One hears a lot these days about people, unable to put up with the current anti-covid lockdown – wanting to leave their “prison-space” and head away beyond the imposed 2 kms from home.
There is a well-known story of two men fleeing their fear-imposed lockdown. It is told in last Sunday’s Gospel in St Luke’s wonderful account of his and Cleopas’ meeting with Christ on the first Easter Sunday. [Luke 24:13-35]
Along to-day’s road to Emmaus there is a tree [I stood beside it over 30 years ago!] where tradition has it that Luke and his companion met a stranger with whom they shared their worries and defeated hopes. As they neared the village – enraptured by their new-found friend – they invited him to join them for an evening meal. And it was there at the table – as Jesus said the blessing – broke the bread – and gave it to them – that they came to recognize their risen Lord.
He then disappeared from their sight – and up they got and headed straight back to the city to share their Good News.
I got to thinking about a similar sort of journey of two people heading for Jerusalem – not full of joyful energy – but simply as parents of a lost child. You will have guessed, I hope, that I am referring to the time when Jesus was lost in the Temple.
It was the experience of the “Holy Family” ………. of Joseph and his wife, Mary – and their lost child. [Luke 2: 41-51]
They had brought their 12-year-old Son to Jerusalem for the Passover Festival – and had set out with the other families heading back home to Nazareth. In those days, custom was that – along the road, the men walked together [talking about trade – and women!] as did the women [talking about household things – and men!] The children travelled in one of the groups. One can imagine the familiar exchange of chat at the end of the day among the families as they came together for their own meal.
But Jesus could not be found after the day’s journey – a distance of about 20 miles. [Clongowes to outer Dublin?]
St Ignatius asks us to contemplate Gospel scenes like this – enter into it – take part – watch – listen – feel what is happening.
One can imagine the initial exchange between the Father and Mother: How did Jesus get on to-day? Was he tired ? Didn’t you tell him to be here for tea ? ……. and so on. But the questions soon turn to statements: But you said you’d take him to-day! No! – you said you wanted him to stay with you! No! – I distinctly remember you saying ……… and so on – back and forth.
We see Parents – united in their worry – but separated in not “accepting the blame” ……….. familiar to any of you ?!
The next four days would be “hell” for Mary and Joseph ……. one full day to get back to Jerusalem and then another three [that makes for five in all] – before they find him in the Temple itself. And we see a Mother – worry over – relieved – and scolding her son: How could you do this to us? Your father and I have been terribly worried trying to find you!
And what a reply from Jesus! …. Why did you have to look for me? Didn’t you know that I had to be in my Father’s House?
There follows the not surprising comment: But they did not understand his answer!
When we talk of The Holy Family – we may sometimes be tempted to put emphasis on the word holy. But, by doing this – we run the danger of so elevating Mary & Joseph to such a level that we cannot see any deviation from the perfection expected in Jesus’ Family. We come to see them as always on sunny days – always in good form – always happy – never arguing.
But, when contemplating Joseph and Mary as they realize that [by whosever fault] their 12-year-old is missing …….. please don’t ask me to believe that there were no “words exchanged”!
If they were normal Parents – there must have been some kind of argument born of their own innate parental worry.
There is a lovely set of stained glass windows in the College Chapel in Clongowes – the work of Michael Healy and Evie Hone. In the 3rd Station [Jesus lost in the Temple] we see Mary and Joseph searching for Jesus – they are looking away from each other – backs turned, as if not wishing to talk together – very normal human reactions in such circumstances, perhaps.
But “words exchanged” does NOT mean that they didn’t love each other – but they were only human – just like us.
Please don’t ask me to believe that, during this time of lockdown – there have been no “words exchanged” in your Family! It does NOT mean there is no love unless, of course, you were no longer exchanging anything at all before it all began!
St Luke ends his account with some astonishing words – which puts what happened as Parents and Son made their way back from Jerusalem onto a very different plane ……. His mother treasured all these things in her heart! What a Mother !!
There is the secret of love in a family – there is God’s gift to/of each parent and of/to each child [young or old] …….. and there is the best recipe for living through these days of lockdown – accepting the restrictions – accepting each other.
Surely, there may be the occasional “exchange of words” – as pressure builds and tensions rise from this close-together living. But, following the example of The Holy Family – just as Joseph and Mary coped with their anxiety and fears – we will be better able to stand together and come through the covid-19 crisis – simply if we can come to realize that my Family is God’s special gift to me – and [God bless the mark!] I am His gift to them!
In later years may we all be able to look back on these strange times in our Family’s life – and, like Mary, Our Mother, be able to treasure all these things in our hearts – so that we can look back and, with thanks, laugh together at the memories!
Fr Michael Sheil SJ