Sunday, December 27, 2009

The Holy Family - The Commitment to Bringing Up a Child in the Faith

Reading between the lines today... although the Gospel writers are largely silent on the matter of Jesus' childhood, we do get important hints about how Mary and Joseph brought him up. Today's Gospel - the story of Jesus getting lost and found in the Temple at age 12 (Luke 2:41-52) - speaks volumes about the family's practice of the faith and serves as an important model for all parents.

Here is what we do hear: "Each year Jesus’ parents went to Jerusalem for the feast of Passover, and when he was twelve years old, they went up according to festival custom. After they had completed its days, as they were returning, the boy Jesus remained behind in Jerusalem..."

This is a great description of a faith-filled Jewish family - they journeyed to Jerusalem annually and participated in the celebration. This arduous journey, probably on foot or on donkey-back, and the time away from home, representing a loss of income from work was no small sacrifice for the family. Passover lasts 7 days - so this, plus the time needed for travel - was a significant time commitment. Obviously, for Mary and Joseph, their faith was a priority - over inconvenience, and even over earning their livelihood. In addition, this level of commitment implies that the family normally celebrated the weekly Sabbath in the local synagogue.

Contrast this to the objections that some of today's Catholic families express about their inability to make time to take their children to weekend Mass, or to religious education commitments. How often those of us who have been parish DRE's have heard the familiar "We are too busy" or "I work on weekends" or "Johnny/Susie has soccer practice" or... (insert usual litany of excuses).  If Joseph had said he could not do Passover because he needed to work during those days, Jesus might have been a far different child - and might never have grown up to be a Rabbi. How many children today are not growing up to be priests, sisters, or faithful lay ministers/teachers because their parents do not make celebration of the liturgy or faith formation a priority in life?

If Catholic parents do not see the importance of practicing the faith as a family, they should not expect to drop their children off at the parish for catechists to make their children Catholic. Many act as if the catechetical services of the parish are a commodity they "purchase" to ensure that their child will ge the appropriate upbringing in the faith and the certificates they receive for sacraments, as "credentials" to show that their childre was "raised Catholic." With that, many seem to feel they have done their duty as parents.

How do we get parents to understand the kind of commitment it takes to be Catholics themselves, and the even greater commitment it takes to pass the faith on to the next generation? What would it take to get them to be like Hannah, in the alternate first reading for today (1 Samuel 20-22; 24-28) who said to Eli as she brought Samuel to the Temple: “Pardon, my lord! As you live, my lord, I am the woman who stood near you here, praying to the LORD. I prayed for this child, and the LORD granted my request. Now I, in turn, give him to the LORD; as long as he lives, he shall be dedicated to the LORD.”

What would it take indeed! The answer, of course, is better adult catechesis - and parishes that attract and welcome families, accept them for who they are, and gently model and form them in ways that lead them to an understanding of the importance of faith.

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