We are still in the Octave of Christmas. The whole Octave is meant to be seen as one day, in which we return again and again to stand before the manger scene, gazing with wonder and joy at the infant Jesus, amazed at the great light which has broken into the darkness of the world. God himself has come among us in human flesh! This is not a God who is distant from us, removed from our everyday lives. No, he has come to live with us, to eat and drink with us, to share in all the joys and sorrows of our human experience. He reaches out to touch us with human hands. He looks with compassion on us with human eyes. He walks from town to town on human feet. He works and grows tired in a human body. This is God incarnated in human flesh! What a marvel beyond our ability to comprehend!
The spiritual life is a continual interplay of God’s action and our response. Now, God has come among us as the infant Jesus, lying in the manger. What is our response? We can begin as Pope Benedict urges us to do, quoting Pope St. Paul VI in the Spiritual Reflection: “If only esteem for silence, a wonderful and indispensable spiritual atmosphere, could be reborn within us!” Let us first of all take some time, especially during this Octave of Christmas, to come in spirit before the manger, adoring the Lord in reverent silence. Let us open our hearts and minds to him. Clearly, God wants to come into our lives, to be very near to us, to live with us. Let us make a place for him in the silence of our hearts, saying to him, “Yes, Lord, you are welcome in my life!”
Today we are celebrating the Feast of the Holy Family. Pope Benedict tells us of the importance of prayer in the life of the Holy Family: “The house of Nazareth is a school of prayer where one learns to listen, meditate on and penetrate the profound meaning of the manifestation of the Son of God, following the example of Mary, Joseph and Jesus.” Prayer is where we meet God. We open ourselves to his work in us and we respond to him; and as we do this, God’s life grows in us and we are transformed in the likeness of Christ. There is no better model of this process than Mary’s dialogue with the Angel Gabriel at the Annunciation. When the angel came and spoke God’s word to her, she was completely open to God, and responded with a perfect “yes” from her whole being – and God then became flesh in her womb.
This is prayer! God means to transform us in his own image. He wants to take on flesh in us, to be incarnated in our flesh. He is able to do this when we respond to him with a full and heartfelt “yes, let it be done to me according to your word.” Our readings for today can help us understand how this works in family life.
The first reading speaks about honoring and caring for our fathers and mothers. When we honor them, we show gratitude for all that they have done for us. Throughout this week the readings will speak to us about the struggle between living according to our selfish desires and giving ourselves in love for others. Gratitude is a key to our victory in this struggle. When we honor our parents, we acknowledge that we have not become the people that we are by our own efforts alone. We have received great benefits from the sacrifices of others, especially our parents.
Today’s Gospel shows us that, like Mary, Joseph also was open to hearing the word of God and responding to it. We see him repeatedly receiving messages in dreams and promptly following the direction given to him by God. In particular we see that when God warns him of threats to his family, Joseph is quick to follow his direction in order to protect them. This is a good lesson for us in today’s world, in which our families are being gravely threatened. There are many forces which are seeking to harm our families, especially through the means of entertainment and social media. We need to be constantly alert, like Joseph, listening for the direction of the Lord as we discern how to keep our families safe from destructive influences.
St. Paul in the second reading gives us a good description of the life of the Holy Family, which is a model for our own family life. Especially we note his exhortation to have patience and to forgive one another. We know that we are all broken in various ways, wounded by sin. We experience this brokenness daily in our families as we say and do things which hurt, irritate, frustrate, disappoint, anger and sadden one another. Even in the group of Jesus’ closest disciples this same painful reality was present. When Peter asked, “Lord, if my brother sins against me, how often must I forgive him? As many as seven times?” he was probably thinking of how his fellow Apostles treated him. Jesus answered him, “I say to you, not seven times but seventy-seven times” (Mt 18:21-22). Patience with each other’s faults, and readiness to forgive and reconcile are keys to peaceful family life. This is something which parents must especially model for their children.
Today’s feast teaches us that God is with us, right in the everyday life of our families. He is present among us in our homes. Let us welcome his presence in our family life and strive to be ever more open and attentive to him as he leads and guides us. Let us strive to make our homes, like that of the Holy Family, true “schools of prayer.”
How do I fathom and contemplate the mystery of the Incarnation that God put on human flesh to save me? Is my prayer life transforming me into the image of Christ so I can respond with a full and heartfelt “yes” to his will for me? As I experience my brokenness in my daily life, am I patient with the faults of others and ready to forgive and be reconciled?
Excerpt from The Anawim Way, Volume 16, no. 1. More information about The Anawim Way may be found here.