Mary, Joseph and the baby Jesus are depicted in a wooden creche at Sacred Heart Cathedral in Rochester, N.Y., in this Nov. 24 photo. CNS photo/Mike Crupi, Catholic Courier

God blesses us when we undertake to do good

  • December 21, 2015

Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph (Year C) Dec. 27 (1 Samuel 1:20-22, 24-28; Psalm 84; 1 John 3:1-2, 21-24; Luke 2:41-52)

Hannah’s fervent prayer had been answered. During a previous visit to the shrine at Shiloh, she had stood before the shrine and prayed to God for a child. Her murmured prayers earned her an unjust rebuke from Eli the prophet, who accused her of drunkenness. Hannah promised that if God blessed her with a son, she would dedicate him in service to the Lord. Now she fulfilled her promise as she brought her son Samuel — who would grow up to be a great prophet — to Eli for training and instruction.

In a sense, Samuel entered into his earthly life without much choice as to the path he would take. He did not go to job fairs, interviews, vocation retreats or anything else that are so much a part of modern life. But from the first breath that he drew, he was destined to be a prophet of God.

Some people feel a similar strong call or mission, but most of us search and agonize over the best path to follow. We might not ever be certain that we are doing the will of God. It would be easy to envy the clarity of Samuel’s life, but Samuel was an exception. God had definite plans for him — a mission that only he could fulfill.

The rest of us are called to navigate our lives in a more conventional way. We pray; we discern; we search; we listen to the movements of our heart, mind and soul. There are many possibilities, and God will bless us in any of those undertakings in which we serve what is good, just and holy. Wrong turns are inevitable, but we learn from our mistakes. That is how we grow in wisdom and become mature human beings. Listening to the deeper desires of our heart is a good step in discerning God’s will for us, as well as going where we experience life and hope.

In John’s view, one is not born a child of God but becomes one by receiving the Spirit of God and believing in His Son. The fact that God the Father would make us His children is the indisputable sign of God’s love. This status as children of God gives us boldness, confidence and a sense of intimacy with God. For our part, we obey God’s commandments and strive to please God in all that we do. We should expand our mental and spiritual horizons, for there is a hint that there are even greater things in store for us. When God is finished forming us, we will be like God and there will no longer be a veil of ignorance separating us.

What did Jesus know and when did He know it? If we believe what Scripture itself tells us, He had to grow as any human being, and not just physically. He didn’t know everything right from the beginning. His awareness of being “special” and of having a unique relationship with God the Father was something that grew over time. Throughout His childhood, Jesus was awake to His experience. First-century Judea was a violent, turbulent and fear-filled land. His young eyes must have witnessed many acts of cruelty and injustice, perhaps even death. The misery of people oppressed by ruinous taxes and savage economic injustice would have pierced His heart and troubled His conscience. He may have asked God questions, wondering why these things had to be. All the while, He reflected on this experience and prayed to the God with whom He felt an ever-deepening relationship. He learned what it meant to be human — really human — and it was through that perfected humanity that His divinity was manifested.

Then came the moment when Jesus began to feel a stronger calling and a deepening sense of identity and mission. We can imagine the fear and agony of Mary and Joseph as they searched frantically for Jesus, as well as their anger and bewilderment when they found Him in the temple. His answer to them must have only deepened their perplexity. But one of the holy family’s many virtues was patience.

Jesus continued to learn and develop, while Joseph and Mary were unfailing in providing Him with an environment both humane and spiritual. As those who follow Jesus, we walk the same path.