The shepherds hastened to Bethlehem, where they found Mary and Joseph and the child cradled in the manger (Luke 2:16). – Entrance Antiphon from today’s Holy Mass, and Antiphon 3 from Evening Prayer I.
The Feast of the Holy Family celebrates the special relationship created by God, to exemplify His unfailing tenderness. Today it is His voice that ever so gently reminds us of the dignity and sanctity of the family in the readings from Sacred Scripture in both the Liturgy of the Hours and the readings for today’s Mass. Throughout the hours of this great Feast day, we are subtly reminded of the beauty of God’s plan for the family.
Last night’s Vesper’s readings, from Deuteronomy 5:16, directs:
Honor your father and mother, as the Lord, your God has commanded you, that you might have a long life and prosperity in the land which the Lord, your God, is giving you.
This commandment is the only one with a promise attached, and it is significant that it is placed immediately after the three commandments dealing with one’s relationship to God. Our relationship with our human family is quintessentially important, second only to our relationship with God. God wants us to enjoy peace within this relationship. Even so, He recognizes our human weaknesses and offers us the guidance we need to live in harmony. Just like in the reading from Deuteronomy, God again promises us rewards of grace for even attempting to abide in family unity. The First Reading from today’s Holy Mass directs us:
God sets a father in honor over his children; a mother’s authority he confirms over her sons. Whoever honors his father atones for sins, and he preserves himself from them. When he prays, he is heard; he stores up riches who reveres his mother. Whoever honors his father is gladdened by children, and when he prays he is heard. Whoever reveres his father will live a long life; he obeys his father who brings comfort to his mother. My son, take care of your father when he is old; grieve him not as long as he lives. Even if his mind fail, be considerate of him; revile him not all the days of his life; kindness to a father will not be forgotten, firmly planted against the debt of your sins – a house raised in justice to you (Sirach 3:2-7, 12-14).
God could have chosen to save us as an adult, a royal monarch, visiting His people with ostensible power and might. However, instead He chose to be born into that fragile human relationship called a “family”. He chose to save us from a crib and a cross, rather than from a cloud and a throne.
The ideal family, is a perfect reflection of the beauty and grace of the Blessed Trinity. In the Holy Family we see the purity of God’s love – the refulgence of His Brilliance – unified in three hearts: one Sacred, one Immaculate, and one Holy. Jesus, Mary, and Joseph labored together- as individuals and as family, they cooperated with God’s grace and fulfilled His Plan. From the outside, their family appeared just as messy as any of ours. The unplanned pregnancy that preceded the marriage of Mary and Joseph probably did not endear them to relatives. A quick glance at the genealogy of Jesus (Matthew 1: 1) reveals not only kings, and nobility, but also prostitutes, thieves and murderers. In the ultimate act of humility, the Incarnation, Jesus chooses to be born into this complex nexus of humanity. He could have created an extended family of saints- each with pristine character, and spotless lives to call his own. But He didn’t. Instead, he reserved that singular grace and privilege of an Immaculate Life for the woman whose flesh would form His own, and whose blood would fill His tiny veins.
From the Old Testament to the New, God directs us how to behave as a family. For it is in family that His tender love is most visibly revealed. He spells out clearly how we need to interact with one another, and then He offers us the ultimate example of such love in the Holy Family.
Today’s Second Reading (Colossians 3:12-21) details the Almighty’s plan for harmonious family life:
Brothers and sisters: put on as God’s chosen ones holy and beloved heartfelt compassion, kindness, gentleness, and patience, 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. Over all these put on love, that is the bond of perfection. And let the peace of Christ control your hearts, the peace into which you were also called in one body. And be thankful. . . .
It goes on to specify:
Wives be subordinate to your husbands as is proper in the Lord. Husbands, love your wives and avoid any bitterness toward them. Children obey your parents in everything, for this is pleasing to the Lord. Fathers, do not provoke your children, so that they might not become discouraged.
Wow! If one wants details, there they are. It is so difficult to translate those specifications into daily practice. I fail constantly. Yet, I know in my heart, that at least trying to comply with God’s command brings grace. Contemporary life is so messy- secular threats to family life are everywhere: relativism, materialism, spiritual starvation, isolation, addictions, vanity, etc.. We need this Feast of the Holy Family to remind us that with God’s grace, we can achieve the joy He ordained for each of us, and our beloved family members, long before time began. Our omnipotent God would not have outlined His plan for family life so explicitly, and then leave us to flounder. He has given us the plan, and in Jesus, Mary and Joseph, the ultimate example. Thus, He will also grant us the grace to reach the goal of family bliss, if only we ask.
Please join me in praying the closing prayer from tonight’s Vespers:
Father, help us to live as the Holy Family, united in respect and love. Bring us to the joy and peace of your eternal home. Grant this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son Who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, One God, forever and ever. Amen.
Joyous Feast of the Holy Family,
Ad Jesum per Mariam