Holiness today

Feast of the Holy Family.

In the lives of the saints we are presented with different models of how to live a live dedicated to the Lord. Perhaps this is because there is in fact no one way to be holy – all that we can do is to look at the lives of people – and in our feast today of families – and take inspiration from them in our own pursuit of holiness.

The first reading reminds us of the story of Hannah, who we are introduced to at the start of 1 Samuel as a devote woman who desires to conceive a child, but remains barren. She and her husband Elkanah go up each year to the sanctuary of Shiloh. On one occasion she is so distraught by her barrenness that she prays and weeps bitterly. But Eli the priest misunderstands her actions and thinks she is drunk (perhaps like many priests across the centuries?) but she (perhaps like many devote women across the centuries?) defends herself and receives his blessing. In due course she conceives and bears a son, whom she names Samuel, which means the ‘name of God’ or ‘offspring of God’. Now, after Samuel is weaned, she takes him back to the sanctuary – in fulfillment of the vow that she had made. The holiness of Hannah and Elkanah, and their devotion to the Lord is clear, and is well expressed in their outward commitment to the Lord which mirrors their internal disposition.

In the Gospel we meet the Holy Family undertaking their annual pilgrimage to the Passover in Jerusalem – again an expression of their regularity in their commitment to the Lord. Of Joseph we know very little – but what we do know (mainly from the Gospel of Matthew) is significant. He is deeply devoted to his wife, and is easily prepared to lay aside his concerns upon the coming of the word of the Lord. Like his namesake from the book of Genesis, Joseph is prepared to listen to his heart and respond to the promptings of his dreams. It is in his dreams that he learns the identity of the father of his child; he learns of the violence and destruction that Herod intends to inflict upon this precious child and so flees with his family to Egypt; and finally responds when an angels tells him it is now safe to return. This openness to the word of the Lord, and his commitment to action when he knows what needs to be done marks him out as a man of holiness.

The obvious commitment of Mary to the way of the Lord needs little commentary. Despite her youth, she is very prepared to respond with all that she is to the way of God with exemplary openness and devotion.

And the second reading provides the ecstatic motivation for any of us to respond to the Lord – the love of God that has been lavished upon us. So let us see in these models of holiness a call from the Lord to enter ever deeper into his infinite and beautiful mystery, as an expression of our own life of holiness.

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Recorded at St Michael’s Hall (6pm, 6’24”)

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