The Line Of Command

The Line Of Command

First Sunday after Epiphany, Holy Family

His parents did not know. And they understood not the words He spoke to them.

In today’s holy Gospel, these two sentences should give us great courage and hope. It should not surprise us that the conduct of Our Lord surprises us. He is God, and we should only expect not to understand His ways. What is really consoling is that the Mother of God and St Joseph, they who were so far advanced in holiness, and so close to God, did not understand. Jesus did not tell them what He was going to do, and when they find Him in the Temple, He gives no explanation, and His words are incomprehensible to them.

How often we find ourselves in situations like Mary and Joseph, and want to ask: what is going on here? This should not be. It does not make sense.

This may very well be true. It does not have to make sense to us. Does the universe make sense? Have we got it figured out? Have we counted the days of yesteryear or discovered the origins of life? Do we understand the depths of the human heart? How then can we understand God?

St Paul tells his beloved disciple Timothy: Keep the commandment without spot, blameless, unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, which in his times he shall shew, who is the Blessed and only Mighty, the King of kings and Lord of lords: Who only hath immortality and inhabiteth light inaccessible: whom no man hath seen, nor can see: to whom be honour and empire everlasting. Amen  (1 Tm 6:14-15).

If God dwells in inaccessible light, that means there is no access to it, and that means that if we are to reach it, we can only be introduced there by God Himself. It also means that the way there is hidden, it cannot be discovered, it can only be followed in faith and absolute confidence.

If the grain of incense does not allow itself to be placed on the hot coal, it will never find its way to the high vaults of the church. If a soul does not allow itself to be tried and tested, and taken by the hand along a path it does not see, it will never arrive. Gold and silver are tried in the fire, but acceptable men in the furnace of humiliation (Eccli 2:5).

Mary understood this much. She understood that even she could not understand. And she did the only thing she was asked to do: she accepted, and pondered it all in her heart. She turned the events over, with loving care, to discern the merciful path of God who knows what is best.

The closing words of today’s Gospel leave us another enigma. He went down to Nazareth with them, and he was subject to themerat subditus illis. The Son of God accepts to be subject to His creatures. In the Holy Family, orders are given by the less gifted and the less holy, who happens to be St Joseph. The line of command goes from the least to the greatest. Superiors are not always the most gifted or the most holy. Often they are not. They are God’s viceroys, and that is all that matters.

When God wants the Holy Family to do something, He goes to Joseph. He wakes him up in the middle of the night, tells him to go, and St Joseph arouses Our Lady and she obeys him; Mary arouses Jesus, and He obeys her. Oh, the great mystery of holy obedience! The marvel of life lived in subordination to others, in imitation of the Son of God.

In our day and age, such teaching sounds like a foreign language. We are so imbued with human rights, with the so-called absolute value of the person, of our own person, that we have lost sight of the simplest truths of the Gospel: only those who renounce themselves are led to God. Those who refuse, who choose their own path, and insist upon their rights being acknowledged, will be left with them, and nothing more. No one has a right to God, and no one has a right to grace. It is given, and it is given only to the humble.

Let us ask the Holy Family for the grace to live this ideal in our families. Let us ask for the grace to understand that oftentimes the peace of the family passes through humble acceptance of facts, of events, of decisions, in the dark, without understanding. Let us ask for religious communities the grace to live truly in the spirit of the Holy Family, to not understand everything, but to move forward in faith, with absolute confidence, submissive to those whom God has set over us, knowing, that by the path of obedience, we go to God.