“The Holy Family with dog” (detail) by Bartolomé Esteban Murillo [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

The Holy Family

The 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, the Church wants us to see the important 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 Feast of 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.”

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 in the midst of family—indeed as part of a family—and this demonstrates for us just how very important the family is.

Each of us, to some degree, is a product of the family in which we were raised.

I grew up in a home through which the love of God radiated and reached each family member. Growing up in my family was a blessed and joyful experience. But, like all families, ours had its challenges.

My Baptist father and Catholic mother shared a great love but 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.

The time in which your family lives and the challenges you experience may be different, but they are just as real. 

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, Director of Adult Formation for the Diocese of Nashville, 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 He did was done for our benefit. Jesus 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 redeem mankind and His very first act was to renew the family, to sanctify it, setting 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.

We hear of one such episode in the today’s Gospel, which is the basis for the second of the Seven Sorrows of Mary—the flight of the Holy Family into Egypt. 

Just yesterday, the Church liturgy recalled the Holy Innocents. From the very beginning, the world has rebelled against Our Lord and sought to kill Him, just like it did to His prophets before Him. 

Joseph, courageous and faithful, took his Holy Family to Egypt to protect the Lord from the wrath and evil of King Herod. Meanwhile, an untold number of young boys were murdered in Bethlehem. In the years and millennia that follow the Lord’s Incarnation and birth, the world continues to attack Him by attacking His followers.

When we meditate on today’s gospel (see Matthew 2), we can relate to the emotions that Mary and Joseph experienced. They were anxious and afraid knowing that their son was in danger and understanding that they needed to be strong and vigilant to protect him. The trip to Egypt was difficult and filled with dangers. There was no public transportation, no interstate highways; just harsh roads full of danger and a bandit-filled desert to cross. Then in Egypt, they would live as aliens in a foreign land until the danger was lifted. 

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 is a family that knew hardship yet remained steadfast in God. It is for our families to imitate their model if we are to know joy and peace in the midst of this life; if we are to attain holiness and salvation for ourselves and for our children.

For thirty of His thirty-three years, Jesus lived a humble and obedient life within His family before embarking on His public ministry. In this way, He allowed Himself to be taught experientially by His mother and foster-father, in their words and deeds, in acts both extraordinary and ordinary.

They taught Him the traditional prayers and piety, passed on the cherished customs of His people, 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 in our second reading today, Colossians 3:12-17. 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. 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…

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The readings for Christmastide—The Feast of the Holy Family (Year A) are Sirach 3:2-6, 12-14; Psalms 128:1-2, 3, 4-5; Colossians 3:12-21; Matthew 2:13-15, 19-23.

Deacon Bickerstaff is available to speak at your parish or event. Be sure to check out his Speaker Page to learn more. Into the Deep is a regular feature of the The Integrated Catholic Life™.

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