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The Loss in the Temple


“And His parents went every year to Jerusalem, at the solemn day of the Pasch. And when He was twelve years old, they went up to Jerusalem, according to the custom of the feast. And after they had fulfilled the days, when they returned, the Child Jesus remained in Jerusalem, and His parents knew it not. And thinking that He was in the company, they came a day's journey, and sought Him among their kinsfolks and acquaintance. And not finding Him, they returned into Jerusalem, seeking Him.” 

Luke 2:41-45

1. Of all the scenes in the life of our Lord one may say there is none more deliberately chosen, more obviously set for an example to many, than this; none which may be more easily understood as a kind of living parable; and yet none which rings with a clearer sense of truth and actuality, on the evidence of the chief sufferer in the scene, Our Blessed Lady. This is the one and only event in the whole of the life at Nazareth which she has chosen to leave on record; we need to remember this when we look for its interpretation. For there is a sense in which it tells against Our Lady's own authority and place as Mother; therefore she adds her sanction to the limitations of a parent's rights. A child is not a parent's slave; authority does not mean despotism; the essence of good training is that, one day, the child should be his own master, with the power to choose and act for himself.

ChristInTheTempleHeinrichHofmann18842. Therefore it was necessary that in this, too, our Lord should be one with His children, whom He loved so much, and defend them from the gentlest, the most subtle, but perhaps the most dangerous of tyrannies. At the age of twelve, so it was understood among the Jews, a boy was master of himself, capable of choosing his path in life, his vocation. For that eventful day his earlier education had prepared him; in the synagogue and school, in the workshop, but most at home and at his mother's knee, the child was prepared for the day, when he must make his own decision. So was it, we are safe in conjecturing, with the Child Who, according to His Mother's account, “waxed strong, full of wisdom, and the grace of God was in Him”; loving words, of a Mother full of love, for a Child that had grown up at her side, and had shown her a Child's true love and duty.

3. But when the time for the great decision came, how violent did it seem! No warning was given; it was made, not in the Mother's quiet home but in His Father's House; the circumstances were such as to aggravate the Mother's agony. The feast was over; they were returning home; after a day's journey the Child was missed; what had become of Him? Had He been already discovered? Had those from whom they had fled to Egypt found Him and killed Him? Had they been wrong in bringing Him to Jerusalem where enemies were known to be living? Or had He chosen some new guardian? What had she done, or not done, to be so left alone? We can easily imagine this sword of sorrow that pierced her heart as she ran back to Jerusalem, as she wandered aimlessly next day seeking for Him Whom her soul loved, willing only what He willed, but craving still to be, if it might be, the “Handmaid of the Lord.” The day of separation had come; she had always known it would come; but how differently it had come from what she had expected! How often is it so!

Summary Meditation Points:

  1. The story is an obvious declaration of the rights of children, the Christian child's Magna Carta.
  2. For this act of choice of vocation His early training had prepared Him.
  3. And for the sake of so many parents, in after time, His Mother's heart was made to suffer.


Archbishop Alban Goodier SJ (Mirror View 1)Editor’s Note: This meditation is from Archbishop Alban Goodier’s “The Prince of Peace” (1913).

Art: Jesus Among the Doctors, Heinrich Hofmann, 1884, PD-US, Wikimedia Commons. Mirror of Archbishop Alban Goodier, S.J.,, all rights reserved, used with permission.

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About Dan Burke

Dan is the President of the Avila Foundation, the parent organization of, the Avila Institute for Spiritual Formation, Divine Intimacy Radio and Divine Intimacy Radio - Resources Edition, Into the Deep Parish Programs, the Apostoli Viae (Apostles of the Way) Community, and the FireLight Student Leadership Formation Program, author of the award-winning book, Navigating the Interior Life - Spiritual Direction and the Journey to God, Finding God Through Meditation-St. Peter of Alcantara, 30 Days with Teresa of Avila, Into the Deep, Living the Mystery of Merciful Love: 30 Days with Thérèse of Lisieux, and his newest book The Contemplative Rosary with St. John Paul II and St. Teresa of Avila. Beyond his "contagious" love for Jesus and His Church, he is a grateful husband and father of four, the Executive Director of and writer for EWTN's National Catholic Register, a regular co-host on Register Radio, a writer and speaker who provides online spiritual formation and travels to share his conversion story and the great riches that the Church provides us through authentic Catholic spirituality. Dan has been featured on EWTN's Journey Home program and numerous radio programs.

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  • Rich

    Beautiful. Can someone help clarify point number 3? Thank you.

    • LizEst

      As we learned in Dr. Peter Howard’s class at the Avila Institute, Mary had to earn all the titles that she holds (the Litany of Loreto lists many of them). So, this would, perhaps, be one of the many places where she earned the title “Comfort of the Afflicted”.

      • ThirstforTruth

        Thank you Liz for sharing this information, and may God bless you
        also during the coming year with his Infinite Grace.

    • ThirstforTruth

      I take away from this that our hearts too were made to suffer, not just Mary’s, though her sorrows being the greatest, next to those of Our Crucified Savior, makes her our greatest Consoler, next to Jesus.
      By accepting our sufferings, it is part of the great mystery of the Mystical Body, our hearts conform more to the Sacred Heart. Another purpose: so that we can console each other during times of sorrow. Mary’s sorrow(s) were so great, she becomes, as her title suggests, Comforter of the Afflicted. We learn from her example that blessed are they who console rather than be consoled…. part of this too.
      Liz, I don’t understand your phrase….Mary had to earn? I think ( in my
      small way) that is like putting the cart before the horse? Because she
      humbled herself and did these things, we recognize them by giving her
      these titles. Not like she was out there trying to earn “gold medals” like
      an Olympian. Perhaps I just did not understand what you were saying
      but this is how I have interpreted your words. ( which I realize were
      those really of Dr Howard)

      • LizEst

        I believe that what Dr. Howard said was his way of saying that she wasn’t just given these titles but that she fully knows and has participated in what they mean and, therefore, she has been given those titles, not that she was out there earning “gold medals”. I think we’re saying the same thing here. I was just using his words. By the way, it’s a beautiful course. Think about taking it next time it is offered. The insights into all that our Blessed Mother lived and experienced are wonderful…and his enthusiasm is contagious, in a good way! God bless you, ThirstforTruth. Thanks for your comments…and a Blessed New Year to you.

  • LizEst

    Yes, Scripture is the inspired word of God in the words of men. But, God did not dictate what the evangelists wrote. St. Luke could have chosen not to write down what Mary told him–so, yes, God inspired him to do so. As well, he would not have magically known about this loss of Jesus in the temple if Mary had not chosen to share this event with St. Luke.

  • Milene

    Yes, very interesting commentary.
    However, I have second thoughts concerning the first point: the story being an obvious declaration of the rights of children,
    Firstly Our Lady was not scolding Jesus, she was sharing her anxiety and asking why he had done so. Secondly Jesus was not unordinary child. If you had a child of 12 who disappeared for three days, would you not be worried? Surely you would call the Police.
    I do appreciate that children and particularly adolescents need to be respected and encouraged to act for themselves. But that does not mean they can just disappear when they want to. They also need to respect their parents’ feelings.

    The rest of the commentary gives food for thought. Thank you so much!

  • milene

    I made a mistake in my last comment: I meant “Jesus was not an ordinary child, He was God’s son” Sorry for the typo.
    I think that considering that particular event (which was to remind Our Lady of His mission) as a declaration of the rights of children a little far fetched. Apart from that I really liked the meditation.

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