Mary, Mother of God

Fr Rodney Kissinger, S.J


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“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.” (Luke 2: 39-40) That is all we know about practically nine tenths of the life of Jesus. It is called the Hidden Life of Jesus. Let us take a visit to Nazareth and see what life was really like in this Holy Family that was so instrumental in shaping the human character of Jesus.

The first thing we notice and is most important and upon which everything else depend is the love that reigns there. This love is the source of understanding and respect. This love that Mary and Joseph have for one another and for Jesus flows from their love of God. There is an indissoluble bond between the love of God and the love of the neighbor. You cannot have one without the other. Whenever one is cut away from the other it becomes a caricature of itself. Love of God without love of the neighbor become pride and haughtiness. How many wars have been fought over religion? The love of the neighbor without love of God becomes sentimental philanthrophy and secular humanism. The intersection between the love of God (the vertical) and the love of the neighbor (the horizontal) forms a cross. And that is the crux of the matter. In the cross it is the vertical beam that upholds the horizontal beam. Take away the vertical and the horizontal falls to the ground to rot. Take away the love of God and the love of the neighbor falls to the ground and rots.

The Holy Family expressed this love of God and sustained and nourished it by prayer. Mary teaches Jesus how to pray. The Psalms were the first prayers that Jesus learned from Mary and they were the prayers he knew by heart and cherished. These were the prayers he said in the synagogue and temple. The last prayer he said on the cross was Psalm 22, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me.” Mary is the heart of the family and sees to it that in addition to personal prayer the family prays together.

The second thing we notice about life in the Holy Family is that it is a life of labor. Imagine Mary sleeping late and having breakfast in bed! She must have made all of the clothes for Jesus and Joseph as well as for herself. She also did the cooking and all of the housework. In those days there were no labor saving devices like microwaves, deep freeze and washers and driers. Joseph was a carpenter who took pride in his work. No one could complain that his work was poorly or shabbily done. He also cut all of the wood for the fire and did all of the maintenance around the house. Jesus helped Mary around the house until he was old enough to work with Joseph in the carpenter shop. He knew what it meant to be tired and have calluses on his hands. He was known as the carpenter’s son.

The third thing we notice is that authority is exercised and respected. Mary was the heart of the family and Joseph was head of the Holy Family. In Judaism obedience to those in position of authority was commanded in the Fourth Commandment. Jesus learned to be obedient before he began to exercise authority. And he learned how to exercise authority by being obedient. One of the great characteristics of Jesus during his Public Life was that he spoke with authority and not as the scribes and Pharisees. He spoke with authority because he had learned how to obey. Authority and obedience are correlatives, they go together.

Here in Nazareth the Holy Family is teaching us that a holy, happy family does not depend on the depth of the lawn, the size of the house or the number of cars in the garage. It depends on the intensity of love, the joy and satisfaction found in work and in the exercise and respect for authority. But, you ask, “How is such sanctity possible in family life today?” The question rather should be, “How is family life possible today without such sanctity?”


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