Jesus went ‘with them and came to Nazareth and lived under their authority’
Today we keep the feast of the Holy Family – the family wherein Jesus was born and lived until the beginning of his public ministry. One of the collect for today prays in this way,
O God, who were pleased to give usthe shining example of the Holy Family,graciously grant that we may imitate themin practicing the virtues of family life.
The Church presents to us this 'shining example' of holiness so that we may take it as our model of family life and we may learn to imitate it. This is all good and well, but how are we meant to imitate the example of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph? This remarkable family had a few rather unique characteristics that our own households cannot aspire to; a child who is both human and divine to start with; a mother who is a virgin, a father who has visions of angels directing him in what he should do, visits from angels and from wise men bearing precious gifts; and not to forget a star that followed them for some time… Surely, the most cynic among us could say, how can we hold up the Holy Family as an example of holiness to other families?
Would that not be just setting ourselves up for failure?
My answer to this would be to look for the holiness of the Holy Family, that collective type of holiness, beyond the rather unique characteristics which define them by reading between the lines, as it were. In this way we would see that the Holy Family is a ‘shining example’ for every family insofar as they embodied two important good habits or virtues we often forget about. Jesus, Mary, and Joseph embody devotion and humility, and we could do very well if we began to practice these two virtues in our households – not as independent people but collectively.
Jesus, Mary, and Joseph were devoted to God. See how the child Jesus longs to spend time in the Temple. He, the Son of God, is seen in the gospels at prayer to the Father – an attitude to spiritual life that he would have learnt in his family, from his parents. See how Mary, treasures the things that are being said about he Son, and how she, like her husband Joseph, is ready to do whatever God is calling her to do. Both Mary and Joseph may have had other plans for their lives, but in devotion to God they abandon them in order to fulfil their vocations.
Jesus, Mary, and Joseph were devoted to one another. See how they faithfully live together among all the adversities they have to face; long journeys, being displaced as refugees, fear of losing their child… in all these situations and more the Holy Family hold together and remain devoted, loving, to one another.
Jesus, Mary, and Joseph were humble; throughout their lives they learnt and practiced humility in dealing. See how even the child Jesus, the Son of God who is found talking to the wise and learned of the Temple is pleased to follow his parents to Nazareth and to ‘live under their authority’ – the Son of God, living under the authority of others!
The virtues of family life I have very briefly highlighted – devotion and humility – transcends the rather unique setting in which they are practiced by Jesus, Mary, and Joseph. These good habits can apply to all our family set ups, however we want to define them, so that in being devoted to God and humble in our dealings, we may begin to live that collective form of holiness to which God calls his whole Church.
Let us pray,
O God, who were pleased to give usthe shining example of the Holy Family,graciously grant that we may imitate themin practicing the virtues of family lifeand so, in the joy of your house,delight one day in eternal rewards.Through Jesus Christ, Our Lord. Amen.