This is a reflection for the Feast of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, December 26, 2021
When we come together to celebrate Mass during the Christmas season, we see the entire Church on full display in a manner distinct from any other time of year. At Christmas, we encounter the myriad types of domestic churches, families that together form the body of Christ. At Christmas Mass, we see the family matriarchs standing as lone witnesses to Christ after the passage of many years. We see the same lively family with parents struggling to wrangle their children that we see every Sunday, but this time with the added burden of scratchy Christmas sweaters and uncomfortable dresses. We see the single parents, couples without children, widows, and widowers, the unmarried, the just married, and the empty nesters whose children chose not to travel home this winter. We see the family with young children bursting with excitement over the newly arrived baby Jesus in the manger scene and the family who practically had to drag their teenage children into the building despite protestations on the grounds of their freshly formulated “atheism.” Christmas Masses, in particular, serve as a microcosm of the universal Church in its diversity and unity.
The exterior display of unique domestic churches that gather during this season also signals the individual faithful’s unique interior dispositions, desires, and memories.
Some of us come to the Christmas season in our absolute glory, couldn’t be happier.
Some of us wonder how we’re going to make it through the holiday.
Some of us think back to our childhood Christmases as the happiest memories of our life.
Some of us think back and realize how we want to give our children what we didn’t get.
We are at different points in our lives, and we experience our faith and this season differently.
It is not one-size-fits-all.
That’s why Christmas in particular, and our faith, in general, has always spoken to me, has always seemed like the perfect way to explain the world we live in, the families we are part of, and the things we experience.
You can look at that manger and see the Son of God, arrived in his glory and accompanied by the songs of angels. And you can see a child in such poverty that he has no place to sleep but in a stable surrounded by livestock.
You can look at that manger and see a Holy Family, Mary, Joseph, and Jesus—the model of what we are called to be. And you can see a refugee family driven out of their homeland by a ruthless despot.
You can look at that manger and dream about how that child will bring salvation to the world. And you can worry about the future that lies ahead of him.
The world we live in is beautiful. Every day if you watch, you can see signs of the presence of the divine all around us. The world we live in is tragic. You each can attest to the burdens you’ve had to bear.
It can be both of those things, and nowhere is that explained and given meaning and purpose than in our faith, than in the twin mysteries of the Nativity and the Holy Family. During this season, we celebrate the coming of the King of Kings, but we celebrate it with a poor shivering family welcoming their son into the world in a strange place.
At Christmas, we hear from the Gospel of John that the Word became flesh and dwelt among us. At that moment, that incredible, unforgettable moment, everything changed. The creator entered creation. From that moment, life, in all its beauty and suffering, became imbued with the presence of our God, creator, and creation forever joined. Catholicism is about seeing that presence, rejoicing in that presence, embracing that presence of God that lies within every experience we have in life.
This season, we recognize that we can always see some reflection, however imperfect, of the Holy Family of our Savior in our own families and our own lives. The Incarnation means that Christ is always present in our complicated families and messy lives. Of course, we seek to conform ourselves more closely to him and our families to his, but we do so knowing that the seed is already planted, the work has already begun. The season of Christmas speaks to us in beauty, tragedy, and everything in between.
The celebration of Mary, Joseph, and the newborn Emmanuel is a sign for us of the salvation that Christ brings to the entire human race, without question. But it also offers God’s unique grace to each of our domestic churches and the presence of Christ in each of our lives.
Merry Christmas and Happy Feast of the Holy Family.
Fr. Alex Roche is the pastor of St. Maria Goretti Catholic Church in Laflin, Pennsylvania and serves as the director of vocations for the Diocese of Scranton. Ordained in 2012, he has a Licentiate in Sacred Theology from the Pontifical Lateran University. He went to college with a girl who went to high school with the niece of the guy who played Al in Quantum Leap.
You can listen to his podcast at www.wadicherith.com.