The Gospel (Luke 2:22, 39–40)
When the days were completed for their purification according to the law of Moses, they took him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord.
When they had fulfilled all the prescriptions of the law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth. The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favor of God was upon him.
I must admit, during these past months, seeing some images of Our Blessed Mother and St. Joseph wearing masks over their mouths, does at first glance, seem awkward if not a little disturbing. Maybe it’s the same initial reaction that one might have had seeing all the fully naked bodies of Michelangelo’s freshly painted Last Judgement scene in the Sistine chapel. It didn’t take long for another artist to come along and paint in clothing or add bits of cloth here and there to cover up....well, you know what?
Do we need to see the Holy Family depicted wearing masks? When we all rise from the dead on the last day, will we be taking a suitcase of clothing with us or will we be happy to simply appear before God in all our own unashamed glory?
The Gospel for today’s feast day of the Holy Family offers us a good reflection to meditate on. According to Jewish Law, not only the first-born son of every family was to be presented to God in the Temple, but the mother also, after giving birth, had to be purified. Did Mary need purification?
No. She was always pure. And even though she gave birth, she remained a virgin, pure and immaculate. Nevertheless, Mary, out of obedience to the Law of God, in a spirit of humility, would have followed the practice of every new Jewish mother. She did not wish to stand out in the crowd or put herself above any other mother, even though she was perfectly entitled. Although she remained free from any virus of sin and immune from any contamination from the effects of fallen humanity, she joined the line of women before and after her. If religious law required her to cover her face, to keep a social distance from others, Mary did so in humble obedience. She expected no special treatment before the world, even though God had blessed her beyond all others.
Maybe, that’s a lesson for us too. Even though, through baptism and every time we go to confession we can emerge purified from all our sins, let us never be tempted to expect worldly recognition or a title of saint before our name! Even though one may think themselves immune from the infection of sin or beyond the expectations and requirements of certain religious practices Mary teaches us this by her example of humility and sacrifice to submitting to religious laws, expectations and practices of her day. She wasn’t an actor going through all the motions. She was loyal, obedient, gentle and lovingly unassuming in everything she did.
And of course, Joseph is a saint because of his obedience to God’s instructions to take Mary as his wife and to carry out the prescribed expectations of Jewish law regarding the Christ child who, as God with us, didn’t need to be told what to do. But was humble in doing so.
Between them, Joseph and Mary kept the secret child wrapped up in their embrace, the Son of God, hidden from the world until the time would be right to reveal Him to the public. But in the meantime, the Holy Family kept their halos undercover!
Let us ask our Mary Most Pure, and the obedient and faithful Joseph to help us to seek humility in mind, body and soul so that we can be more and more Christlike in our thoughts, our prayers and our actions. This will allow us, with God’s grace, to be a gentle light that cleanses the darkness of fear and despair which can often overshadow our lives. And when the time is right, to fully reveal Christ in all his glory to a world in need of God’s own divine healing.