THE FEAST OF THE HOLY FAMILY OF JESUS, MARY, AND JOSEPH (2018)
Sirach 3:2-6, 12-14
Psalm 128:1-2, 3, 4-5
This Sunday within the octave of Christmas celebrates the holiest of families, the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph. It is a moment for us to reflect on the virtues practiced within that family context; it is a moment for us to see that family modeling behavior that is worth striving for. It is good for us to highlight the holiness which clearly marked the family of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, but we should not raise that holiness to such an extreme level that we wind up removing them from our earthly realm, for in doing that we create a model that is impossible to attain. Indeed, the holiness that was demonstrated by Jesus, Mary, and Joseph was exercised in an ordinary and simple world, and that is precisely why their holiness was considered to be so great.
As perfect as we like to think the Holy Family was, it was hardly perfect from a worldly perspective. A teeenage mother expecting her first child, is betrothed to a man we believe was more than twice her age. The very young woman believes her child has divine origins because an angel told her so, and when it was time to give birth they had no where to have the baby except a manger. The parents were good Jews, making a yearly trip to Jerusalem, and on the return trip described by the evangelist Luke in today’s gospel, with rather imperfect parenting skills they seem to have lost track of who the child Jesus was traveling with. In just a few brief chapters of Luke’s gospel there is more drama than in the average television soap opera.
If the Holy family was a perfect family it was not because they were devoid of the challenges and difficulties that are part and parcel of the human condition. Rather, the Holy Family met the challenges and difficulties our world offers with a steadfast faith and love born of true religion. In our gospel story, solely reported by Luke, one can sense the genuine frustration of Mary and Joseph: “Son, why have you treated us so? Behold, your father and I have been looking for you anxiously!” The answer of Jesus surely added little comfort: “Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” How often must Mary and Joseph not have “understood,” and how painful that lack of understanding has to have been.
The gospel goes on to say that Jesus “went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them; and his mother kept all these things in her heart. And Jesus advanced in wisdom and age and favor before God and man.” The proof of the Holy Family’s holiness can be found in the person of Jesus who learned to love unconditionally as God loves and as He was loved. Jesus learned to place his trust in God, just as His parents taught him to do. That God would one day ask Him to surrender His earthly life so that others might come to eternal life, and just as His Mother was obedient to God’s will in spite of her lack of understanding, so Jesus would be obedient to God’s will, even though He desired that God would “take this cup away from me” (Lk 22:42).
Jesus did advance “in wisdom and age and favor before God and man,” and that was due to the upbringing of Joseph and Mary. They fashioned a home where love ruled night and day, where “tenderness, forgiveness, respect, fidelity, and disinterested service are the rule” (CCC #2223). From the moment of his birth Mary and Joseph taught Jesus to cherish people over things, and to see himself as part of a larger human family, where all men and women became His brothers and sisters regardless of any boundaries set by religion or culture. Jesus was taught to cherish God and the things of God, so much so that he would discover that God as Abba, Father. And all this was done in spite of the ordinary challenges and difficulties that were part of the world that Jesus, Mary and Joseph lived in.
Regardless of their structure, may we model our families after that of the Holy Family. May we follow the advice given to us by Paul in today’s second reading who tells us what family life in the Lord looks like: “Brothers and sisters: Put on, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, bearing with one another and forgiving one another, if one has a grievance against another; as the Lord has forgiven you, so must you also do. And over all these put on love, that is, the bond of perfection. And let the peace of Christ control your hearts, the peace into which you were also called in one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, as in all wisdom you teach and admonish one another, singing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or in deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” (Col. 3:12-17)