Image: “The Holy Family with dog” (detail) by Bartolomé Esteban Murillo | Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons
“Jesus sanctified and elevated the family, set apart for noble and holy purpose. So, today, and every day, ask Jesus into your heart. Through the intercession of St. Joseph and Our Blessed Mother, place Jesus at the center of your family.”
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.
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 chose to enter human history in the midst of family—indeed as a member of a family—and this demonstrates for us just how very important the family is. An essential aspect of these customs and traditions is to gather as a family. To the extent that has been hindered by the COVID-19 pandemic, we have come to cherish those gatherings all the more.
You see, 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 their effects are 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 families are also to be holy.
Joan Watson, a popular Catholic author and speaker, 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.”
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 both the third of the Seven Sorrows of Mary and the fifth of the Joyful Mysteries of the Holy Rosary—the loss and finding of the child Jesus at the Temple (see Luke 2:41-54).
Can’t you just imagine the emotions that Mary and Joseph experienced, the anxiety in realizing that they did not know where their child was and the utter joy and relief in finding him safe and well at the Temple. Going deeper, we can each, perhaps, see in our own life the times when we too have left Jesus behind… the anxiety when apart and the joy and peace that comes when we have again found Jesus and placed Him in the center of our family… the center of our hearts.
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.
The Gospel tells us that after Joseph and Mary found Jesus in the temple, He returned with them to Nazareth and remained obedient to them growing in wisdom and age and favor before God and man.
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.
Jesus sanctified and elevated the family, set apart for noble and holy purpose. So, today, and every day, ask Jesus into your heart. Through the intercession of St. Joseph and Our Blessed Mother, place Jesus at the center of your family.
Into the deep…
The readings for Christmastide—The Feast of the Holy Family (Year C) are Sirach 3:2-6, 12-14; Psalms 128:1-2, 3, 4-5; Colossians 3:12-21; Luke 2:41-52.