December 26, 2021: Luke 2:41-52
“I must be in my Father’s house.” This is different from, “I have to be in church two consecutive days this weekend because they are holy days of obligation.”
One is expressing an inner spiritual imperative; the other, an external religious obligation.
When Jesus says, “I must be in my Father’s house,” we can easily imagine him saying it with the feeling of, “There’s nowhere else I’d rather be.”
An inner imperative is often the result of our deepest desires and love.
Spouses, parents, pet-owners, sports fans, you all know this. You know the loving obligations that go with your committed passion. You can’t not help your elderly parents, you can’t not take your pet to the vet, you can’t not stand out in the cold to watch your team.
Part of our spiritual work is to cultivate more inner imperatives in our relationship with God. When we place faith only in externals, we’re asking for trouble. Ideally, external obligations and inner imperatives work together, but the truly sustaining force is the one we have within.
When we do live from the heart, from the imperatives within, there’s no need to be shy about it. Jesus’ example in the temple today might have rubbed off on his mother Mary, who by the end of this Gospel is practicing what appears to be some form of contemplation herself. She and Joseph joined the crowds coming and leaving the festival, thinking the action was in the external piety. They thought the religious festival was over as they left town. Jesus taught them – and he teaches us – that when we live from our inner life with God from within, the festival never ends.