He went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them.
Today, the Church most fittingly continues her celebration of the Christmas mystery by turning our attention to the Holy Family that was established by the birth of Jesus. The Holy Family plays a critical role in God’s plan of salvation and stands forever as the model of the Christian family in this world.
The late Pope John Paul II, on Jan 1, 1994 addressed the following words to the world, and they express a theme which was absolutely central to his pontificate:
The institution which most immediately responds to the nature of the human being is the family. It alone ensures the continuity and the future of society. Pope John Paul II, 1994 Message Day of Peace
The importance of marriage and the family for the survival of our society is not a new theme in the history of the Church, for the Church has always taught that the family is the true foundation of human society. But no Pope ever spoke with greater eloquence or more frequently on this theme of marriage and the family than did John Paul II. He spoke so often on this topic because knew that our world is in desperate condition today, that we are threatened with destruction far worse than any economic collapse or brutal war or the plague in the Middle Ages. Today we are threatened with the collapse of our societal bonds and structures, the destruction of social unity and social peace because of the collapse of the pillars of society, that is, marriage and family life, as God designed them.
Today, we live in a culture where the destruction of marriages and breakup of families is taking place on a scale perhaps unprecedented in human history. We live in a society with rampant divorce which strikes at the heart of marriage as a permanent communion of life and love; with a contraceptive life style that undermines conjugal love and its procreative character; and now with the legalization of homosexual “marriage” which contradicts the very divinely ordained nature of marriage. All of these evils have resulted from man’s blasphemous attempt to take total control over human life and to redefine the institutions that most closely affect human life; marriage, conjugal love and the family.
God designed the family to be the structural basis of civilization and to be the great educator in the values that make human society possible. When the family, which is meant to be the sustainer and nourisher of life, becomes the place where life is denied, where life is even sacrificed for other values, even for mere convenience, then society is threatened with its own self-annihilation. And since this is taking place on a world wide scale, the world is truly threatened with a dismal future.
Nonetheless, today’s feast holds out hope in the midst of this terrible darkness. The feast of the Holy Family presents us with yet another perspective on the Christmas Mystery, for it reminds us that there is a divine plan for the human family and for child rearing, which even the Son of God respected in coming into this world. Jesus had a family to grow up in, a mother and father to teach him what it means to live as a man and how to live in this world as a child of man.
His choosing to be born into and grow up in a human family is very important for us, giving us a much needed corrective to certain false ideas on the nature of the family being strongly propagandized in our society. Even though God chose to be born of a Virgin, signaling both His divine origins as only-Son of the Heavenly Father, and the newness of creation beginning in His own humanity, nonetheless, He also chose to be raised normally as a child by both His Mother Mary and Foster Father, St. Joseph. In other words while His conception and birth were outside the course of nature, a true miracle of the new creation, nonetheless God chose to be reared within the course of nature by making Jesus a son of an integral human family consisting of both Father and Mother. This is God’s plan for the nature of the family, and the normal, integral setting for the rearing of children. I stress the word “integral” here because there are true families that are not integral, because one parent is missing for whatever reasons, death, separation, etc. But the integral family, according to the divine plan is for children to have the nourishing environment provided by man and wife, living the full fruitfulness of their married love and life in caring for each other and their family.
That model of man and wife and the family as the foundation of human society and human civilization is the divine plan, and this is the reason God the Father chose not to bypass the normal course of nature when it came to the nurturing and education of the Eternal Son made a human son. It was God’s way of reaffirming the critical importance of marriage and the family for human society. Likewise, the family of Nazareth provides a perfect model for all families to imitate, even if we can never perfectly imitate that model. Meditation on what that family life was like enables us to discover the secrets of perfect family life. Their unselfish conjugal and parental love, their undoubted mutual devotion and loving family prayer, their unquestioned humility and dedication to home and family are always the keys to the successful and happy family, no matter what age we live in.
At the same time this divine confirmation of the true nature of the human family, by Jesus assuming a family based upon the marriage compact of man and woman, is a powerful corrective for certain most pernicious and destructive notions of the family being advanced in our world today. Powerful forces are trying to assert that the family has no divine plan, no set “natural” constitution, and that alternative forms of marriage and of family life should be recognized and given equal rights and protection by society. The family is coming to be seen as a purely artificial institution, constructed by man, not God, whose purposes and constitution can change as society chooses to change it.
The most extreme example of this assault on divine law regarding marriage and family has been the victorious effort for the legal recognition of same-sex unions as marriages, having the same value as marriages between man and woman. Indeed, we already had witnessed the establishing of a right of same-sex partners to adopt and raise children on an equal basis with married men and women. All of this amounts to a pernicious attempt to establish what the Church teaches to be an unnatural and immoral life style as morally acceptable and equal in standing with marriage and family life rooted in the natural complementarily of man and woman. But, as Popes John Paul II, Benedict XVI and now Francis have all reaffirmed, we Christians have a duty to resist such radical deviations from God’s plan. No society which permits this kind of attack on marriage and family can long survive, and Christians have a positive civic and moral duty to oppose all such legal and social attempts to deny the divinely ordained nature of marriage and family life.
However, we Christians know well that the possibility for renewal is always present for us, because we know that God designed marriage and the family for man’s happiness and for the good of society. God never abandons that purpose or deny us the means to accomplish it. Of course, Jesus taught us that marriage and family life as God designed it could not be fully restored to its divine constitution without the grace that He himself would provide in the Sacrament of Matrimony. So we trust that Jesus will always provide Grace in abundance for all the Baptized who receive the Sacrament of Matrimony and take full advantage of the graces of the Eucharist and Confession.
Finally, we have been taught by these great papal teachers that nothing in this world, when it is perfected by the supernatural life of Grace, has greater importance for preparing us for Eternal Happiness than a profoundly Christian family. Jesus chose very deliberately to give us a model of such a family in His own family. Wise Christian couples will frequently return in prayer and meditation to that Holy Family of Nazareth to seek the riches of that divine model for their own family’s life. Today’s feast is meant to help us do just that.