“Jesus sanctified and elevated the family, set apart for noble and holy purpose. Ultimately, the Holy Family is a sign for us that we are all a part of God’s family the Church, brothers and sisters of our Father in Heaven.”
During the Christmas season, we celebrate many important feasts and memorials. Today’s Feast of the Holy Family celebrates the holiness and joy of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph of Nazareth.
By celebrating this feast during the Christmas season, especially during the Christmas Octave, the Church wants us to see the profound link between the birth of our Savior and the family.
Pope Francis has said of the Feast of the Holy Family, “…the Liturgy invites us to celebrate … the Holy Family of Nazareth. Indeed, every nativity scene shows us Jesus together with Our Lady and St. Joseph in the grotto of Bethlehem. God wanted to be born into a human family, he wanted to have a mother and father like us.”
Family life is so important. Many of us have taken part over the last month or more in treasured family traditions and customs. These rich, family traditions remind us of the beautiful nature of our families. They also remind us of the reality that Our God decided to enter human history as part of a family.
You see, each of us, to some degree, is a product of the family in which we were raised.
God intends the family to be the setting where most people first encounter the Risen Lord and first experience his love.
This love of God is to be modeled within the family by the love of mother and father for one another and for their children.
The kindness and care that God shows to each of us is to be reflected by the way that parents care for their children and by the care and respect they show to those outside the family.
I was blessed beyond measure by the parents God gave me.
Their love of God and trustful surrender to Jesus were powerful examples for me. Love of the bible, the Eucharist, and His Church, devotion to Mary, and love of family and friends—these were precisely the gifts the Lord asked my parents to pass on to me. I am so thankful for their love and sacrifice.
But, like all families, ours had its challenges.
My Baptist father and Catholic mother shared a great love, but they also knew the religious prejudices of their time; they experienced the hardships of the great depression and a world at war; they knew the joy of a son and daughter but also the heartache of multiple miscarriages; and our family experienced a great sorrow when my father died far too young. I was just 16.
The circumstances and time in which your family lives and the challenges you experience may be different, but they are just as real. Some are raised in families where both parents aren’t present. Some are raised in families where faith is not present.
What is important is how each of us, how each of our families respond to these challenges and whether we remain steadfast in the love and light of Christ, and in doing so, grow in faith and hand on that faith to our children.
JESUS SET APART THE FAMILY TO BE HOLY
So then, each year, the Church, in her liturgy, celebrates the Feast of the Holy Family of Joseph, Mary and Jesus, to both celebrate their lives and to remind us that our family also is to be holy.
Joan Watson, Associate Editor of the Integrated Catholic Life, writes,
“God became man and became friends with people like us. He was born of a woman like me. He grew up in a home, played with his neighbors, and worked with his dad. God did all of these things. For me.
“The only way we could have access to the communio of the Trinity is through humanity. And so Christ comes and walks and drinks and laughs and cries with us—ultimately, to suffer with us. For us. Because of us.”
Everything Jesus did was done for our benefit. He could have arrived in any number of ways, but He came as a vulnerable and humble baby, truly conceived in and born of the Virgin Mary, and raised in a home provided for by Joseph and Mary.
Jesus came to make all things new to rescue mankind and His very first act was to renew the family, to sanctify it, and to set it apart for holiness.
The Holy Family of Jesus is the greatest example and model for all human families. The Holy Family, like yours and mine, knew and experienced hardships and tensions.
When we meditate on today’s gospel (see Luke 2), we can relate to the emotions that Mary and Joseph must have experienced when they heard the words of Anna and Simeon in the Temple, but we can also see their love of and obedience to God in presenting their child to the Lord as prescribed by the law.
LESSONS FROM THE HOLY FAMILY
There is much we can learn about remaining faithful to God through the experiences of their family life.
- From the announcement that the Virgin Mary would bear the child Jesus, to the birth of Our Lord in a stable in Bethlehem when Mary was still young by today’s standards…
- From their flight to Egypt to escape the butchery of Herod to the episode of the twelve-year-old Jesus at the Temple…
- From the death of Joseph when both Mary and Jesus were still young, to the passion and death of Jesus which pierced the heart of Mary, and all the ordinary events of daily family life in Galilee…
The Holy Family knew hardship yet remained steadfast in God as pilgrims on a journey to their true home. It is for our families to imitate their model if we are to know joy and peace in this life and attain holiness and salvation for ourselves and for our children.
Joseph and Mary taught Jesus, experientially, the traditional prayers and piety of His people, passed on their cherished customs, showed him the greatest example of love and affection within the family, gave to Him a skill and trade to help support the family.
In His public ministry, Jesus taught with words and examples taken from his early and hidden family life. In the lessons He taught, we discover the great love and courage that St. Joseph must have exhibited for Jesus and His Blessed Mother; the tender love and care that must have been shared between mother and son.
By meditating on the life of the Holy Family, we discover peace and joy within the home, and are equipped to share that peace and joy with those around us.
St. Paul gives us a description of the qualities of the Holy Family that we should strive for in our own. We should strive to be compassionate and kind, patient, forgiving and bearing with one another. He says that we need to “put on love, that is, the bond of perfection.”
Jesus sanctified and elevated the family, set apart for noble and holy purpose. Ultimately, the Holy Family is a sign for us that we are all a part of God’s family the Church, brothers and sisters of our Father in Heaven.
Ask Jesus into your heart every day. Through the intercession of St. Joseph and Our Blessed Mother, place Jesus at the center of your family every day.
Into the deep…
Editor’s note: The Mass readings for Christmastide: The Feast of the Holy Family are: Gn 15:1-6; 21:1-3; | Ps 105:1-2, 3-4, 5-6, 8-9; | Heb 11:8, 11-12, 17-19; | Lk 2:22-40 or 2:22, 39-40..
Image credit: “The Holy Family with dog” (detail) by Bartolomé Esteban Murillo | Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons
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