Feast of the Holy Family
Dear brothers and sisters, today we celebrate the Feast of the Holy Family: Jesus, Mary, and Joseph. The Church always celebrates this solemnity on the Sunday that falls within the Christmas octave so that we can think a little about the family, and the value of the family, taking the Holy Family as a model. Let’s consider, then, three things: first, the family, then the role of family members, and, finally, what we do when our family is not very similar to the Holy Family. So, family, the roles of family members, and problems.
First, we can take the Holy Family as a model of our family. We are very surprised that the Bible says almost nothing about the family life of the Holy Family. We have the facts of Christmas, the escape and return to Israel, the finding in the Temple, but nothing more. But this really tells us everything that we need to know. The life of the Holy Family was, so to speak, a normal life. Saint Joseph worked, Mary helped in the house, and Jesus was a child, grew up, and at some point began to learn to be a carpenter, as was the tradition at that time. It was a normal life; if great events had happened, incredible miracles, the evangelists would remember them. But no, even the events we have in the Bible remind us that, even in the perfect family, there is suffering. It’s part of life. So, the special thing about the Holy Family is not that great events happened to them, but that they lived an ordinary life in an extraordinary way. They lived an ordinary life in an extraordinary way. That is something that all of us can do. In fact, when Pope Saint John Paul the Second beatified a married couple for the first time, an Italian couple, that’s what he said about them. “They lived an ordinary life in an extraordinary way. Amid the joys and concerns of a normal family, they knew how to lead an existence that was extraordinarily rich in spirituality.”
Second, then, we can ask ourselves, briefly, about the roles of each member of the Holy Family, to know how we can live an ordinary life in an extraordinary way. That is what we have to do to be holy.
In Saint Joseph, we have the model for men, husbands. In the Bible, we don’t have a single word from St. Joseph: so, I guess he wasn’t very loud and given to yelling. But notice how he was the leader in his family and how he obeyed God’s will. Although Mary is perfect, it is to Saint Joseph that the angel says: “Get up, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt” (Mt 2:13). It was no small thing to go to Egypt, walking with a newborn baby and a woman who just gave birth, but St. Joseph did.
That is what God asks of husbands: to take their wives and children, and protect and guide them according to the will of God, taking them as a precious gift, a priceless treasure, because they are. It means, as Saint John Paul the Second wrote, to accept “with full responsibility the task of collaborating with God in procreation [being open to life], giving himself generously to his children to educate and guide them.” Saint Joseph educated and guided the Child Jesus, and I am sure that he didn’t do it with blows and strong words, but with his actions and patience. St. Joseph was a strong guy and today, as never before, being a husband and being a father requires that one be strong, firm in faith and firm in love. We must protect the good of the family, and more than anything, the spiritual good, setting an example of a good father as God is.
For women, wives, we have the model of Mary Most Holy. We know that she fulfilled the task of being a mother, of taking care of the house and helping with all the domestic things. That is, the Queen of Heaven, the Queen of Angels, the Queen of all saints, the Queen of the Universe, had to sweep floors, wash clothes, cook, and do all the daily tasks of the house. Today, wives often have to work outside the home as well, but the essential message remains the same. Caring for the house, working for your family, is not simply an inevitable evil. Surely Mary was always united with God in prayer, even during those daily works. With this example of love and work, she taught her family and neighbors about the value of the family. Her works were part of God’s redemptive work, and, as Mary had the joy of doing those small services for the Son of God, today mothers have the joy of doing those jobs, however small, for their children, who are also adopted children of God. The value and work of a mother is no small thing, and when the role of mother is lived in an extraordinary way, despite the ordinary work, God fills the house with blessings.
For children we also have an example in the Infant Jesus. The Gospel tells us: “[Jesus] returned with his parents to Nazareth and lived subject to them. . . . Jesus grew in wisdom, stature, and grace before God and men.” There we have the two responsibilities of children: to obey their parents, and to grow in all things, but most of all in grace. You have to pay attention to your parents, in school (and during Mass too), and they will be like the Infant Jesus in the Holy Family.
Finally, it is a fact that there are many families that have problems, that as a family, they cannot live an ordinary life together in an extraordinary way. That is a great suffering, especially when a husband or wife does not want to share faith or responsibilities. In those cases, prayer, and dedication to God, becomes even more important. This is the story of a French woman, Elisabeth Leseur. She was a Catholic, not very practicing, when she married a French doctor, supposedly a Catholic, but, after the wedding, he told her that he was really an atheist. Well, Elizabeth was sad, and began to pray and pray, and to get closer and closer to the Church. Her husband made fun of her, but she prayed and prayed; it seemed that Elizabeth lived a normal life, but, under those appearances, she had a soul that lived everything ordinary in an extraordinary way. In 1905, Elisabeth became ill with cancer, and after many sufferings, died in 1914. Before she died, she told her husband, “After my death, you will return to the Church, and you will be ordained a priest.” The husband told her that he hated church, but Elizabeth repeated her words. After her death, her husband began to read his wife’s diary, and, somewhere, found a letter “addressed to him.” Felix, her husband, read the following words: “In 1905, I asked almighty God to send me sufficient sufferings to purchase your soul. On the day that I die, the price will have been paid. Greater love than this no woman has than she who lay down her life for her husband.” After a while, her husband returned to the church, and, in fact, was ordained a priest. God does not tell us that family life will be easy, nor that we will always see the fruits of our prayers, but we know that God is faithful, and if we are faithful to Him, if we try to live the ordinary in an extraordinary way, He will never outdone in generosity.
Let us ask, then, through the intercession of Mary Most Holy, Queen of the Family, the grace to always be faithful to our family and the plan that God has, so that we can live the ordinary in an extraordinary way.