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Friends, today’s Gospel tells the familiar story of Mary and Joseph finding twelve-year-old Jesus in the temple. When they find him, they upbraid him with understandable exasperation: “Son, why have you done this to us?” But Jesus responds, “Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?”

The story conveys a truth that runs sharply counter to our sensibilities: even the most powerful familial emotions must, in the end, give way to mission. Though she felt an enormous pull in the opposite direction, Mary let her son go, allowing him to find his vocation in the temple. Legitimate sentiment devolves into sentimentality precisely when it comes to supersede the call of God. 

On a biblical reading, the family is, above all, the forum in which both parents and children are able to discern their missions. It is perfectly good, of course, if deep bonds and rich emotions are cultivated within the family, but those relationships and passions must cede to something that is more fundamental, more enduring, more spiritually focused. 

The paradox is this: precisely in the measure that everyone in the family focuses on God’s call for one another, the family becomes more loving and peaceful.