St Joseph, Husband of Mary - March 19

Here's good news for parents and teenagers: the parents of Jesus had their problems in communicating with their twelve-year-old, growing son. Jesus 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 hurt: "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. Luke says; "They did not understand what he meant."

Here we have a typical example of breakdown in communications between a growing son and his 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 may have tended to give up control reluctantly, and even an adolescent like Jesus was hasty 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 of all in these situations is to do the right thing for 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.

In Assisi, Pietro Bernadone and Donna Pica had their problems communicating with their son, Francis, after he decided to go his own way. Apparently, it didn't work out well for Pietro. The Legend of the Three Companions, 23, tells a sad story:

When his father saw him in such disgrace, he was filled with unusual pain. Because he loved him dearly, he was ashamed and felt great sorrow for him... he would curse him whenever he came upon him. Aware of his father's curses, the man of God chose a poor and looked-down -upon man to take the place of his father, and told him, "Come with me, ... When you see my father cursing me, I will also say to you: 'Bless me, father.' You will then make the sign of the cross over me and bless me in his place." The next time this happened and the beggar was blessing him. the man of God said to his father: "Don't you believe that God can give me a father to bless me against your curses?"

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

The most damaging 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 we adults can hear the real message that young people are trying to communicate, then we will respond in a more mellow way than if we react emotionally only to the external behaviour. We may not even react at all. We may decide to let a particular incident go over our 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 the way he did. 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: two very difficult things to do. Could that be the solution in a nutshell? No one said it's easy.

The Secular Franciscan Rule and General Constitutions encourage dialogue between generations:

Mindful that they are bearers of peace which must be built up unceasingly, they should seek out ways of unity and fraternal harmony through dialogue, trusting in the presence of the divine seed in everyone and in the transforming power of love and pardon (Rule 19)