The Feast of the Holy Family is a beautiful reminder of what is really important in this life. We know that Jesus never had a career, never had a position of power in this world, never had a great fortune, never had a magnificent house. But what he clearly did have, and positively chose to have, was a great family.
Today’s feast focuses on another dimension of the Christmas event, the fact that the Son of God was born into a human family, grew to his maturity in a human family, and lived in that family environment for thirty of his thirty three years on this earth. Pope Paul VI once referred to the family the school of humanity, because it is in the family that children can learn the most important truths about what constitutes the good human; and there too they should be able to acquire all the human virtues necessary for living a good human life.
Thus Jesus Himself chose to grow into his human maturity within the context of a good human family, learning from his mother Mary, and his foster father Joseph all the truly important lessons of human life. Under their careful tutelage and their loving care, the Son of God grew to maturity as a man. And thus did he teach us the crucial importance of the family for human growth and development, and the centrality of the family in God’s plan for man’s happiness in this world and the next.
How much we can learn from the family of Jesus, if only we believe that God truly meant to teach us about family life through his own experience in the family at Nazareth. Since God chose to spend thirty years as part of a human family, how can we ever come to think of the family as secondary to any other social institution or anything else. If Jesus spent all these years interacting with his family, it must surely be that the family is the primary source of all human fulfillment. If Jesus could find His own fulfillment as a man in his family, then surely the family is meant to be the focal point of human life, the place where husband and wife find their fulfillment as man and woman, and where children are schooled in the “school of humanity.”
Vatican II had earlier gone even further when it referred to the family as the “domestic Church.” The family is designed by God to be the miniature Church where God is to be worshiped. And prayer is meant to be a central part of family life. Can we possibly imagine the holy family not praying together daily? How can it be, then, that so many Christian families fail to have any prayer in common, or very little prayer at all within the family? If the family is truly meant to be the domestic church, then clearly its most important role must be to foster holiness among it’s members and to assist each member in his or her journey back to God.
Why, then, do families exist if not to reflect on earth the family that is God? Why do families exist at all if not to help each member to get to heaven where the eternal family of the Holy Trinity awaits them? Jesus was born to save the human race, and he was to so this as a member of the human family, a member of a particular human family. So too, each child is born into a human family to become a member of the divine family. The task of the family, then, cannot be limited to humanizing each member, but more radically to help to divinize each of it’s members. That is what reflection on Jesus in the family at Nazareth will teach us, if we ponder these things as Mary did at Nazareth.
The family is in trouble today in this country. That is true for many reasons, but perhaps it is true above all because many of us have forgotten that the model of all families is the holy family. That perfect model never grows outdated, is never surpassed. If we would have the kind of families that God desires for us, then we must return to the model of family life that God has provided us in the holy family of His son. We must, as Pope Paul VI said, return once more to the school of Nazareth, and learn there, in prayer, the great lessons that school can teach us about the human family. It is never too late to enter that school. All we need is the faith to do so and the grace to help us live the lessons we will surely learn in that holy place.