Christmas is a season when we come together with those whom we love to celebrate love.
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. —Luke 2:51-52
Christmas is a time for family. Whether we are spending the holidays with our biological families, religious communities and parish families, or “chosen” families of friends, Christmas is a season when we come together with those whom we love to celebrate love, especially God’s love enfleshed in the gift of his Son.
The Feast of the Holy Family, celebrated on the Sunday within the Octave of Christmas, is an invitation to reflect on the lives and relationships of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, and on how God’s grace is at work within our own families.
It was during his historic trip to the Holy Land in 1964 that Blessed Pope Paul VI reflected, “Nazareth is a kind of school where we may begin to discover what Christ’s life was like and even to understand the Gospel. Here we can observe and ponder the simple appeal of the way God’s Son came to be known, profound yet full of hidden meaning. And gradually we may even learn to imitate him” (Address on Nazareth).
The Church has consistently understood that, through Jesus’ hidden life with Mary and Joseph in Nazareth, God blessed the family—all families—transforming “family” into a symbol of God’s Reign of peace, joy, and love.
And so, this feast of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph is much more than a child’s celebration of Christmas card sentimentality. As Pope Francis has reflected, “In the loving obedience of this woman, Mary, and this man, Joseph, we have a family into which God comes. God always knocks on the doors of our hearts. He likes to do that. He goes out from within. But do you know what he likes best of all? To knock on the doors of families. And to see families which are united, families which love, families which bring up their children, educating them and helping them to grow, families which build a society of goodness, truth and beauty.”
Family life, in all its forms, takes work, as the Letter to the Colossians reminds us: “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 … over all these put on love, that is, the bond of perfect” (3:12-13a, 14).
The Feast of the Holy Family challenges us to consider our own families, both the ones in which we grew up and the ones of which we are now a part—“It raises questions in us about the harmony of the home we’re in now—and what part we play in both its peace and its disturbance … We must ask ourselves if we are learning from one another, caring for one another, becoming more spiritual together as we go. And if not, why not? And what do we intend to do about it, as Jesus did, for the sake of the rest of the world?” (Joan Chittister, O.S.B., The Liturgical Year).
Amid today’s important and ongoing debates about the definitions and nature of marriage and family, both within the Church and in broader society, this Feast reminds us of the true vocation of the family: to foster the faith of each of its members and to support them in their search for God and God’s will for them. Mary and Joseph instilled in Jesus a love for the traditions and laws of God’s Chosen People; families, parishes, and even religious communities, are called to nurture the same values.
How do you see yourself as a part of the “Family” of the Church? How can you share the virtues of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph in your own family and parish? Who in your family—both in your home and in the broader human family—is alone or on the margins? How can you be a sign of God’s love for them?
Words of Wisdom: “Pray often for the help of the Virgin Mary, and Saint Joseph, that they may teach you to receive God’s love as they did. Your vocation is not easy to live, especially today, but the vocation to love is a wonderful thing—it is the only force that can truly transform the cosmos, the world.”—Pope Benedict XVI, address during World Meeting of Families 2012