YEAR C: HOMILY FOR THE FEAST THE OF HOLY FAMILY
HOMILY THEME: “His mother said to him, ‘Child, why have you treated us like this? Look, your father and I have been searching for you in great anxiety.’ He said to them, ‘Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?’” (Luke 2:48-49)
BY: Fr. Robert deLeon, CSC
HOMILY: “The four-year-old child lived next door to an elderly gentleman who had recently lost his wife. One day spotting the old man crying as he sat alone in his yard, the little boy went over to him, climbed into his lap and just sat there. When later his mother asked anxiously where he’d been, he told her he’d been in their neighbor’s backyard. When asked what he’d been doing there, the child responded so simply, ‘Oh, I was just helping him cry.’” (Original source unknown) An anxious parent; a precocious child; a response simple yet profound: it’s what we encounter in the gospel passage we hear today on the Feast of The Holy Family. As St. Luke’s gospel relates, “His mother said to him, ‘Child, why have you treated us like this? Look, your father and I have been searching for you in great anxiety.’ He said to them, ‘Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?’” (Luke 2:48-49)
I wonder what the sobbing old man experienced when that youngster silently climbed into his lap. I wonder if he found comfort in the boy’s silent company. I wonder if he experienced the truth of what I long ago read on a poster: “Joy shared is joy doubled; sorrow shared is sorrow halved.”
While we can only surmise what actually motivated that youngster to act as he did and further guess at how it affected the old man, the story invites us into a closer consideration of the gospel passage we hear today. Indeed, something divinely mysterious compelled that young boy to offer comfort to the old man, the same Divine Mystery that compelled the child Jesus to separate from his parents, they joining the caravan leaving Jerusalem while, unknown to them, their son remained behind to be discovered three days later teaching in the temple. When questioned by his anxious and exhausted parents about his behavior, Jesus responded so simply, “I must be in my Father’s house.”
What does he mean? Where is “my Father’s house”? As the boy Jesus suggests to his parents, it’s the temple where people gather to hear the Word of God. But the story of the little boy and the old man invites us to expand our understanding. It invites us to consider that “my Father’s house” is as much in the very lap of human need as it is the temple. I believe that “my father’s house” is wherever human limitation and the compassion of God meet.
And I suppose this is precisely why I have been a hospital chaplain so long. For me, the hospital is “my Father’s house,” that divinely mysterious place where the compassion of God touches the limits of humanity. And I confess that while I dutifully deliver the sacraments of the church to the bed-bound, I experience God even more powerfully present in the less visible people who daily serve the sick by wielding a dust mop, delivering a food tray, filling a water pitcher or distributing mail. It’s these folk who, like the young boy in the story, so simply and unobtrusively climb into the lap of often desperate human need and by their silent presence offer something far beyond the scope of 21st century medicine. It’s these less visible folk who know without a doubt that the hospital is “my Father’s house.”
That four-year-old child in the opening story may well be the same youngster who, when asked by his teacher why he was always so dirty, responded, “Well, I’m a lot closer to the ground than you are.” Can’t argue with that! Neither can one argue with the truth that close to the ground, in the very muck and misery of life, is most often where God is to be found. As Jesus reminded his parents in today’s gospel passage, “I must be in my Father’s house.” And so he is, sitting silently, powerfully, in the lap of grief, pain, anxiety and every other expression of human need.