The Two Trinities, Bartolomé Esteban Perez Murillo (1617–1682), c.1680; National Gallery, London

Fr Neil’s homily for the Feast of the Holy Family, 26 December 2021

And Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature, and in favour with God and man.¹

This gospel episode, the only one where we hear of Christ’s childhood between the nativity and his public ministry, has lead many to speculate about an act of disobedience on Christ’s part. This is misguided. He was twelve years old — considered almost a man — and reflected in his debates with the doctors of the law in the Temple.

Neither does this story reveal Joseph and Mary to be negligent parents, as others have proposed. A moment’s research into the extended family structures of first-century Palestine reveals the normative actions of his parents. Both sets of thinking are often motivated by the desire to denude the events around Christ of their supernatural elements in an attempt to make them more acceptable to modern minds.

The gospel writer refers to these events, while ignoring most of his childhood, because these events tell us something important. Where is God to be found? He is most visible in the Temple at Jerusalem which Christ gravitates to as being the most logical place he would be. The implications of these events, and his words “How is it you sought me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?”² should not be lost on us: it points to Christ the Son of God and his divine nature.

We might ourselves ask the question, Where might I find God? The obvious answer is in the Church where Christ’s Real Presence is encountered and the very reason that our churches should never be permanently shut in times of crisis.

The full answer though, to Where might I find God? is Yes, in the Temple but also within the family. It is within the family home that we predominantly learn the language of love and accept or reject faith in Christ.

It is within the sacrament of baptism that the parents are said to be the first and best teachers of their children in the way of faith. Christ, God incarnate, went down with them to Nazareth and was obedient to them³. The family home of Mary and Joseph, his earthly parents, was the environment that saw Christ, in his humanity, grow in wisdom and stature.¹

The earthly home of Nazareth was not incidental to the life of Christ but was absolutely essential. One can only imagine what it would be like to sit at their feet and learn from both Mary and Joseph. In our modern times we undermine the family as the domestic church at our peril.

What was this wisdom that Christ gained from his earthly home? There would certainly have been the receiving of knowledge but wisdom is more than that — there are plenty of people who know much but act stupidly. He would have learnt about honesty and truth but even that falls short of full wisdom. At his Passion he would hear even Pilate utter the words, “What is truth?”⁴ To understand wisdom one must surely touch upon that which transforms the heart and soul of a person; that which must involve the spiritual.

Christ would have learnt early on the proverb “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.”⁵ From Mary and Joseph, Christ would have encountered a wisdom that comes from knowing his heavenly Father’s merciful love for his people. It is this encounter that we are called to experience and enter into in our discipleship of faith. It is this wisdom that our schools cannot pass on, or that our children’s programmes can only hint at. It is within the family united in prayer, practising and modelling this encounter with God’s merciful love, that we can properly hear the call to repentant faith.

It is this domestic church that enables our ability to engage, see and experience the life of God found in the sacraments of the Church. Here we hear the call of God to enter into fullness of life in Christ as missionary disciples. We are invited to participate in the family of God with all the saints, and have Mary as our spiritual Mother at whose feet we will learn the wisdom of the incarnate God she bore in her womb.

¹ Luke 2:52
² Luke 2:49
³ Luke 2:51
⁴ John 18:38
⁵ Proverbs 9:10, Cf Prov 1:7