Can We be Holy AND Wholly Annoying?

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Families can be SO annoying. Mutual agitation seems so embedded in human DNA that even ancient sages like Sirach had to pull back on our leashes as we started snapping at something our old man or old lady might do—or say.

My son, take care of your father when he is old; grieve him not as long as he lives. Even if his mind fail, be considerate of him; revile him not all the days of his life; kindness to a father will not be forgotten. (Sir 3:2-6, 12-14)

In the history of humanity, only Jesus was free of that temptation to disrespect his parents. Or WAS he?

Sunday’s gospel reading about Jesus’ parents presenting their little baby before Simeon concludes with:

“The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favor of God was upon him.” (LK 2:22-40)

But the rest of this gospel account gives us an insight into that Holy Family’s growing pains. Simeon had just told Mary, “Behold, this child is destined for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be contradicted —and you yourself a sword will pierce.”

This told her this little boy would have powerful enemies for the rest of his life, so, naturally, Mary’s radar would always be on. The next scene in Luke’s account of the Holy Family takes us to when Jesus was 12 and the three of them went to Jerusalem for Passover. On their way back home, Mary and Joseph discover their boy is missing. Returning to the scene of their Passover, they find their son schmoozing with the temple intelligentsia. Mary gently chastises him:

“Son, why have you done this to us? Your father and I have been looking for you with great anxiety.”

His curt answer might have merited a smack from less enlightened parents:

“Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?”

But Luke simply states that while his parents didn’t understand this, Mary would always remember it. And so, evidently, did little Jesus. Luke tells us that after this, Jesus was obedient to them, and the boy “advanced [in] wisdom and age and favor before God and man.”

The wisdom a holy family learns from their tougher times together includes empathy and concern for each-others’ feelings. We would be wise to imagine that Jesus kept this incident in his heart too, and that it was instrumental in strengthening his empathic powers for later application in his public ministry—including via his teachings.

As Sunday’s second reading indicates (Col 3:12-21 or 3:12-17), Paul learned empathy the hard way—after his Master’s earthly ministry concluded and as Paul carried on with it. What did he learn about holy family behavior from the Son who, from childhood, was so concerned about prospering the work of his Father’s house?

Wives, be subordinate to your husbands, as is proper in the Lord. Husbands, love your wives, and avoid any bitterness toward them. Children, obey your parents in everything, for this is pleasing to the Lord. Fathers, do not provoke your children, so they may not become discouraged.

Bitterness, disobedience and provocation were Paul’s specialties before Jesus offered him the shelter of his Father’s house. If there’s room in that space for someone as annoying as Paul could be, there’s hope for all of us who are willing to welcome wisdom into our own holy families.

–Tom Andel


  1. Striving for holiness is our essential purpose in life. Fostering holiness in one’s own home is our God-given calling.

    The family is the most important cell in any society. It is where we learn togetherness, how to share, to love, and when it’s working properly, to pray.

    I am a proponent of the Boy Scout motto (if it’s still the same now) which is God, Family, and Country – in that order! Makes perfect sense.

    Lord Jesus, help guide our families to be holy and to imitate the one you grew up in!

    Merry Christmas!

    • The Marines add Corps to God, family and country. Corps refers to a mission, and that’s just as appropriate to a family’s purpose. Each of these elements point to something greater than the individual. No family lasts long if an individual chooses self as his or her motto. Same applies to church. Our mission is unity with God, and love is the fuel that keeps us strong while accomplishing it while stationed here on earth.

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