June 4, 2016
After three days his parents found Jesus in the temple, sitting in the midst of the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions, and all who heard him were astounded at his understanding and his answers. (Luke 2:41-51)
The following homily was originally delivered in June 2013 at St. Pius X Parish in Indianapolis:
Young Jesus and I have something in common. In my youth, I too experienced being left behind. However, when comparing my experience to that of Jesus, the similarities end there:
- Our family was not part of a caravan traveling home after Passover. We were heading to Wisconsin for vacation.
- Jesus chose to stay behind. My parents forgot me.
- Jesus spent his time in the temple. I was left at a truck stop on I-94.
- When Jesus’ parents found him, he was sitting amongst the Rabbis, demonstrating his deep understanding of scripture. When my parents found me, I was chatting with a truck driver, wearing a cowboy hat, and eating a Popcicle.
- When Jesus saw his parents, he said, “Why were you looking for me?” When I saw my parents, I started crying.
Some Gospel passages have so many life-giving messages to offer that it becomes difficult to determine exactly which one to focus on. Today we have that type of reading. Should our focus be on 12-year-old Jesus and the astonishing knowledge and understanding He was demonstrating in the temple?
Or is the message more reflective in nature? Perhaps the Gospel is asking us, “Do you notice when Jesus is missing from your life? And if so, do you go looking for Him?’
Maybe the Church is calling us home with a subtle message: If you are having difficulty finding Jesus, you should know that you can always find him here, in His Father’s house.
I have chosen to concentrate on the dynamics of the family unit and its connection to our faith. Certainly all of us who are parents can relate to what Mary and Joseph must have felt throughout this ordeal. I won’t ask for a show of hands, but I’m sure most of you parents, if not all, know the feeling of your heart dropping into your stomach when you realize that you do not know where your child is.
At the state fair, parents look at each other with panic when they realize that their 4-year-old is not with them. Mom says “I thought he was with you” and Dad responds, “I thought he was with you.”
A father paces the floor at 12:30 at night, staring at the clock. His daughter’s curfew is midnight and she isn’t home, and she doesn’t answer her phone.
We can feel the heartfelt intensity of Mary’s simple words to Jesus: “Son, why have you done this to us? Your father and I have been looking for you with great anxiety.”
It is important to acknowledge that the great anxiety felt by Mary and Joseph was not debilitating. It called them to action. It fueled the search for their son.
There are other times in the lives of parents when they must deal with a child who is lost, if not physically, perhaps emotionally or spiritually. Despite the parents’ best intentions, the child’s faith is fading, or gone altogether. We bring them to Mass; we share our value system with them; we try to inspire them with our own love of the Church; but for them, something is missing.
They are searching for something else, wanting to discover God in their own time and on their own terms. We want to bring them home. We want to pull them back in, but don’t know how without pushing them away.
Mary’s words echo, “Your father and I have been looking for you with great anxiety.”
Sometimes the relationship between parents and their children gets lost somewhere along the way. The children don’t think they need their parents any more. Priorities come into question. Phone calls and visits become less and less frequent. An unresolved argument that started one day festers until communication is broken off all together. Both parent and child are hurt that the other has not reached out. Whose fault it is becomes more important than the relationship itself.
The great anxiety is there, but the ‘looking for you’ is gone.
Children are a gift from God. Parents are entrusted with their care. They nurture their children, educate them, and form them in the faith. They show their love for their children by providing them, to the best of their ability, with food, clothing and shelter, and the other necessities of life.
These are minimum expectations. Mary and Joseph give us a great example by their willingness to look for their son with great anxiety. They recognized that a family member was lost, harnessed the energy of their great anxiety, looked for the family member, and brought Him home.
When we think of family in those terms, we realize that a family is not always made up of a mother, father, and child. That same accountability for one another extends beyond our immediate, traditional families: Your group of friends – caring for one another and providing support when one friend is struggling. The people you work with at the office – noticing when you are lost and trying, with great anxiety, to bring you back. The neighbors who live on your street, this parish community, and so on. As with every Gospel passage, it comes back to one simple message: Love God with all your heart and love others as yourself.
I would bet that when Mary and Joseph saw Jesus, despite the fact they were astonished, despite their great anxiety, and before they chastised him, I would bet that they ran to him and wrapped him in a huge hug and told him that they loved him.
Just as my Mom and Dad did when they found me in the truck stop on I-94.