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Bible Reflections View Comments

Between the Ideal and the Real
By Diane M. Houdek
Source: Bringing Home the Word
Published: Sunday, December 30, 2012
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I often have approached the Feast of the Holy Family with some reluctance, thinking about how often it gets elevated to an impossible standard of perfection. But in a conversation with my sister awhile ago, I realized that a parish community is quite similar to a human family, with many of the same strengths and weaknesses. In both cases, we’re held by bonds we can ignore or stretch, but never quite break. Whether in our biological families or the communities that make up our social obligations, we are perpetually caught between the ideal and the real. We strive for the one but often are held back by the other. We can only hope that within that tension, we will find something of the grace that Jesus promises in his own experience of a human family.

Even in the infancy narratives, the evangelists were trying to understand the Easter experience. In the story of the boy Jesus lost in the temple, Luke is not simply showing us that Jesus had a supernatural knowledge of his destiny as the Son of God. Rather, Luke is finding different ways to understand and explain the overwhelming experience of Jesus of Nazareth, Jesus the Christ, who was crucified and raised from the dead.

Jesus goes up to Jerusalem with his parents as he would later go up to celebrate Passover with his disciples. His destiny lies in Jerusalem, for he knows his life centers on doing the will of the Father. He is lost to his parents as he would be dead to his followers, but they recover him after three days. When Mary tells him of their sorrow, their search for him, he says, “Why did you search for me?” just as the messenger by the tomb will ask the disciples, “Why do you search for the living among the dead?”

If the early listeners of Luke’s Gospel were having trouble understanding the experience of death and resurrection, perhaps they could begin with a simpler story of a child separated from his parents. They could see in the parents’ confusion and searching an image of their own search for belief in the Risen Lord. But perhaps in the child’s simple response, his independence and growth in understanding, they can find an answer easier to grasp than the report of a journey through the unknown land of death into an everlasting glory. Luke tells us that to be a disciple is to discover ourselves in the presence of God with the other people in our lives. Jesus is the compassion of God. We’re called to show forth this compassion in our own lives. God’s call in our lives can terrify us with a stark awareness of the risks involved. But it always promises life.

While we are on this journey of faith, we always will be searching—for ourselves and the meaning of our lives, for others who share our faith, for the God who is at the center of that faith. The challenge for us is to continue to explore the stories of Jesus. In all these stories, we see people trying to grasp the meaning of the kingdom, of covenant, of everlasting life. If we can understand these stories, perhaps we can begin to understand our own story of the promise as it unfolds in our own lives.

At the center of that story is the belief that if we die with Christ, we will rise with him. Only in this way can we be about our Father’s business. Only in this way can we be part of the Holy Family of those who hear the Word of God and keep it.


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Monica: The circumstances of St. Monica’s life could have made her a nagging wife, a bitter daughter-in-law and a despairing parent, yet she did not give way to any of these temptations. Although she was a Christian, her parents gave her in marriage to a pagan, Patricius, who lived in her hometown of Tagaste in North Africa. Patricius had some redeeming features, but he had a violent temper and was licentious. Monica also had to bear with a cantankerous mother-in-law who lived in her home. Patricius criticized his wife because of her charity and piety, but always respected her. Monica’s prayers and example finally won her husband and mother-in-law to Christianity. Her husband died in 371, one year after his baptism. 
<p>Monica had at least three children who survived infancy. The oldest, Augustine (August 28) , is the most famous. At the time of his father’s death, Augustine was 17 and a rhetoric student in Carthage. Monica was distressed to learn that her son had accepted the Manichean heresy (all flesh is evil)  and was living an immoral life. For a while, she refused to let him eat or sleep in her house. Then one night she had a vision that assured her Augustine would return to the faith. From that time on, she stayed close to her son, praying and fasting for him. In fact, she often stayed much closer than Augustine wanted. </p><p>When he was 29, Augustine decided to go to Rome to teach rhetoric. Monica was determined to go along. One night he told his mother that he was going to the dock to say goodbye to a friend. Instead, he set sail for Rome. Monica was heartbroken when she learned of Augustine’s trick, but she still followed him. She arrived in Rome only to find that he had left for Milan. Although travel was difficult, Monica pursued him to Milan. </p><p>In Milan, Augustine came under the influence of the bishop, St. Ambrose, who also became Monica’s spiritual director. She accepted his advice in everything and had the humility to give up some practices that had become second nature to her (see Quote, below). Monica became a leader of the devout women in Milan as she had been in Tagaste. </p><p>She continued her prayers for Augustine during his years of instruction. At Easter, 387, St. Ambrose baptized Augustine and several of his friends. Soon after, his party left for Africa. Although no one else was aware of it, Monica knew her life was near the end. She told Augustine, “Son, nothing in this world now affords me delight. I do not know what there is now left for me to do or why I am still here, all my hopes in this world being now fulfilled.” She became ill shortly after and suffered severely for nine days before her death. </p><p>Almost all we know about St. Monica is in the writings of St. Augustine, especially his <i>Confessions</i>.</p> American Catholic Blog Trust always and a great deal in divine providence; never, never must you let yourselves be discouraged, despite contrary winds. I say it again: trust in God and Mary Immaculate; be faithful and forge ahead! <br />-Paulina do Coração Agonizante de Jesus

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