.scborromeo.org