“Jesus, Mary and Joseph: Making Room for God” by Fr. Robert Manansala, OFM

There is a beautiful story about a four year old Margaret who loved her picture of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph. The picture hung low on the wall within Margaret’s reach and every night, she gave it a resounding kiss before she got into bed.

One night, just as she was settled in bed and her mother was giving her a final tucking in, Margaret announced, “I have to get up! I forgot.” She immediately stood up and went before the image of the Holy Family and gave it a loud smack. Back in bed she settled herself contentedly, looked up to her mother and remarked with a deep sigh, “They are such lovely people.”

The Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph are indeed such lovely people because of the love among themselves and their loving obedience to the will of God in their lives and in their family.

The gospel reading is about the Finding of Jesus in the Temple by his parents, Mary and Joseph. In this passage Luke calls our attention to at least three important things.

First of all, Luke calls our attention to the religiosity of Jesus and his family. Throughout the birth narrative of Jesus we see this religiosity of the Holy Family being consistently shown: Mary and Joseph name the child Jesus in obedience to the angel Gabriel and they go to the Jerusalem Temple in obedience to the Law of Moses about purification and presentation. But in this episode of the finding in the temple, Luke adds a new note – Jesus is also shown as respectful of duty and is pious and religious in accompanying his parents in the Temple visit to Jerusalem.

The Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph was a family that made room for God and God’s will in their lives and in their family. Mary made room for God and His will when she accepted God’s plan for her to be the mother of the Son of God by the power of the Holy Spirit. Joseph made room for God when he obeyed the message of the angel to take Mary as his wife and to be the legal father of Jesus. The Son of God became Incarnate because Mary and Joseph made room for God and his birth was first revealed to the shepherds who made room for God when they heeded the sign of the infant in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger revealed by an angel. The three magi, the first non-Jewish people to witness the birth of Jesus, also made room for God when they searched for the Messiah born in Bethlehem. The crib or the “belen” with the Holy Family, the shepherds of Bethlehem, the magi from the East and even the animals represents the entire humanity and creation making room for God in contrast to the “inn that did not have room for them.”

Pope Benedict XVI, in his Christmas Eve homily, raised fundamental questions about making room for God. He asked: “Do we really have room for God when he seeks to enter under our roof? Do we have time and space for him? Do we not actually turn away God himself? We begin to do so when we have no time for him.”

We live in fast changing times and a highly technological and globalized world. The Holy Father added that because of so many developments in the world, we can become already full and the question of God may not seem urgent. The Holy Father further cautioned that we can become “so ‘full’ of ourselves that there is no room left for God. And that means there is no room for others either, for children, for the poor, for the stranger.”

The Church documents on marriage and family make it clear that the family is our primary school of holiness and love. Every Christian home is a domestic church, a community of parents and siblings and other family members united in God and in following Jesus. The parents are the first catechists. The family is the very first venue where we learn how to make room for God in our hearts and in our lives.

In the past, this making room for God was not only symbolic; it was also literal. Families would gather in the main room or the living room of the home to pray together. Making room for God literally meant making a special sacred place for the family to be united with God and with one another in prayer.

When people ask me, “How did your vocation to the religious life and the priesthood start?” I would always go back to those childhood memories where our extended family of grandparents, parents, aunts and uncles and cousins would gather in one big room every night to pray the rosary. My devout and holy grandmother would always lead us in this prayer. Sad to say, many families have lost or are losing this sacred space for God in their homes.

In 2009, I had a great privilege of being with more than 1,500 members of the Couples for Christ and its sub-ministries across the United States who were holding a national convention at the University of Illinois in Champaign-Urbana. I was then ministering as spiritual director and assistant chaplain at the St. John’s Catholic Newman Center, the Catholic Chaplaincy on campus, while doing my doctoral studies at a theological school in Chicago. I had a number of Masses with the Couples for Christ delegates and one of them was with the members of the Kids for Christ, mostly Filipino-Americans born in the US.

It is never easy to give a homily to young kids, so I decided to begin my homily by asking, “What do you want to be when you grow up?”

One kid said, “Father, I want to become a nurse.” Another said, “I want to become a teacher.” Still another remarked, “I want to be become an engineer.”

Then I young boy raised his hand, but was not content in answering my question where he was standing. I came to know that his name was Josh. Josh went in front and faced the other Kids for Christ and the parents who were there and said, “Father, I want to become a saint.”

Everybody started to clap. And I said, “This boy gave the best answer.” And I said, if you have a son or a daughter who wants to become a saint and not just an engineer or a nurse, you are doing a pretty good job.” Yes, be an engineer, a teacher, a nurse, whatever, but be holy and good engineer, teacher, or nurse. And when I asked, “ Who are the parents of this boy?” I had a great surprise when I learned that the mother of the boy was one of my students in religion class when she was in her senior year.” The mother was there at the gathering but I did not immediately recognize her. It was a very happy reunion for us and I congratulated her for being a good mother.

Of course, we do not have to become canonized saints. But the Church tells us, through the document Lumen Gentium, that our universal calling is to holiness. We are not all called to become nuns, teachers, nurses and so on, but we are all called to holiness. And the universal call to holiness, according to Lumen Gentium, consists in the perfection, growth, increase of practical love of God and neighbors. You may want to put it simply – to have a wide room for God and for others in our hearts and in our lives.

Josh, at a young age, already has very big room for God. I think it is only because his parents have room for God in their lives.

This leads us to the second point we see in the incident of the Finding in the Temple. Luke also calls our attention to the wisdom of Jesus. “All who heard Jesus were astounded at his understanding and his answers.” This manifestation of wisdom on the part of Jesus at an early age is an anticipation of the wisdom that he will eventually show in his preaching and ministry.

Eric Lane says that the concept of wisdom is about how best to find our way through the maze of this world. We need wisdom to go through life in this world. Proverbs 9:10 tells us that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. Fear of the Lord is to be understood more as the love of the Lord or deep loving reverence for the Lord.” A person who goes through life with deep and loving reverence for the Lord is a wise person. A wise person is one who has truly made room for God in his or her life. I trust that the Holy Family Academy has not only made you intelligent and smart people who have already achieved a lot in life but truly wise people capable of finding your way through the maze in this world equipped with the reverential love for the Lord, for His will and for His ways.

The third motif we see in Luke concerns the basic attitude of Jesus’ life. When Jesus says, “Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” he is showing that his priorities are with God rather than with earthly concerns, even those that affect his family. Jesus stresses the priority of God’s claim and he is teaching his parents of this priority, something that he will emphasize when he talks about discipleship. The family of Jesus is characterized by that common desire to seek and follow God’s word and will above all things in their lives. Christian disciples who are members of the family know their priorities in life: God above all else and everything around this priority of God in one’s life. Indeed, seek first the Kingdom of God and all others besides will be given unto you.”

We have just started the Year of Faith, which the Holy Father has described as a journey that commenced at baptism and that will continue until the end of our lives.

It is important to take note that we do not only embark on this journey as individuals but as communities, starting with our families. May we as individuals, as families, and as communities continue to be nourished by our faith in God and in Christ as we continue journeying through life providing always a wide room for God and for others, especially our lesser brothers and sisters, in our hearts and in our lives.

About Fr. Robert and his reflections