The Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph:
The Christian Family
The Church places the Feast of the Holy Family on the Sunday after Christmas to help us focus in on Jesus’ early life. Mary and Joseph had the authority of parents over him and he listened to them, though, as today’s Gospel relates, Jesus’ true father was the Eternal Father in heaven. We read in scripture that Joseph took leadership in the family, even getting them up in the middle of the night to flee to Egypt. We know that Mary cared for her child because he needed her to grow into the man the Eternal Father sent the Word to the earth to become. We know that Mary was present for her Son throughout his life, supporting him even as her Son was dying on the cross. We are certain that this family was indeed holy, separate for the Lord.
How about our families, the families you are part of right now, and, for the single and the young, the families that you might be forming in the future? Are they, or will they be holy families? The Kingdom of God needs holy families. The family is the main vehicle for the living of the faith. Yes, we have many other experiences of faith in the world, and yes, people can be people of great faith even when the faith of their own families is weak or non existent. God’s grace is not limited by our failings. All of us have had the opportunity to grow closer to the Lord in situations outside of our families. But the main vehicle for His Grace is the Christian family.
The Christian family is called to be holy, separate, set aside for the Lord. That means that the Christian family has got to be different than families where the Lord is an afterthought, if any thought at all. The Christian family must be the battlefield where evil is defeated now, and through the children, in the future.
How can families be holy? What must families do to be set aside for the Lord?
First all, families need to keep the presence of the Lord alive in their homes by nurturing the presence of the Lord in each individual in the family. Children need opportunities to pray in their own way. For most families these opportunities are before meals and at bedtime. That’s great. Moms and Dads also need the opportunity to pray, only their schedule is a lot more crowded. The best time for prayer might be the first thing in the morning, before the children get up, but sometimes that is impossible. One parent has to leave for work very early in the morning. Or perhaps the Mom spent the night caring with a baby who would not sleep, or, perhaps, caring for a sick child. For many the easiest time to pray is at night, first as a couple who like Tobias and Sarah recognize the presence of the Lord in their marriage, then over their babies, then with their little children as they say night prayers, continuing to pray for them when they sleep. When the children get older and need their privacy, or when they move on in life, Mom and Dad should still pray for them every night. Young people, when you think about marriage, look for someone with whom you can pray for your children.
Secondly, families need to keep the presence of the Lord alive in their homes by protecting their homes from anything that would lesson his presence. Obviously, there is plenty of bad stuff available on TV and internet that we cannot allow into our homes and into our lives. We need to be careful about the subtle ways that evil compromises the integrity of our family. One of evil’s main weapons is to bend our minds to accept
immorality as part of life. In so many sitcoms the character with moral values is portrayed as right wing, mean, and hateful, while the characters who live blatantly immoral lives are presented as warm and loving. These shows wear us down into accepting immorality as a viable option in life. We need to be careful what we allow into our homes. We need to be vigilant as to what our children are encouraged to bring into our homes from other places. There is a war to be won. We must fight it in our families. Our motto must be Joshua 24:17, “As for me and my family, we will serve the Lord.”
A third action a family can and must embrace to be holy, separate for the Lord, is to seek out his presence in others, particularly those who need special care. What did Jesus do, during those three years of his public ministry? He healed the sick. He cared for people. The blind, the deaf, the lame, the poor, the repented thieves masquerading as tax collectors, and the women who sold themselves for money, all were all healed by the Lord. The family that seeks to reach out to the presence of the Lord in those who are suffering will come to a deeper appreciation of the presence of the Lord in the home. Or, to put it simply, they will be holy.
I love watching the children bringing gifts for our Advent tree, not just because they are cute, but because they are looking to share what they have with others. One mother told me that she ended up late for Mass because her daughter demanded that they stop at WalMart to get something for the children at All Children’s Hospital. As much as that mother was astounded by her child’s generosity, that child has learned from her mother and father what it is to be a holy family.
In today’s gospel, Mary and Joseph violated one of Fr. Joe’s rules for families in Church: They didn’t leave with as many kids as they brought. Twelve year old Jesus was left in the Temple. And they only had one to look out for. Well, the story of the Finding of the Child Jesus in the Temple is told to re-enforce that Jesus was the Son of the Eternal Father. Still, Mary and Joseph did appear to fail parenting 101. Actually, their mistake was quickly remedied. As Jesus said, they should have realized that he had to be about his father’s business and should have checked the Temple first. Perhaps, some of you folks can relate this to some of the mistakes you might make in your parenting and realize that it is impossible to be perfect parents. Those advertisements for foster parents that say that you do not have to be perfect to care for a child applies to all families. No family is ideal. Not the family you are part of now, nor the family you might form in the future. The family is made up of human beings. We humans have times that we are weak. So many of our families realize this and go to confession not just for the spiritual strength of each individual, but for the spiritual strength of the entire family.
It is impossible for us to be perfect, but if we nurture the presence of the Lord in our families through prayer, if we are vigilant fighting against the attacks on the integrity of our families, and if we reach out to the Lord in others, we will be holy families, set aside for the Lord. And we will win for the Kingdom of God each battle that is waged in our homes.