This week we celebrate the Feast of the Holy Family. Many of the Scripture readings remind us that we are all one in this Baby who was brought into the world through a family. The ‘yes’ of Mary and Joseph is what made it possible. That God chose to send His only Son into our world by placing Him into a family should not surprise us. The Father could have sent Jesus in any manner which pleased Him, so it seems that families must please Him. In fact, if we go all the way back to the creation story in the Scriptures, the first thing we learn is that people were meant to be together. When making covenants with His people God repeated many times that they were to be fruitful and multiply. The story of Abraham, to whom God gave the charge to begin a nation, revolves around promises of descendants and of a long-awaited son, Isaac. It was his family that populated the Promised Land: the twelve tribes of Israel were the descendants of the twelve sons of Israel (who was originally named Jacob, son of Isaac, son of Abraham). It was to their descendants that the land was given. It was this people to whom God sent His own Son when the time was right. And God made sure that His Son would be born in the family line of a man beloved to Him, King David.
In the letters of the New Testament, especially St. Paul and St. John, we see the term ‘brothers and sisters’ often, revealing to us that the early Christian community thought of themselves as a family. They simply followed what Jesus taught and what the Holy Spirit revealed: they were a community of believers, yes, but they were also brothers and sisters. This is why St. Paul said there are no divisions. In this family there is not Gentile or Jew, male or female, slave or free. There is one Body without divisions, just as a family should have no divisions. We are one with a common identity in Jesus Christ our Lord.
Many of the great saints also had an appreciation of family. For example, St. Thérèse of Lisieux had such a great love for her birth family that she could hardly bear to be separated from any one of them. She followed two of her older sisters into the same Carmelite convent. It is clear she had a vocation, but I think she also loved her sisters so much that it gave her great comfort to be near them during the duration of her short life. Leaving her father almost crushed them both, but Thérèse came to offer up the pain of that separation as part of her ministry. It gives us the understanding that God does not intend to separate us completely from our loved ones. Rather He intends for us to remain connected and be part of each other’s lives in one way or another. For some it will be a connection during this earthly life and for others, (especially as we get older) it will be through the bond of baptism with which we remain joined to those who have gone before us in death.
There is no doubt that they taught Jesus through their example. Jesus had sensitivity towards the sick, the outcasts, the poor, and the marginalized. He was alert to injustice and worked against it. He taught His followers about being strong in our weakness, how to live with mercy and in peace, and how to respond in a loving, non-violent way. Surely He learned a lot about this from His parents, though He was God and also learned from His Father in Heaven. But Jesus desired for His human family to be whole, therefore He came to heal that which divides and that which wounds. All of these were values that came from His humble family. His sinless mother, Mary, must have taught Jesus through her reflection and prayer and Joseph must have been an example of quiet strength, teaching Jesus how to live with humility when there would have been a lot of temptation to be known as a person of importance.
May we be grateful for our membership in the family of Jesus! May we recognize that we are all brothers and sisters, even with those who seem so very different than ourselves! May we be filled with compassion and mercy for those with whom it is difficult to relate! May we realize that as members of the Holy Family we must respond by actively reaching out to our brothers and sisters! And may we have gratitude for the love of the Holy Family which is extended to us! Let us meet and adore at the foot of the manger alongside shepherds and kings, Mary and Joseph! Peace!
©Michele L. Catanese
*The four women named in the genealogy of Matthew are Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, and Mary, with special emphasis on Mary as mother of the Messiah. The 'honorable mention' is the wife of David and mother of Solomon: Bathsheba. She is described, but not named outright. (Matthew 1:6)
The two icons at the top are the work of Fr. William Hart McNichols. The first is The Holy Family for Holy Family Hospital of Bethlehem. It is one of the most lovely icons of the Holy Family I have ever seen. The version I used here is the unframed version, though the framed original is also very beautiful. The original is in Bethlehem, Israel as the title indicates. The unframed version is found at http://www.standreirublevicons.com/gallery-views/jesus-gallery/product/343-the-holy-family-for-holy-family-hospital-of-bethlehem
The framed version is at http://www.standreirublevicons.com/gallery-views/jesus-gallery/product/345-the-holy-family-for-holy-family-hospital-of-bethlehem-with-frame. You can obtain copies of these here or also at http://fineartamerica.com/featured/2-the-holy-family-for-the-holy-family-hospital-of-bethlehem-william-hart-mcnichols.html
The next illustration is called The Holy Family with a Palm Tree (1506) by the great artist Raphael. You can find this at https://www.flickr.com/photos/mbell1975/6341430767/
The last picture is from a long lost Christmas card from many years ago. I keep it in my Bible and have no idea from whence it came.