In today’s opening prayer for the Mass of the Holy Family, we heard the words, “Graciously grant that we may imitate them (the Holy Family) in practicing the virtues of family life and in the bonds of charity (love). What are the virtues to be practiced by Christian families imitating the Holy Family? Virtues, I pray, we practiced over the celebration of Christmas? We heard some of those virtues in Paul’s Letter to the Colossians; “Put on, as God’s chosen ones, heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience, bearing with one another, forgiving one another if there’s a grievance against one another. And over all these put on love, the bond of perfection.” That’s quite a list of family virtues that St. Paul so eloquently provides for right Christian living, imitating the Holy Family. And when we consider the likes of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, we can see how those virtues that came down from heaven most notably displayed in the Person of the newborn child, we can understand how it’s possible to succeed at applying them in our own lives. If, that is, we seek to imitate the Holy Family in practicing the virtues of family life. When considering the three main characters in today’s Gospel, a 12-year-old boy and his parents, with those three, we can all agree that the list of St. Paul’s virtues are possible…for them. Are they possible for us? It’s not hard for to us to picture Jesus, Mary and Joseph experiencing heartfelt compassion toward each other. Or being kind, humble and gentle toward each other. Those virtues fit perfectly into our Catholic image of all three of them. Being patient and bearing with one another, especially when it appears a 12-year-old boy was left behind, never catching up with the caravan heading back to Nazareth after the Passover celebration. There was a damper placed on the joyful celebration of Passover when the parents figured out their firstborn son and only child was not with them when the caravan had traveled miles up the road toward the insignificant village of Nazareth. The absence of their son was anything but insignificant. It must have been an interesting conversation home after the parents discovered their Son teaching the teachers. A conversation that began with, “Son, why have you done this to us?” was likely finished somewhere on the road with kindness, gentleness, and patience, all grounded in the bond of perfection, love. This is why they are the Holy Family. Not because every day was a perfectly sunny day with roses in bloom, birds chirping away in the backyard, the temperature that of San Diego, and as holy as St. Juan Diego. I pray we do understand that the feast day today of the Holy Family is not the equivalent of celebrating a family that lived and experienced a world of perfection each day. That their home in Nazareth, or the entire village of Nazareth of about 200 people, was enclosed in this bubble of no issues, protected from a crooked world that never penetrated the holy bubble. It would be nice if we could live in that bubble, but that’s not an accurate picture of Nazareth or our own families. In today’s world, the created bubble would be similar to parents trying to protect their children as much as possible from all the ugliness we know is out there, or at their fingertips, in so many ways. You plant good seeds, you protect them and guide them, advise them in the ways of Christ, but do so knowing they will be out their one day, getting lost in the Temple. But hopefully making the choices you taught them. At some point, the created bubble will burst, praying they will choose, not to bury themselves in the sinful ways of our culture, build to up the Kingdom of God thanks to you parents and grandparents. Today’s joyful celebration of the Holy Family, in one sense, is a Lenten call, of all things. To imitate the Holy Family, which one of those virtues in the list of St. Paul is the one needed the most in our estimation, at this time? Which one is lacking the most? Is it forgiving? Is it kindness, rather than being unkind? How about being more gentle in the way Mary and Joseph were gentle with Jesus when they finally found him in the Temple after three very long days? By the way, Jesus wasn’t lost. He was completely at home in his Father’s house. His parents at this point could not fully comprehend his natural comfortability in the Temple, which is not a sin on their part. Or, do we need to practice more heartfelt compassion in the family circle, or, as in my family, the Family Circus? There’s a Lenten similarity to this Feast Day because during Lent one of the objectives is to work on our worst sin, but here on our most needed way of building family. Most families don’t hit that high plateau where virtues are practiced perfectly. It would be false to think we do. That’s like the person who comes to Confession and says, “I really don’t have any sins to confess; I just came by to say hello.” All of our families can imitate the Holy Family in deeper Christian ways, from that holy list of St. Paul because, and I put this in quotations, “we all have a 12-year-old lost in the Temple.” It might be 70-year-old Uncle George who hasn’t grown up yet. He still living his hippie days from Woodstock. We all have a 12-year-old seemingly lost in the Temple. The opening prayer beckons us to imitate the Holy Family. St. Paul provides a long list of virtues to apply. The Gospel provides the potential scenario for all our Christian families. Choose one from Paul’s list, and continue to build up God’s Kingdom in the nucleus of our families.