Merry Christmas! This year with Christmas falling on Saturday, the day after Christmas we fast forward to celebrate the Feast of the Holy Family. After the joy and celebration of the birth of Jesus yesterday, we recognize the gift of family. Jesus does not simply appear like a mythical hero, but he enters into the fullness of human life and the experiences of family life. This is a great gift and a great mystery. God is born into a real human family, so that family life itself might be the place where we experience God.
Because we call their family holy, we might assume that Mary, Joseph and Jesus had a perfect and happy life. Nothing could be further from the truth. If we examine the Scriptural stories of the early years of their family formation, we discover that life was anything but perfect for them. They faced fears and failure. They were fugitives and refugees. They were uprooted from family and all that was familiar. Yet, in the midst of it all, they remained faithful. Today’s feast reveals that the Holy Family was holy not because they were perfect, but because they were faithful.
Family life is messy. There are daily challenges and obstacles. This was true for the Holy Family as well. Consider St. Joseph’s relationship with Mary. After they are engaged, he discovers that she is pregnant and that the gossip is beginning to brew. When he decides to divorce her quietly, he is visited by the angel Gabriel who asks him to trust God’s providence and guidance. We can only imagine the heroic trust that Joseph had in this message. Mary herself shows incredible trust. When the angel says that she is to give birth to the Messiah, she asks “How can this be?” Certainly, in this moment, she cannot possibly know the sacrifices that will be asked of her. Coming to Jerusalem, Mary and Joseph do not find room, later they have to flee to Egypt and ultimately, they settle in Nazareth away from the comfort and confines of the familiar. Again, when Mary brings Jesus to the temple to be purified, Simeon prophesies that her life will be full of sorrows: “and a sword will pierce your heart.” Even the last story of Jesus’ adolescence is one of grief as his parents “lose” him in the temple. Jesus’ response to Mary’s concern in that moment is a call to faithfulness of God’s vocation: “Why did you search for me? Did you not know I have to be about my Father’s business?” At every point in the story, the Holy Family struggled with the challenges of being a family.
What is remarkable about the Holy Family is that, in the face of struggles, they were faithful. Joseph put aside his expectations and sense of manhood and fatherhood and provided for the Son that was not his biological scion. Mary responds to Gabriel: “I am the handmaid of the Lord. Be it done unto me according to Thy word.” Jesus himself was obedient and lived a normal life for more than twenty years. The Holy Family is holy because in the midst of challenges and difficulties they were faithful to God and to one another.
So too for us. Family is not the place where we have all of our needs met, but the but place where we can meet the needs of others. Just as each of the members of the Holy family grew in wisdom and grace through their experiences, so too we grow in virtue because of, not in spite of, family challenges. Trust. Generosity. Forgiveness. These are core human virtues which are best learned and cultivated through family life.
The Holy Family is not just the object of our admiration but a feast for our imitation. Whatever our family difficulties, this feast reminds us that such challenges are opportunities to be faithful, to grow in holiness, and to give ourselves to each other. I invite you to pray as a family using the traditional prayer given to us during these days:
“Holy Family, you were close to our Heavenly Father on Earth, uniting your wills to His, and are now close to Him in Heaven. I ask that you intercede with Him on my behalf (Mention your intentions here). Mary, you and Jesus buried Joseph, and then you watched as your Son gave his life for us. Holy Family, be close to all families as they experience the suffering and death of loved ones. Holy Family, you who once walked this Earth, accompany my family as we strive to follow your example by walking in your footsteps. Amen.”
May faith always find a home in our families!
~ Fr Michael