The many beautiful Christmas cards we received portraying serene scenes of a tranquil birth and a simple bucolic life are still fresh in my mind. However, while the Gospels speak little of Jesus’ life or The Holy Family, before Jesus’ public ministry, historical accounts point out that Jesus was born into a turbulent, dangerous world of political and social upheaval. Serenity and peace were at a premium. This week our liturgical calendar celebrates The Presentation of Jesus in the temple Luke2:22-40 . Despite the many hardships and challenges, I’m struck by how diligent Mary and Joseph were in discharging their parental duties, as they faithfully adhered to the tenets and practices of their religion.
And so, here we have in Luke’s account of Jesus’ presentation, the ceremonial “brit milah” performed on the eight day following his birth. Along with Jesus’ parents, there are two other attendants, Simeon and Anna, who upon seeing Jesus, praise and give thanks to God for granting them the opportunity to witness the arrival of the child whom they “recognize” as the fulfillment of the prophecy and the One for whom they waited.
This story of Jesus’ first religious ritual prompts memories of our own parents’ involvement in the practices of our faith, and although our early memory is clouded over by infancy, many of us still cherish the pictures and artifacts that call these rituals to mind, if only second-hand. These memories pay tribute to the personal commitments our parents and caregivers made with regard to our religious development. Like the child Jesus, our religious lineage began with the faithful hopes and practices of our parents and others who may have been responsible for our care.
As with most of us, my mother and father were responsible for my attending weekly church services and as with most, I often resisted the call; after all, it was Sunday and I could sleep late or go out and play with those friends, who somehow were “excused” from Sunday services. As for the Church, except for worship, there was little in the way of social activities to keep me coming or hold me. We just went to Church and we returned home. Yes, there were choir practices and altar boy calls and during Lent we attended seasonal services, but it was my parents who established the practices, and saw to it that I followed their lead. I had no choice. So, we went, we listened, we learned and eventually patterns were established as requisite attendance became ingrained.
The decline of the family unit has been linked to a myriad of economic and social problems in our country. It is a fact that our children suffer most from this decline and while we look for help from outside agencies, I often wonder if we are too quick to relegate the care of these precious lives to external resources. There’s a fine line between delegation and abdication. It seems that as the problems grow more severe, additional resources are proposed to expand support for childhood development, and to entrust the educational, social and even religious development of our children to institutions. While help is invaluable and with regard to education, essential, I do not believe that it takes a village to raise a child. Luke’s Gospel reminds me that Jesus didn’t just leap from the manger and begin performing miracles and preaching God’s love. Yes, the focus is on Jesus, but it reminds us of the role Mary and Joseph played in Jesus formative years. Sure times have changed but parental duties in the rearing of children, despite challenges and obstacles, still fall to the loving family unit.