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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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Maria Goretti: One of the largest crowds ever assembled for a canonization—250,000—symbolized the reaction of millions touched by the simple story of Maria Goretti. 
<p>She was the daughter of a poor Italian tenant farmer, had no chance to go to school, never learned to read or write. When she made her First Communion not long before her death at age 12, she was one of the larger and somewhat backward members of the class. </p><p>On a hot afternoon in July, Maria was sitting at the top of the stairs of her house, mending a shirt. She was not quite 12 years old, but physically mature. A cart stopped outside, and a neighbor, Alessandro, 18 years old, ran up the stairs. He seized her and pulled her into a bedroom. She struggled and tried to call for help. “No, God does not wish it," she cried out. "It is a sin. You would go to hell for it.” Alessandro began striking at her blindly with a long dagger. </p><p>She was taken to a hospital. Her last hours were marked by the usual simple compassion of the good—concern about where her mother would sleep, forgiveness of her murderer (she had been in fear of him, but did not say anything lest she cause trouble to his family) and her devout welcoming of Viaticum, her last Holy Communion. She died about 24 hours after the attack. </p><p>Her murderer was sentenced to 30 years in prison. For a long time he was unrepentant and surly. One night he had a dream or vision of Maria, gathering flowers and offering them to him. His life changed. When he was released after 27 years, his first act was to go to beg the forgiveness of Maria’s mother. </p><p>Devotion to the young martyr grew, miracles were worked, and in less than half a century she was canonized. At her beatification in 1947, her mother (then 82), two sisters and a brother appeared with Pope Pius XII on the balcony of St. Peter’s. Three years later, at her canonization, a 66-year-old Alessandro Serenelli knelt among the quarter-million people and cried tears of joy.</p> American Catholic Blog Lord, may the medals we wear be constant reminders of the lives they depict. While wearing them, may we be blessed through the saints’ intercession and protected from harm. Help us to continue to spread the messages of Jesus and Mary and the saints and angels.

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