Fr. Vincent Tobin, OSB, shared this homily, which he gave on
May 3, 2015, at the rosary pilgrimage at Monte Cassino
"He emptied himself" (Phil 2:7) of the glory of divinity and
became a helpless infant, radically dependent on his parents, like
any infant. But his very existence became a threat to the
frightened, paranoid powers-that-be.
Joseph and Mary took responsibility for his safety. However the
flight into Egypt is interpreted, the brooding danger surrounding
the child hovered over his parents, too. When the young girl from
Nazareth gave her answer to the mysterious stranger, "I will it,
let it be done," she, of course, had no way of knowing how the
future would unfold.
But she did accept in faith that stretched back some 1,800 years
to Abraham, her father in faith, that YHWH, the almighty I AM
revealed to Moses in the burning bush, the God of the Covenant,
would be true to his promise, that she could confidently place her
absolute trust in him.
Walking to Jerusalem for the major feasts was customary for
pious Jewish families, and hundreds of thousands would gather in
the Temple courts, the size of some 36 football fields.
There is a scene in the Gospel of Luke (2:42-) where we find the
12-year-old boy-man making a conscious decision that he knew would
cause his parents a great deal of anxiety: he said nothing about
his decision to stay behind in Jerusalem and not join the caravan
for the 63-mile trip back to Nazareth. They started off without him
and thought he was in the crowd.
Three days later, they couldn't find him among their many
friends and relatives, and with gathering dread they turned around
and headed back the three-day trip to town. They were likely midway
between anxiety and anger. Any parent whose child ever got lost in
a huge crowd could feel the same kind of dread.
They finally found him, in the Temple (not according to the old
tale - praying the rosary before the Blessed Sacrament). They asked
him flat out (the text doesn't mention anger, but it's not hard to
understand how they felt), they asked him why he did what he
The answer is almost flippant: what were you worried about? And
then the reason, clear to him, certainly not to them: "Didn't you
know I had to be about my Father's business, in my Father's house?"
What could Joseph be thinking? But then the boy reverted to his
dependent status: he went home with them and obeyed them.
On the whole, a very strange incident. Well, she and Joseph had
a right to be upset, but... OK, he was her Son and she was his
mother, puzzles and all. The heart has reasons which reason knows
Some 18 years later, he left home and Nazareth for good and
began telling everyone he met that the time for waiting for God's
promise was on the verge of being fulfilled. Along with his mother
and disciples, he was invited to a wedding feast at Cana in
It was now the time to wake up, take God seriously, to stop
compromising with the truth, time for action, to take a stand for
or against God. Time was running out. Not to decide is to decide.
Time to change the water of "my will be done" into the wine of "not
my but your will be done." "In his will is our peace" (Dante).
Their Son wasn't being "nice"; he was upsetting people. One day
when he was inside a crowded house talking with people, someone
came from the outside and told him his mother and brothers and
sisters were outside and insisted on seeing him (Mk 3:32).
Yes, they thought he was off his rocker, embarrassing the
family. Maybe he was working too hard. Maybe some quiet time away
with friends in the country would help. They didn't yet understand
his priorities: His Father's first, then human family and
relatives. He was being difficult again. People just didn't
understand why he was doing what he was doing.
The pressure on his family must have been awkward and unwelcome.
To say the least, his own mother was troubled over the ways things
were going, and there's no biblical evidence that her difficult Son
took time to explain. But she was his mother, and he was her Son.
That had to explain everything. Love has reasons which the reason
Why does he go on about things that people don't like to hear?
This business about the cross with all its hideous implications,
willingly taking it up, carrying my own pain and helping others to
carry theirs? It's all I can do to even think about carrying
And for heaven's sake, this talk about eating his body and
drinking his blood, how can he expect any rational human being to
go along with that? No one was surprised when lots of people said
no way and stopped following him. Why doesn't he just say nice
things, cozy and comfortable things that appeal to the crowds and
are welcome into everybody's comfort zone? Why does he have to be
The mega-churches could teach him a thing or two about saying
nice things that people like to hear. This mother brought up her
Son to be kind and respectful. What happened between then and now?
But, she was his mother and her love went beyond understanding.
Why do the Gospels report these embarrassing scenes? What was so
important that the stories would be reported as long as the world
lasts? In other words, what meaning can we take right now from
hearing them? How do the decisions and words of a difficult Son and
puzzled parents affect our lives and our decisions?
It's no surprise that we humans have a "do-not-disturb" category
of acceptable sins that have passed our inspection and have been
judged OK, at least for the time being, with the possibility of
further review at some future date - maybe on our deathbed?
No matter all the puzzlement and embarrassment, she was his
mother and she would stand by him whatever happened, even as she
felt the criticism of so many who should have been glad to listen
to him. He was her Son, she was his mother, come what may.
How many of you here today have experienced the difficult son,
the difficult daughter? Rebellion is part of growing up, and
runaway emotions take charge long before reason takes hold. In an
age where just about anything goes, how can the example of Mary and
Joseph help frustrated parents?
The difficult son who totals the family car while DUI; a young
daughter high on drugs and in the lockup; a son or daughter who
decrees in freshman year of college that religion has no place in
the scientific age; the panic following an unwanted pregnancy;
addiction to Internet porn; bulimia, anorexia. The list goes
When parents accept the reality, the person, they are not
approving of self-destructive habits. Humility is reality, which
must be faced. Pride is illusion, which must be exposed.
"When they saw him they were amazed and his mother said to him,
'Son, why have you done this to us? Your father and I have been
looking for you with great anxiety?'" His answer is almost
flippant: "'Why were you looking for me? Didn't you know that I
must be in my Father's house (Lk 2:48)?' But they did not
understand what he said to them." They did not understand. But
neither did they give up on him. They didn't disown him for
embarrassing the family and spend the rest of their lives
Love saw them through this family crisis, and through the Great
Crisis years later, when a sorrowful mother stood weeping at the
foot of a cross. She went through her Good Friday, as we all must,
and then three days later she understood: "Peace be with you," he
said. "It is I, do not be afraid."
Authority, it is said, is love with limits. And we say, "love is
patient, love is kind, love never ends" (1 Cor 13:4). Love knows
how to correct and keeps on trying, and trying again and again and
knows no limits. Holy Mary, Mother of a difficult Son who taught
the world to love, pray for us.