Twelve is a special number

By Patricia Kasten | The Compass | June 25, 2015

If you only hear the shorter version of the Gospel reading for Sunday, you might miss the double reference to the number 12: the age of Jairus’ daughter and the “woman afflicted with hemorrhages for 12 years.”

Twelve is a special number in salvation history: there were 12 tribes of Israel, 12 Apostles, there are 12 fruits of the Holy Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, generosity, gentleness, faithfulness, modesty, self-control and chastity. Rabbi Geoffrey Dennis at explains that, in Jewish tradition, “Twelve represents totality, wholeness and the completion of God’s purpose.” There were even 12 promises by Jesus as the Sacred Heart to St. Margaret Mary Alacoque in 1673-74.

Another tradition speaks of 12 as the number of maturity: 12 is the age of a Jewish boy’s bar mitzvah and Jesus was 12 when he was found by his parents in the Temple in Jerusalem.

Reflecting on the Gospel, we can see how Jesus brought wholeness to the lives of the woman and the family of Jairus. He even emphasized this by telling the woman that her faith had saved her and made her whole. And then he told the family to give the girl something to eat — good wholesome food. Finally, his heart was certainly moved by love and concern for all these people.

What makes us whole at Mass? The readings? The Eucharist? Sharing in community?
Look around and see if you can find anything in a group of 12? Maybe 12 stained glass windows telling the stories of Jesus’ life? Twelve lights hanging from the ceiling — bringing a wholeness of light? Maybe 12 lit votive candles, flickering in silent memory of prayers.
What symbolizes spiritual maturity at Mass, and in private prayer life? Think of some of the younger saints in our tradition: St. Agnes of Rome, St. Aloysius Gonzaga or St. Maria Goretti. They were children or very young adults, but their faith life reflected spiritual maturity beyond their years..

Maybe there are statues of one of these saints in your church. Or of the 12 Apostles. (Can you name all 12?) What about statues or other art that represents the 12 fruits of the Spirit?

Think about the twelves in your life and reflect on how the Lord uses them to say to you, “Daughter (or son), your faith has saved you. Go in peace.”

Kasten is an associate editor of The Compass and the author of two books: “Linking Your Beads: The Rosary’s History, Mysteries and Prayers” and “Making Sense of Saints.”

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