December 31, 2017
Fr. Joseph A. Jacobi
Do not be misled by the words: “Holy Family.” For we are too often misled by those words into thinking that the family of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph was a “perfect family” who were given a free pass from the harsh realities of life. Nothing could be further from the truth. Joseph and Mary and Jesus definitely did not live a sheltered and trouble-free life.
Joseph and Mary’s firstborn child was born almost 100 miles away from the comfort of their home in rough conditions. When he was still an infant they had to flee their home country for a foreign land, Egypt, forced to run for their life by King Herod, who was determined to murder the child Jesus. When Jesus was 12 years old, Mary and Joseph lost him in Jerusalem, and it took them 3 days to find him.
These two parents surely stumbled around and made mistakes just like every parent does with their first born child. Surely there were arguments at times between Mary and Joseph. That’s part of family life, too.
They were a holy family because they were a real family. For today we celebrate how the wonder of holiness is found in the midst of humanness, and what can be more human and real than family life, where in the rubbing of lives against other lives the miracle of love can be born. This feast of the Holy Family is about how God can and has chosen to be revealed and found in the very ordinary ups and downs of family life.
What made this family “holy” is the fact that their home was open toward heaven. Their most important relationship, which enabled them to move forward through the difficulties of life with grace, was with God.
It still surprises me when I hear some people refer to Jesus as a “Christian,” for Jesus was a Jew through and through. He was born into a Jewish family who followed the 1000-year-old law of Moses, which is why 40 days after his birth they are in the temple offering sacrifice. Mary and Joseph took Jesus with them every year to Jerusalem to celebrate the most important feast of the people of Israel—Passover. Jesus grew up with a Jewish mother and father who taught him how to pray. He grew in wisdom and grace, like all children are meant to grow, subject to his father and mother’s guidance.
Jesus grew in holiness not only as part of the nuclear family of Joseph and Mary, & not only because of his interactions with cousins, aunts and uncles who lived nearby, but he also grew in holiness as he discovered his identity as a member of a faith-filled people. The “father in faith” of this faith-filled people—Abraham. Jesus & his parents found strength and encouragement from Abraham’s example of faith and followed in Abraham’s footsteps as members of the chosen family of Israel.
The most important relationship in Abraham’s life was with God, the God who had sought Abraham out and called him. Abraham left his home at the call of God, not knowing where he was to go, trusting God would be faithful to God’s promise to bless Abraham with land. Abraham reveals what faith looks like—it is a relationship with God built on trust, knowing that the God who has been faithful to his promises in the past will also be faithful in the future. This witness of Abraham gave Joseph the courage to step forward into the unknown by taking Mary as his wife, though she was pregnant and the child was not his own.
Abraham teaches that God can do the impossible— God can bring life where there was no life before. Even though Abraham was so old he was as good as dead, and Sarah was sterile, Abraham trusted that with God nothing would be impossible. Isaac was born of this trust. God can do what seems impossible. Mary knows this to be true because her cousin Elizabeth, though sterile, becomes full of new life, as well as from her own experience of becoming pregnant by the Holy Spirit and giving birth to Jesus.
Then there is the act of complete surrender given by Abe to God, as he prepares to give back to God his only son on the altar of sacrifice. Such a sacrifice flows from Abraham’s relationship with God, which has grown and deepened over the years. He has found God is faithful to his promises. He has discovered that God can do what is impossible for humans to do. So, Abraham reasons that if God can bring life where there was no possibility of life, then surely God can raise the dead and bring back his son, Isaac. From a young age, because of his parents’ faith, Jesus became immersed into a larger family of faith to which he belonged, a “holy family.” Jesus would learn the stories of his ancestors in the faith from his parents. So that like Abraham, he could trust that God his Father could bring life even out of death when he surrendered his life on the altar of the cross to His Father.
Family, in the end, is about relationships, not only about the roles of parenting, providing, or home-making. So, this feast does not leave out those whose experience of family is somehow unique or different from what some would insist is the perfect and only way to be family. In the end, family is about relationships, and when those relationships point beyond themselves to God, holiness becomes possible.
What all of us have in common, I hope, is a home, and that is where this feast leads us. It leads us to look at and reflect upon our homes as places where we find God and are sanctified by what happens there. Homes are meant to be places where we are made aware of our eternal home. A home where a “holy family” lives is one that is open toward heaven, A “holy family” lives in a home which is not closed in upon itself, but is open to God by the loving service given by its members to one another and to others outside the home, by the prayers offered in the home, and by the sacrifices made in love. The forgiveness shared in home makes it a temple where God’s forgiveness is found.
Our Catholic Church has always believed that the home is the first and fundamental church, the first community of love, of which holiness is born.