On the Holy Family
Today, on the Feast of the Holy Family, we celebrate the divine gift of our families.
The older I get, the more I understand what a gift our families are. We really should treasure them.
Sure, they can be challenging … the noise, the mess and the emotions can be frustrating … but the family is the one place where we can be ourselves. Although imperfect, families exist to support us, to make us feel safe, accepted and loved, and to help us grow into mature human beings.
In his apostolic exhortation Familiaris Consortio (‘The Fellowship of the Family’), St John Paul II says the family in modern times has been affected by profound social and cultural change. Many families have managed to stay strong, but others have become bewildered and some no longer understand the truth and meaning of family life. [i]
That’s why the Holy Family of Nazareth is so important. Pope Leo XIII established this feast day in 1893 to remind us that God came to live among us, not as a proud and mighty leader, but as a humble member of an ordinary family – the family of Mary and Joseph. And this Holy Family is offered to us as a model for how to live our own lives.
God came to live among us as a humble member of an ordinary family.
Jesus spent 90% of his life living simply and quietly at home. He spent 30 of his 33 years with his family, learning about life, learning about God and learning his father’s trade (Heb.2:17).
As the Son of God, Jesus could have had anything he wanted (Phil.2:6-11). But instead he chose to live in a small cottage on a hillside in Nazareth, each day fetching water for his mother, sweeping Joseph’s workshop floor and serving his neighbours as a tradesman.
At the end of these 30 years, his heavenly Father said, ‘This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased’ (Mt.3:17).
We can learn from Jesus’ humble life. But we can also learn from the story in Luke’s Gospel today. After visiting the Temple in Jerusalem for the Passover festival, Mary and Joseph join a caravan and start heading home to Nazareth.
But like in a scene from the movie ‘Home Alone’, they discover that they’ve left 12-year-old Jesus behind. They rush back and find him in the Temple.
However, unlike the movie’s Kevin McAllister, Jesus wasn’t running amok and eating junk food. Rather, he was amazing everyone with his intelligence and his understanding of God and Scripture.
This story of The Finding in the Temple has something to teach us about family life.
Firstly, it tells us that the Holy Family was faithful, for ‘Every year the parents of Jesus used to go to Jerusalem for the Feast of the Passover.’ The Temple was the house of the Father, and their faith bound them together as a family. Their faith gave them a focus beyond themselves and it involved them in a rhythm of prayer, worship and community that gave shape and direction to their lives.
Secondly, this story tells us that Mary spent time reflecting on things she didn’t understand. It says, Mary ‘stored up all these things in her heart.’ That, too, defines a holy family. We don’t always understand what’s happening around us. We don’t always understand what people are doing or saying. But instead of rushing to judgment, it’s important to spend time in reflection and prayer and allowing the truth to become clear to us.
And finally, this story tells us that Jesus was given space to grow to maturity. It says, ‘And Jesus increased in wisdom, in stature and in favour with God and men.’ This means that the Holy Family was a safe place where Jesus felt loved and accepted, and where he was allowed to mature in his own time.
The lay theologian Rosemary Haughton, who had ten children of her own, said that the happiest of families don’t happen because people concentrate first on the quality of their relationships. Rather, the best families result when they’re involved in something much bigger than themselves.
This describes the Holy Family of Nazareth. They focussed not on themselves, but on God and his hopes and plans for this world.
Their lives revolved around prayer, worship and community. They spent time reflecting on the important things in life.
And they created a home in which everyone felt loved and accepted and allowed to develop in their own way.
The Holy Family is the model of the perfect family.
Let’s try to live like them!