Room for all in the family. LUKE 2:22–40
By Abbot John Pereira OSB
“There was a prophetess also, Anna the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was well on in years” (Lk 2:36).
When I read about Anna in today’s gospel—a woman of 84 years who spoke in a welcoming way about the child Jesus—I remember my own grandmother, Florence, who also lived to the age of 84.
I remember how once when I was quite young, I had felt quite sad about something. The only person to whom I could have gone to at that time of sadness was my grandmother.
I went to her room. There she was, lying down on her bed. I got into the bed and lay at her side never speaking a word. I knew that she had understood. And I felt better for it. Like the old woman Anna, who welcomed Jesus into her life, my grandmother had also welcomed me at her side.
The gospel invites me to look at the relationships which exist in our own families and to see how the Holy Family can bring greater understanding among us.
We may be tempted to view the Holy Family (father, mother, and son) as the model for the nuclear family unit that has become so prevalent today. In this model, there is often no room for the elderly.
The nuclear family model is in direct opposition to the old West Indian concept of the extended family, which included ‘Granny’ and ‘Tantie’ and a host of other elders, all living side by side with the young.
However, the Gospel of Luke presents a scenario of old and young all loving and respecting each other, more in the style of the extended family model. It is in this milieu that Jesus was nurtured.
The old man Simeon accepted the young girl Mary, giving her a word of wisdom about her newborn son. And the elderly Anna is overjoyed at the sight of the child Jesus. There is mutual love between old and young. Today’s gospel reminds us that the young and the old need each other, that they both have a role to play, and that in order to create families of love, we need to grow in mutual respect, regardless of age differences.
In our family relationships there is sometimes suspicion and tension. The elderly are often seen as useless and merely to be tolerated. On the other hand, the elderly can sometimes view the young as immature and not capable of doing anything good, often criticising their efforts.
In order to restore love and harmony in our homes, we need to grow in respect for each other: young for old and old for young. In this way, the gifts of the young can be channelled with the wisdom of the aged to bring about the best in our homes.
The elderly Simeon and Anna made it possible for the youthful Mary and her child Jesus to fulfil the requirements of the law. The young Mary depended on the aged Simeon and Anna to fulfil what was needed to be done. On the other hand, the aged Simeon and Anna needed the young Mary to attain what they had longed to see all their lives: the Messiah.
On this feast of the Holy Family, we pray that the Lord will give us the grace to grow in a deeper appreciation for each other: young for old and old for young. In this way, our families may become more and more like that of the Holy Family.
Heavenly Father, I trust in You. I thank You for the many ways in which the elderly and the young relate to bring about life and love within our Caribbean families. Help us always to work for that unity that is so vital to the strengthening of family life in our beautiful nation of Trinidad and Tobago. Amen.
The gospel reflections for December were by Abbot John Pereira OSB of the Abbey of Our Lady of Exile, Mount St Benedict.