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The time between Christmas and New Year is often family time, a good time to think about what family means. For many, it is a challenge to juggle the various family commitments. We do our best, and trust that everyone will understand the difficult choices that sometimes have to be made. It is now three years since the Synod on the Family in Rome. So much has happened globally since then that we are in danger of letting this significant event pass into history without giving it the ongoing attention it deserves. The Pope’s concluding words of concern for “difficult cases and wounded families” merit our attention. For Pope Francis, the Synod was “about bearing witness to everyone that, for the Church, the Gospel continues to be a vital source of eternal newness, against all those who would ‘indoctrinate’ it in dead stones to be hurled at others.” The pope reasserted his constant message that the Church’s “first duty is not to hand down condemnations or anathemas, but to proclaim God’s mercy."

Today’s readings invite us to focus on family relationships. At a very basic level, we are all “children of God” (1 John 3:1), invited to remember the love that God has “lavished on us”.

In the gospel reading, Luke presents the young Jesus coming with his parents from Nazareth to Jerusalem “as usual” for the great feast of Passover. He is twelve years of age, capable in that culture of making quite serious decisions for himself. He does just that, much to the consternation of his parents, who only become aware after a day’s journey that he has remained in Jerusalem and has not joined the extended family group or synodia for the return journey to Nazareth. Mary and Joseph are not well pleased. They express their concern but fail to understand his response: he is primarily God’s child and must follow God’s call first and foremost. This does not preclude obedience to his parents. It does, however, foreshadow the pain involved in parenting this young man whose mission will take him along paths they would never have chosen for him. I expect this will sound familiar to parents of young adults.

As Luke’s story unfolds, Joseph fades from the picture. Mary lives in the reflective way we are all called to live, “storing all these things in her heart”. Sometimes God’s call to children is in tension with parents’ wishes or hopes. Children are first of all “children of God”. Much as we might want to, we cannot hold on to them. We try to understand their choices, we do everything we can to nurture their uniqueness, and we pray that they too will grow in wisdom and stature and in favour with God as responsible members of the whole Earth community.

Source: Gospel reflection by Veronica Lawson RSM available at https://www.mercyworld.org