This morning we are privileged to hear the first words Jesus utters in the Gospel. “Why did you look for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” These words were originally written in Greek – and that last phrase could just as easily be translated as “I must be about my Father’s business”. It’s just a small tweak of the meaning, but keep that in mind as you listen and try to figure out Why He responded the way he did and more importantly – what He’s trying to tell YOU today.
I’m always struck by how Jesus responds to people in the Gospel. To OUR ears it sounds dis-respectful. Like today – ‘why did you look for me? Did you not know I must be in my Father’s house?’ Sounds a little like he’s too big for his britches, if you ask me!… I would think a sincere apology would be in order. But who am I to question what JESUS said? There MUST be a message for us or it wouldn’t have been recorded in scripture. I have a story which might help us think a little differently about that response.
Jerry’s 4 year old daughter Susie was out playing in the mud puddles one day and making mud pancakes. Jerry was babysitting that day, and he KNEW his wife would be sooo upset that he let her play in the mud. Yeah – she was making a huge mess of her clothes, but she was SOO cute and having so much fun. Jerry went in to grab a camera to capture the moment… but when he came back, Susie was gone! Where could she be? Did she cross the road? Did she go to the neighbor’s house? Did she go inside? He panicked… running around calling her name – searched the bedroom, the playroom, the TV room, all the neighbor’s houses. Even the neighbors joined the search. Giving up, Jerry ran back inside to call the police when he heard some singing coming from the bathroom… bursting through the door, he saw Susie sitting in the bath tub playing with her rubber duckie… The first thing out of his mouth was THANK GOD… which was quickly followed by words that sounded harsher than he wanted… WHERE did you go? We were looking all over for you?!!! And Susie, sensing how upset he was, started to cry as she said, “But – I was all muddy and I knew mommy wouldn’t like it so came to get a bath…I thought you KNEW I had to take a bath”.
I think Susie’s response gives us a clue about Jesus’ response to Mary and Joseph when they found him in the temple: He likely was surprised by their reactions. “Why did you look for me? Didn’t you know…?” From HIS perspective, it should have been quite OBVIOUS to them where He would be found. They shouldn’t have been surprised to find him in Church.
So – what’s the bigger message? How can we find our own story in these readings?
Here is the question for each person here: Have YOU ever lost Jesus? We might have surrounded ourselves with so many people, like the caravan in the Gospel, so maybe we haven't even REALIZED Jesus is missing from our lives. When troubles hit – When sorrow, pain, and worry envelop us, we suddenly realize we’ve left him behind somewhere. We might scurry around all over town like Mary and Joseph searching for Jesus...and then, as a last resort, we go the Church. THIS is where we find him...here...in the Father's House...in church... with a community of believers. Yeah, we can find him WHEREVER God's will is being done, but the PRIMARY place to find Jesus is in the Father’s house.
The second most-likely place to find Jesus is at home in our Families. Home is where we learn how to live as Christians. You may remember just a couple of months ago a Synod was held – basically a meeting of Bishops with the Pope – and the topic was the Family. Here are a couple quotes I pulled from their document:
the family is a “school of love,” a “school of communion,” and a “gymnasium for relationships,” that is, the privileged place to learn to build meaningful relationships which help a person develop a capacity for giving one’s self. ...the family can be considered as the “basic school of humanity,” and thus regarded as irreplaceable.
As with just about any Church document, it’s kinda wordy… but packed with meaning. What’s all that mean? The family is where we learn to Love and what it means to be Loved. It is a place where we learn ‘communion’… how to live together. That third phrase is interesting.. the family is a ‘gymnasium for relationships’…what do we go to a gym for? To work out…to practice… to play the game. The Family is where we practice giving of ourselves..we practice forgiving…we work-out our problems….we practice communication…we exercise our communication skills… we practice being self-less… in essence – we learn how to Love.
The family is also the breeding ground for Vocations. This is where the first reading connects with the Gospel. Notice that Hannah dedicated Samuel to God very early in life. She took him to the temple and left him there to be raised by the priests and temple handmaids. That seems a bit extreme to our modern culture… We normally don’t decide FOR our kids what they should be when they get older – we let them decide. However, Families still have a HUGE impact on whether a young person will consider a priestly or religious vocation.
On one hand, I know families who pray together - and I mean teens too - praying the rosary together daily or weekly. They pray before meals - they go to Mass together - go to Reconciliation. These people have trained their children to view the Sacraments of the Church as 'normal'… that doesn't match what the rest of society thinks is normal. These kids are reminded to ask GOD what HE wants them to do with their life. They are encouraged to seek a vocation to the priesthood or religious life.
On the other hand, I also know folks - one lady in particular is a very close friend and a very strong Catholic - who purposely DISCOURAGED her son from following a calling to the priesthood. Why? She wants grandkids. Really? This statement actually worries me… if every parent wants grandkids – and few families have more than one son anymore… then we won’t have ANY parents encouraging their sons to consider a vocation.
How CAN we encourage vocations?
Ø First - By changing the question we ask our youth. Instead of ‘what do you want to be when you grow up’, let’s ask, ‘what is God calling YOU to do?’ Start asking the question early in life, so it will become just a normal question they ask themselves.
Ø Take them to church… I don’t mean to LEAVE them at church, like Hannah did. I don’t think Fr. Eugene wants a bunch of kids running around the Rectory. Taking the family to church shows the youth how important this is to you.
Ø You know, when I was young I used to get frustrated by babies and toddlers who would make noise in church… but somewhere along the line somebody reminded me that noisy babies are a sign that our parish is still growing – rather than just being a church for the old people.
Ø Another way to encourage vocations is to Show respect for the priest. Speak kindly about Father in front of the kids. Do things as a family to thank Father for all he does – like – I can remember we would have our parish priest over for dinner often. What a great way for us kids to get to know these priests as ‘real people’.
I realize there are other reasons parents don’t want their kids to be a Priest – but most of us involved in Ministry would agree that it is the most fulfilling way to live. Father touches SO many lives on a personal level – AND – he has been ordained to feed us the Body and Blood of Jesus. I personally can’t think of anything I’d rather my son would do.
If we would dedicate our children to God as Hannah did in the first reading... if we would set the example for them… if we guide them to always seek what GOD wants them to do… we shouldn’t be surprised if we find them in church,… doing our Father’s business.