I appreciate your response to our end-of-the-year appeal for
support. Your donations pay for the over 9,000 weekly emails we send
to subscribers of "First Impressions." You also help maintain our
"Preacher Exchange" webpage, which last year had over 380,000
"hits." Many preachers and lay people write that they use the
reflections for preaching, scripture groups and personal prayer.
Thank you for making this resource available to so many.
If you didn’t get a chance to donate and would like to:
Send tax deductible checks to:
payable to: Dominican Friars
For an online donation go to:
gospel has a familiar ring. We have heard stories of famous people
who showed precocious signs of future greatness while they were
still young. Jesus, while still only twelve, declares his primary
allegiance. He is to be in God’s house, God’s work will be his
Jesus belonged to an observant Jewish family and so his parents
take their firstborn to the Temple in Jerusalem. They are teaching
him his Jewish heritage. St. Luke is brief about something that that
must have seemed like an eternity for Mary and Joseph – for "three
days" they search for their missing child. Read into that succinct
narrative the anguish Jesus’ parents must have felt searching for
their son. What parent has not had a hint of that feeling when
turning around in a mall they notice their child has wandered? How
much greater the anguish experienced by those parents whose child
has run away, or made decisions they were much too young to make,
with consequences that may last the rest of their lives?
Parenting has profound joys and more than its share of worry,
fright and anguish. I can only imagine the relief Mary and Joseph
felt when, at last, they found Jesus. Mary’s statement to him, about
his parents having "great anxiety," gives us a clue what the parents
were feeling. The original Greek for "anxiety" suggests severe
mental distress, sadness and intense anguish. For example, in Luke,
it is the same expression used by the rich man who, having ignored
the beggar Lazarus at his gate, winds up in hell begging Abraham for
a drop of water to cool his tongue. He says, ". . . For I am in
agony in these flames" (Lk. 16: 24). In Greek, "agony" is the
same word Luke uses when Mary tells Jesus, "Your father and I have
been looking for you with great anxiety". Mary’s tone sounds
like what one would expect from a parent who has just gone through
"great anxiety" – she is correcting Jesus. But his response isn’t
the humble request for forgiveness we might have expected. Instead,
he seems to reproach them for their worry. Jesus, as Luke depicts
him here, is a young man finding his calling for life. He will be
about God’s business and his choice of vocation will take him
outside the influence of family and village.
Jesus’s response doesn’t clarify the matter for Mary and Joseph;
they "did not understand what he said to them." The call he has
heard, "to be in my Father’s house", and to dedicate himself to
God’s ways, is exactly right for him – and for us. But we can’t
ignore the mystery. That call will require him to be faithful to it
all the way to his death. Others in religious and political power
will take such exception to the way he lived out his vocation that
they will seek his death This is just the beginning. Jesus will
always cause continued questions and anguish for his parents, most
especially for Mary, when she stands and wonders at the foot of his
Let’s look at the context of the passage, this may help in our
interpretation. Luke begins his gospel with a two-part prologue
(1:5-2:52). The first part (1:5-2:40) appears in the Lectionary
readings during Advent, the Christmas celebrations and on the feast
of the Immaculate Conception. This part of the prologue is about
Jesus’ origins. The second part (2:41-2:52) is much shorter and
relates to his destiny. He will return to God. Hence, today’s
selection begins to show this destiny, when Jesus says his place is
in his "Father’s house." Through this liturgical year Luke’s gospel
will follow a similar division. The first part will be about the
origins of the Christian community in Galilee (4:14-9:50). In the
second we will travel with Jesus to Jerusalem and discover our
destiny with him.
There is a painting of the Holy Family I once saw, I think it was
done by George de la Tour. It shows Joseph in his carpentry shop
where he is teaching carpentry to the young Jesus. They are working
on two pieces of wood that form a cross beam. De la Tour seems to be
suggesting the early appearance of the cross in the gospel. The
artist depicts the same thing Luke is showing us. Earlier in the
Gospel Luke tells us that the Spirit of God "over shadows" Mary
enabling her to become the mother of the savior. This young,
unlettered peasant girl discerns the voice of God and responds in
the affirmative to God’s will, becoming a partner with God in the
work of redemption. Her "yes" began the story of God’s taking flesh
– but it also turned her world upside down. Her "yes" to God’s ways
required personal sacrifice.
We begin to see today some of the consequences in Mary’s life as
a result of her consent to God. She must undergo the suffering of a
parent whose son’s ways cause her pain and questions. Besides the
Spirit’s presence in her life, the cross is also showing signs of
its presence. We know that through Luke’s gospel the cross
"overshadows" Jesus’ life – but we begin to see that it overshadows
the family’s life as well. It has already begun to show itself as
Jesus chooses a way of life that will bring suffering before it
brings new life. Luke tells us that the parents "did not understand
what he said to them." They, like Jesus’ disciples – and we as well
– will have to walk by the light of faith that enables them to trust
God, even when an answer to problems and pain is not immediately
Growing up I heard too many sermons that waxed eloquently on "the
Holy Family." Preachers imagined an idyllic family which made me
feel my loving family fell short of the ideal painted by the
preachers. Painted images of the Holy Family in church and home only
helped reinforce the unreality and distance between them and the
families I knew. Jesus, Mary and Joseph, in their immaculate, but
simple home, seemed so peaceful, clean and starched. I used to think
Jesus had it easy, he had no brothers or sisters to argue with over
the biggest piece of birthday cake. Mary and Joseph looked like they
never disagreed, worried about finances, or had fears for the safety
of their child growing up in an all-too-cruel world. I think we need
to bring our human experience to today’s gospel and not sanitize it
to fit our preconceptions or pious presumptions about the kind of
life the Holy Family lived. Having an unreal idealized view of
Jesus’ family only further separates us from his life and the lives
of other saints.
The closing line tells us that when they returned to Nazareth,
Jesus was obedient to his parents and that he "advanced in wisdom
and age and favor before God and humans." This growth didn’t happen
in his sleep. Jesus is part of a human family, devout Jews, who
passed on their faith and their family customs to their son. As his
parents, they taught and nourished Jesus into manhood. God’s taking
flesh among us means Jesus grew and matured the way we do -- under
the influence of his parents, extended family, friends and
neighbors. Jesus was not raised in the Temple, in a rarefied
atmosphere, far from the influence of his family. Instead, he was
very much immersed among people who cherished, nourished and stood
by him, even though they didn’t fully understand him.
for a link to this Sunday’s readings:
Into this world, this demented inn, in which there is
absolutely no room for him at all, Christ has come
uninvited. But because he cannot be at home in it,
because he is out of place in it, his place is with
those others for whom there is no room. His place is
with those who do not belong, who are rejected by power
because they are regarded as weak, those who are
discredited, who are denied the status of person, who
are tortured, bombed and exterminated. With those for
whom there is no room Christ is present in the world.
is your dwelling place, O Lord of hosts!
In this psalm, Israelites celebrate the
pilgrimage feasts in Jerusalem annually, eager to enjoy the divine
presence. As we contemplate what an effort it must have took for the
Holy Family to journey each year to the "City of Peace," let us
think about how willing we are to stop what we are doing and be with
the Lord as part of his holy family. Then, take it a step further
and think about the rest of God’s family that we may not know--the
poor, the disadvantaged, the imprisoned, the elderly. . . are we
willing to journey with them?
Jonathan T. M. Reckford, the CEO of Habitat for Humanity
International, writes of poverty in their December newsletter:
"Many people view poverty as a single failing of
the individual or of society -- one that with enough tenacity anyone
should be able to overcome.
What I’ve found, however, is that poverty isn’t a
single closed door. It’s a series of them.
Whether these doors are open to us can depend
largely on factors outside of our control: the neighborhood we were
born in, the school district we were raised in, the genetic health
issues we were passed down.
Each of these doors can trigger a cascade of
closing doors behind it.
The zip code, family and skin you were born in
either lead you to -- or close you off from -- access to higher
education, approval for loans, potential jobs, higher wages, stable
Eventually, as the doors close, poverty becomes a
lack of freedom and of choice."
We know today that the Lord’s dwelling is the
entire world, indeed the universe, and in the heart and soul of
This coming year, let our pilgrimage include "the
other" and let us walk together toward God’s world--where there is
no more poverty, where everyone has a decent place to live, where
food is plentiful, where no one goes without a cloak for warmth,
where health is a given, where love, wisdom and justice prevail,
where our earth no longer groans in abuse, where everyone has the
opportunity to become who they were meant to be, …a world where
God’s presence is made manifest.
It begins with a single step joined with others.
Then, truly, we will arrive at the City of Peace.
Director of Social
Holy Name of Jesus
Cathedral, Raleigh, NC
Mini-reflections on the Sunday scripture readings designed for
persons on the run. "Faith Book" is also brief enough to be posted
in the Sunday parish bulletins people take home.
From today’s I Samuel reading:
Once Samuel was weaned, Hannah brought him with
and presented him at the temple of the Lord in Shiloh.
From today’s Gospel reading:
went down with them and came to Nazareth....
Jesus advanced in wisdom and age and favor before God and humans.
Both Jesus and Samuel, despite their awareness of God’s call when
they were youths, spend a period of incubation time – Samuel in the
Temple and Jesus with his family.
The readings suggest two principal places for growth: in family
and in religious tradition.
Both are places one can learn, "advance in wisdom" and be formed
for future service of God.
So we ask ourselves:
- Who were the most formative people in our faith formation?
- How can we express our gratitude for their influence on our
lives? By a personal word to them?
- By cherishing their memory at Eucharist today?
POSTCARDS TO DEATH
to strongly affirm that condemnation to the death penalty is an
inhuman measure that humiliates personal dignity, in whatever form
it is carried out."
Inmates on death row are the most forgotten people in the prison
system. Each week I post in this space several inmates’ names and
addresses. I invite you to write a postcard to one or more of them
to let them know we have not forgotten them. If you like, tell them
you heard about them through North Carolina’s, "People of Faith
Against the Death Penalty." If the inmate responds you might
consider becoming pen pals.
Please write to:
- Mario Mc Neil #0788387 (On death row since 5/29/13)
- Juan C. Rodriguez #1412408 (3/21/14)
- Jonathan Richardson #1019362 m(4/4/2014)
----Central Prison, 4285 Mail Service Center, Raleigh, NC
For more information on the Catholic position on the death
penalty go to the Catholic Mobilizing Network:
Also, check the interfaith page for People of Faith Against the
is a service to preachers and those wishing to prepare for Sunday
worship. It is sponsored by the Dominican Friars. If you would like
"First Impressions" sent weekly to a friend, send a note to fr.
John Boll, OP at
If you would like to support this ministry, please send tax
deductible contributions to fr. Jude Siciliano, O.P., St. Albert
Priory, 3150 Vince Hagan Drive, Irving, TX 75062-4736
Make checks payable to: Dominican Friars. Or, go to our
webpage to make an online donation:
1. We have compiled Four CDS for sale:
- Individual CDs for each Liturgical Year, A, B or C
- One combined CD for "Liturgical Years A, B and C."
If you are a preacher, lead a Lectionary-based scripture group,
or are a member of a liturgical team, these CDs will be helpful in
your preparation process. Individual worshipers report they also use
these reflections as they prepare for Sunday liturgy.
You can order the CDs by going to our webpage:
and clicking on the "First Impressions" CD link on the left.
2. "Homilías Dominicales" —These
Spanish reflections on the Sunday and daily scriptures are written
by Dominican sisters and friars. If you or a friend would like to
receive these reflections drop a note to fr. John Boll, O.P. at
3. Our webpage:
- Where you will find "Preachers’ Exchange," which includes
"First Impressions" and "Homilías
Dominicales," as well as articles, book reviews, daily homilies
and other material pertinent to preaching.
4. "First Impressions" is a service to preachers and those
wishing to prepare for Sunday worship. It is sponsored by the
Dominican Friars. If you would like "First Impressions" sent
weekly to a friend, send a note to fr. John Boll, OP at the above
you and blessings on your preaching,
fr. Jude Siciliano, O.P.
St. Albert the
Great Priory of Texas
Vince Hagan Drive
First Impressions Archive
Click on a link button below to view the reflection indicated.
(The newest items are always listed first.)