The celebration of the Holy Family is the Sunday after Christmas and is one that puts the birth of Jesus into an important context for us. When God sent his Son he did not mysteriously appear out of nowhere, nor did he drop down to earth from Heaven. Jesus is the second person of the Blessed Trinity, the Word of God which is the creating power of God. In Genesis we are told that in the beginning when God created, he did so by speaking, “let there be…”. In the Prologue of John’s Gospel we hear that “the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.” God himself, the second person of the Trinity, is the Divine Word, who took on flesh and was born into the world just like those who he came to re-create. We have just celebrated his birth to Mary and Joseph in Bethlehem, and today we celebrate how they truly were a family.
Although it’s just been two days since we celebrated Christ’s birth, the Gospel has us move forward forty days and tells of Jesus, Mary and Joseph bringing Jesus to the Temple for their purification. While at the temple they are approached by a man named Simeon who is described as righteous and devout, and to whom “It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he should not see death before he had seen the Christ of the Lord.” He is drawn to Jesus and prays that now he can die for God’s word had been fulfilled. Another person who is drawn to Jesus is a woman, Anna, who is described as a prophetess. She “gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were awaiting the redemption of Jerusalem.” Both were moved by the Holy Spirit to realize that Jesus was the Son of God, and to bless Mary who gave birth to this child, and Joseph who was entrusted with their care.
The Feast of the Holy Family reminds us that this family, comprised of Mary, who was conceived and remained without sin, Joseph, the model of faith and justice, and Jesus, fully human and fully divine, were indeed human. Other than the accounts of Jesus’ birth, the flight into Egypt and later when Jesus is lost in the Temple, there is little said about the Holy Family. There are numerous depictions of the Holy Family, most of which present Jesus as an infant in Mary’s or Joseph’s arms, or a child standing with them. My favorite one is not seen to often and is referred to as the Happy Death of Joseph. It depicts Joseph on his death bed with Jesus standing near his head and blessing him, while Mary looked on. Joseph, patron of a Happy Death and what could be better than having Jesus at your death bed?
This Feast of the Holy Family presents us with two important reminders that can help us in our faith. The first is that Jesus, Mary and Joseph were the Holy Family, but not the perfect family. Like all families they had their difficult moments. They were homeless at the birth, refugees for fear of Herod, and worried because they couldn’t find the twelve-year-old Jesus. We should not hesitate to prayerfully take our own family situations to the Holy Family knowing that they understand. The second point is that each family is called to be a Holy Family. We are called to follow the example of the Holy Family and grow in holiness and unconditional love for one another.
Father Killian Loch, O.S.B.
Image: The death of Saint Joseph, Jacques Stella, Musée de Grenoble, Grenoble, France.