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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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Philip Neri: Philip Neri was a sign of contradiction, combining popularity with piety against the background of a corrupt Rome and a disinterested clergy, the whole post-Renaissance malaise. 
<p>At an early age, he abandoned the chance to become a businessman, moved to Rome from Florence and devoted his life and individuality to God. After three years of philosophy and theology studies, he gave up any thought of ordination. The next 13 years were spent in a vocation unusual at the time—that of a layperson actively engaged in prayer and the apostolate. </p><p>As the Council of Trent (1545-63) was reforming the Church on a doctrinal level, Philip’s appealing personality was winning him friends from all levels of society, from beggars to cardinals. He rapidly gathered around himself a group of laypersons won over by his audacious spirituality. Initially they met as an informal prayer and discussion group, and also served poor people in Rome. </p><p>At the urging of his confessor, he was ordained a priest and soon became an outstanding confessor, gifted with the knack of piercing the pretenses and illusions of others, though always in a charitable manner and often with a joke. He arranged talks, discussions and prayers for his penitents in a room above the church. He sometimes led “excursions” to other churches, often with music and a picnic on the way. </p><p>Some of his followers became priests and lived together in community. This was the beginning of the Oratory, the religious institute he founded. A feature of their life was a daily afternoon service of four informal talks, with vernacular hymns and prayers. Giovanni Palestrina was one of Philip’s followers, and composed music for the services. </p><p>The Oratory was finally approved after suffering through a period of accusations of being an assembly of heretics, where laypersons preached and sang vernacular hymns! (Cardinal Newman founded the first English-speaking house of the Oratory three centuries later.) </p><p>Philip’s advice was sought by many of the prominent figures of his day. He is one of the influential figures of the Counter-Reformation, mainly for converting to personal holiness many of the influential people within the Church itself. His characteristic virtues were humility and gaiety.</p> American Catholic Blog We need do no more than we are doing at present; that is, to love divine Providence and abandon ourselves in his arms and heart.<br />—St. Padre Pio

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