Today is the feast of the Holy Family, celebrated on the First Sunday after Christmas. What do we know about the Holy Family?
A Holy Family With Difficulties
Like every family, the Holy Family had difficulties. There is a great temptation to idealize them – to turn them into plaster figurines, placed on a shelf. But as much as this family was holy, this family was also human.
They had to live in the same world we do — with deadlines to meet, bills to pay, problems to confront. More than a few times, their patience and their love were tested. This was a family, after all, in which the father had planned to divorce the mother; a family in which the young son, during a trip to the big city, disappeared without telling anyone; and a family in which that same son, when grown, had some pointed words for his mother at a big wedding down the road in Cana.
A Holy Family That Loved And Prayed
But through all these difficulties, this was also a family that loved. And prayed. And trusted. At one time or another, every one of them – Mary, Joseph and Jesus – actively surrendered themselves to the will of God. Mary consented to conceive a child out-of-wedlock. Joseph listened to angels and fled to another country, turning his family for a time into refugees. And Jesus gave everything on the cross.
One of the things that made them so remarkable is that they were so unremarkable. They weren’t rich or influential. They were just Jesus, Mary and Joseph: the carpenter’s family, from a place called Nazareth. The great mystic and monk Charles de Foucauld had a deep affection for Nazareth. He visited there often, and meditated on the meaning of that place in the life of Christ. He wrote of the town: “Jesus came to Nazareth, the place of the hidden life, of ordinary life, of family life, of prayer, work, obscurity, silent virtues, practiced with no witnesses other than God, his friends and his neighbors. Nazareth, the place where most people lead their lives”
Each of us living in our own Nazareth
Each of us is living in our own Nazareth, a place of everyday life, and everyday problems. And we pray each day to find in our own Nazareth some kind of grace. In Jesus’ day, the town was a place of scorn. In the scriptures, someone even mocks it: “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” And the irony is: of course.
It is the place were our salvation came of age. Where an ordinary existence nurtured an extraordinary life. Where a carpenter plied his trade, and a mother kept her house, and a little boy grew into a man. It is where a man who dreamed, and listened, went to raise his family. A holy family. And, almost certainly, a happy family.
How to form a holy Christian family?
Check Paul’s beautiful letter to the Colossians. From his words, we can draw lessons about how to form a healthy and holy Christian family — a family like the one in Nazareth. Put on compassion, Paul tells us. Kindness. Lowliness. Meekness. Patience. Forgiveness. And love. It is all that simple — and all that difficult.
I’m sure the Holy Family had moments when living those virtues seemed hard, or even impossible. But they did something most of us don’t. They listened to angels. They dreamed. And they let go — and let God.
We could do nothing better than to follow that model: to live faithfully, each in our own Nazareth, remembering the example of the Holy Family. And remembering, as well, to open our eyes and our hearts to what is around us, in our kitchens and living rooms. Cherish every ordinary, mundane, stressful, joyful moment. Add that to your list of resolutions for the new year. And if you do, your family may discover something the Holy Family knew, as well: “Grace is everywhere.”