Parents Know Best

by Fr. Justin Huang
The Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph

Sirach 3:2-6,12-14

Colossians 3:12-21

Luke 2:41-52

A/N: Merry Christmas, everyone! On this Feast of the Holy Family, let’s look at the parenting of Joseph and Mary, and compare it to how parents are portrayed in popular animated films. Deacon Steven Greydanus is a Catholic film critic and a voting member for the Oscars, and he’s written a few articles on the theme of ‘Junior Knows Best’ ( ).
• In films like Moana, How to Train Your Dragon, The Little Mermaid, Madagascar 2, Ratatouille, Hotel Transylvania, Kung Fu Panda, and Frozen, the parents range from clueless to authoritarian. Moana’s father says she can’t go out to sea, but she really wants to, and, in the end, she’s vindicated. The father is proven wrong, and had to learn from the child.
• Deacon Steven isn’t saying these films are all bad (He actually enjoys many of them), but he’s pointing out a metanarrative in our culture: Many of our films have negative portrayals of parents, who have no wisdom, and are not worthy of emulation. There are better portrayals in films like Finding Nemo, Inside Out, and The Incredibles, where we see human figures with weaknesses, but are loving, responsible leaders.
S: The Gospel begins, “Every year the parents of Jesus went to Jerusalem for the festival of the Passover. And when he was twelve years old, they went up as usual for the festival” (Lk 2:). We see here that our Mother Mary and St. Joseph are responsible, and faithful to what the Torah commanded: That Jewish adults go to the city of Jerusalem three times a year.
• “When the festival was ended and they started to return, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but his parents did not know it. Assuming that he was in the group of travelers, they went a day’s journey” (2:). I used to think this was parental negligence: How could parents not know where their son is? But, given the time in history, the number and trustworthiness of people they were with, it was like having your children with close family friends. Pope Benedict XVI writes, “It illustrates very beautifully that in the holy family, freedom and obedience were combined in a healthy manner. The twelve-year-old was free to spend time with friends and children of his own age” (Jesus of Nazareth: The Infancy Narratives, 122).
o It’s fair to ask why Jesus didn’t inform His parents. There’s no clear answer. We can speculate that perhaps He felt a call from His heavenly Father while away from his parents, or perhaps He knew that His parents (and us) would learn a great lesson from this.
o Also, this isn’t another story of ‘Junior Knows Best,’ for three reasons: 1) Jesus’ parents aren’t terrible; 2) Jesus doesn’t just go off in some hope of self-expression or defiance, but in obedience to His heavenly Father; 3) And at the end of today’s Gospel, He’s still a good son. The text says, “Then he went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them” (2:).
At the end of a two-day search, Jesus is found in the Temple, in the midst of teachers, listening to them and asking questions. “When his parents saw this they were astonished; and his mother said to him, ‘Child, why have you treated us like this? Look, your father and I have been searching for you in great anxiety” (2:). Even Mary had to grow in understanding, and that’s good news for us parents, because we’re also growing, too.
• Jesus answers, “Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” Jesus is telling them that His true Father is God, and so we’re reminded that we all must follow God’s will, and, when there’s a conflict between God’s will and our parents’, we must follow God. That’s why, whenever the word ‘must’ is used in the Gospels, it’s done so in relation to Jesus’ carrying out the Father’s will, as in when He has to submit to His death (Jesus of Nazareth, 124).
• “His mother treasured all these things in her heart” (2:). This is very hopeful for us parents, because we learn over time.
A: So, what is the Father asking of us? That parents act like parents, that we respect our parents, and that we look forward to becoming parents.
• And parents should always affirm the virtue of their children. At the beginning of December, I wrote to our school parents: “Today, I noticed how the whole student body was reverent during the entire Mass, and has been for the past four months, something that rarely happens! Usually, students start well in September, and then lose focus in the next few months. Not this group. Also, the way I saw children receiving the Eucharist was edifying and impressive, which is perhaps the most important sign of spiritual growth. Finally, our new altar servers were incredible. I told them afterwards that they had the poise of Gr. 11 servers. We praise God, first of all, but the students should also feel good about what they’ve done, because they’ve earned, I would think, the honour of being the most consistently reverent school body I’ve seen in 7 years, and perhaps my whole priesthood. I must thank you, parents, as a whole, because you are the primary educators, and your faith in Jesus, your virtue, and strong parenting are paying off.” I thought I’d share this with our whole parish family, because this is great news! Wow! We are growing!
And, as a gift to our parents, we have some free copies of the book that we covered during Advent, Discernment of Spirits in Marriage. I hope this will continue to help you grow! But there’s a catch: You can only take a copy if you promise to read the six chapters we covered during Advent: 4-6, 8-9, and 14, that is, what spiritual desolation is, what to change and what not to, how we need to be patient, why God allows desolation, and finally, how to strengthen our weaknesses. If you promise you’ll read those, then the book’s yours! It’s also one copy per couple. Thanks!
V: Pay attention to the stories you hear about parents, especially in films and social media. Watch out for negative portrayals and the misleading idea that junior knows best. While sometimes they do, most of the time, they don’t. God made us adults the parents! We still need to grow, but our duty is to guide our children with wisdom and grace, so that they become like Jesus.