The death of a mother or father is difficult for any young son or daughter—especially if it happens while celebrating the birth of the Son of Man. It seems impossible at the time, but consolation eventually comes. It may take a few decades, but it comes as that feeling of loss evolves into anticipation of a reunion. This blogger’s mother passed away when we were both too young. Today my aging inner child is increasingly pondering the joy of not only meeting up with her again, but with a dad, brother, uncles, aunts, grandparents and all the other members of our fruitful family tree whose roots are deeply planted in God. For some, such a reunion is anticipated free of regrets. The perpetual 11-year-old in my soul, though, yearns to look straight into his mother’s eyes and apologize for the act of disobedience that deprived us both of a regret-free parting.
Her last day on earth was 51 years ago on the very day we celebrate the Feast of the Holy Family this year. At some point during that day, she asked this willful boy to come into the house for something she wanted him to do. This kid had other plans that day, though, and they didn’t involve anything in the house. So he told his mother he’d be back soon—then left to pursue his heart’s desire for that moment. Upon returning a few hours later, that opportunity to look her in the eyes one more time was gone—replaced by a lifetime of regret for not seeing the evidence of a flickering flame in those eyes.
The only grace salvaged from this regret would be through the efforts of three sons dedicated to helping their father save the home mom maintained from reverting back into just a house.
This Sunday’s Feast of the Holy Family reminds willful sons and daughters—adults and children—to reexamine their priorities where loved ones are concerned, and to remember how important that love is to experiencing God. The first reading from Sirach was written for people like us (Sir 3:2-6, 12-14).
God sets a father in honor over his children; a mother’s authority he confirms over her sons. Whoever honors his father atones for sins, and preserves himself from them. When he prays, he is heard; he stores up riches who reveres his mother.
God always cuts his disobedient children a lot of slack, but makes sure we hear His counsel through the words of his prophets and disciples. Our second reading from Paul’s letter to the Colossians (Col 3:12-21) reminds us to forgive others as much as we long to hear that forgiveness from those we’ve wronged. It can also help us to forgive ourselves.
Brothers and sisters: Put on, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, 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. And over all these put on love, that is, the bond of perfection.
Sunday’s gospel reading (Lk 2:41-52) gives us the opportunity to feel how a parent with a willful son or daughter feels when that child pursues their heart’s desire and seemingly abandons those they love. We hear how each year, Jesus, Mary and Joseph made a trip to Jerusalem for Passover. On one of those occasions, 12-year-old Jesus—unbeknownst to his parents—stayed behind while his parents made their way home with the caravan with whom they traveled. Upon discovering their son was missing, their hearts were filled with fear and they rushed back in search of their boy. After three days of searching, they find him hobnobbing with the teachers of the temple. They ask their son what any set of exasperated parents might want to know:
“Son, why have you done this to us? Your father and I have been looking for you with great anxiety.”
His response seems a bit disrespectful under the circumstances.
“Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?”
Maybe Jesus eventually felt a bit of regret for worrying his Holy Family so. Luke seems to give Jesus a bit of redemption in his description of the family dynamic after this incident:
He went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them; and his mother kept all these things in her heart. And Jesus advanced in wisdom and age and favor before God and man.
It’s hard for any adult man or woman to relate to the adult Jesus whose wisdom and teachings were of God—and unparalleled by human vision. But speaking for the willful 11-year-old who still does an occasional time-out in his soul to contemplate his final act of disobedience to his mother, the 12-year-old Jesus who sassed Mary and Joseph gives my inner kid a bit more to keep in his heart. I just pray “boys will be boys” is one of the things Mary and all mothers on earth and in heaven keep in theirs.