March 19: St Joseph, Husband of Mary (Lk 2:41-51a)




            When I decided to join the Franciscans at the age of eighteen, I caused my parents a lot of pain. Well, here’s good news for parents and teenagers: the parents of Jesus had their problems with their growing son.


            He decided to stay behind in the city “without his parents knowing it”. He didn't ask them. He didn't even tell them. He just did it.


            We can sense the deep hurt expressed by Mary when they finally found him: “My child, why have you done this to us? See how worried your father and I have been, looking for you” (Luke 2:48).


            The lad's answer didn't help to heal the wound: “Why were you looking for me? Didn't you know that I must be busy with my Father's affairs?” If anything, he widened the gap of misunderstanding. St Luke says; “They did not understand what he meant.”


            Here we have a typical example of breakdown in communications between teenager and parents.


            The goal of bringing up children is to enable the person to develop to full adulthood. This involves the child’s eventual independence of the parents, not freedom to do what he likes, but freedom to do what he should, responsible interdependence between the grown son and his parents, between the adult and his fellows.


            The process of growing out of a child's dependence, through a teenager's independence to an adult's interdependence, involves a change in attitude, both of the child to the parents and of the parents to the child.


            It is consoling to discover that the growing process was stormy at least on one occasion in the Holy Family itself. Even parents like Mary and Joseph tended to give up control reluctantly, and even an adolescent like Jesus was hasty and thoughtless in his desire to gain independence.


            Clashes are inevitable and tension is to be expected. The problem is all there in today's Gospel.


            The sad irony is that what both parents and child want most desperately in these situations is to relate warmly to one another. Jesus “then went down with them and came to Nazareth and lived under their authority.” No doubt, there were other clashes as he “increased in wisdom, in stature and in favour with God and men”, not least in favour with his parents.


            The whole issue of youth's relationship to authority is very touchy now, more so than when any of today's adults were younger. People talk about the generation gap to express the clash of opposites.


            Certainly, there are generation differences, for example, in sports (bowls versus badminton); attitudes to life (quiet and traditional versus noisy and new); fashions (chongsam versus T-shirts); music and dancing (ballroom versus hot rock).


            But the gap occurs in communication, when one or both sides feel threatened and pull back until they are no longer within talking distance, but snipe at each other across a no-man's land of suspicion and resentment.


            To know how to let go of authority gradually, and when to let go, places big demands on the parents' emotional balance. If you who are parents can hear the real message that your children are trying to communicate, then you will respond in a more mellow way than if you react emotionally only to the externals. You may not even react at all. You may decide to let a particular incident go over your head.


            There is a time to speak, and a time to keep silent. Joseph was a silent man, apparently.


            Mary “stored up all these things in her heart”, but not with resentment or bitterness. She simply didn't understand why Jesus had behaved so irresponsibly, why did he have to assert so strongly his personal duty to God and his absolute independence from everyone. Well, he was almost a teenager, and she was his mother, and they had a communication problem.


            But she knew when to stop complaining, and he learnt how to live under the authority of his parents. There's the solution in a nutshell, but no one said it's easy. Besides, I have never had to bring up my own children.