Today we celebrate the Feast of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph. It is fitting to celebrate this feast during the Octave of Christmas, for Jesus was truly born into a human family, founded on the marriage of Mary and Joseph.
The Gospel today presents St. Joseph as a courageous man of strong faith, who stands as an icon of selfless, protective love for his virginal bride Mary and for her Son Jesus. The source of Joseph’s strength and virtue comes from his prayerful, listening heart. He is guided by an angel in a dream and responds by leading Mary and Jesus to safety in Egypt. In doing so, he mirrors the saving actions of his namesake, Joseph the Patriarch, who centuries before received guidance through dreams and entered Egypt ahead of his family to save them from famine. St. Joseph’s only concern is for Jesus and Mary. As the humble head of his family, he assumes his rightful place as he uses his authority to serve them by his leadership.
The reading from Sirach, a book of ancient wisdom, gives practical advice on how to practice love in family life. We may reflect on this reading as an elaboration on the Fourth Commandment – the first of the Commandments to refer to family life – “Honor your father and your mother.” Every member of the family has a responsibility and a mission in the plan of God. Husbands and wives share a complementary relationship that mirrors that of Christ and the Church. Parents have the responsibility to raise and educate their children, forming them in the Catholic faith. Children have an obligation, founded on love, to honor and support their parents. Sirach places special emphasis on caring for our father in his old age. These practical guidelines teach us how to put into practice in our families Christ’s mandate to love one another as he loved us. God promises to bless those who follow his wisdom.
The alternative reading, from St. Paul’s Letter to the Colossians, takes us deeper into the heart of the love which is the basis of all the virtues that make family unity possible. In gratitude that we are “God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved,” we are to put on the virtues of “heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience.” Especially in the family, we are called to forgive as the Lord has forgiven us. One essential quality of family love is reconciliation: “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.” Our forgiveness of one another in the family is inseparable from the mercy we receive from the Lord. Every day we pray, “Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.”
In our modern secular society, the family is under severe attack. The sanctity of the marriage bond is largely disregarded, and the notion of sacramental marriage is also either unheard of or seen as an old-fashioned, irrelevant tradition. We live in an age that considers divorce as inevitable, which has led to countless broken marriages and single-parent families. The various distorted arrangements that are being promoted as “marriage” are founded, not on the plan of God our Creator, but on sentimentality and “practicality.” Without the grace of God and the willingness to forgive, hurt, anger, and resentment are bound to arise in marriage and family life. The resulting isolation and separation only lead to further wounding.
This was not God’s plan for us! From the beginning he planned that married love be fruitful, a sign and fulfillment of the fruitfulness of his own love for us. He planned further that the fruit of human love, children, be loved, nurtured, and protected, especially that they may come to know him as Creator and Father. God’s vision of the family is one of profound communion. The husband and wife become one, and the family united in love reflects the unity of the Three Persons of the Trinity. In God, who is a Communion of mutual self-emptying love, our natural selfishness can be overcome. By the power of his grace we can live by love, and provide a stable, secure setting for raising children to know love.
In this week, in which we are pondering the wonder of “God with us,” we rejoice that he is with us in our families. He is working in us and through us for the good of others. With the example and the intercession of the Holy Family, with renewed hope and joy we can set out to live holy family life.
Reflecting on Joseph’s prayerful and listening heart, how can it give me strength and courage? How do I cope with hurt, anger, and resentment which arise from internal family problems? In my weakness and sin, what enables me to be patient and forgiving to others?
Excerpt from The Anawim Way, Volume 19, no. 1. More information about The Anawim Way may be found here.