Each year at Christmas, I have a difficult time reconciling the hard realities that must have surrounded Jesus’ birth and how it has been romanticized over the centuries. The Annunciation, the Visitation, Joseph’s dilemma, Quirinius’s census, Mary and Joseph’s travel to Jerusalem just before childbirth, the birth of Jesus in a stable, Jesus laid in a manger, Herod’s search for the child, the family’s escape to Egypt—it is possible to romanticize these events and lose sight of the difficult realities in which these events took place.
We can fall into the same type of romanticized thinking with the Feast of the Holy Family as well. While it is true that two of the three people in the Holy Family were sinless, we can be sure that the Holy Family faced many of the trials and complexities that we do today. I am sure that they struggled like we do and found comfort in each other just as we do.
2020 has been incredibly hard on families due to the challenges presented by the pandemic. Families have struggled with ill family members and grief. Many—especially the elderly—died alone in hospitals and nursing homes. This year, families faced immense financial challenges: losing jobs and experiencing unemployment, paying bills, taking up home-schooling, managing work schedules with online education, dealing with the stress of working from home. Tragically, in some cases, families experienced domestic abuse. For those struggling with mental health issues, or those who had family members struggling with mental health, family life has been particularly stressful. This is also true of families whose members have had to access emergency health care or be admitted to hospitals. That said, those without families close by have had it so much harder. In most cases, our family, our home, and our loved ones have been our refuge and strength.
What can we learn from the Holy Family, who endured struggles and hard times, but also exemplify the love that can be found in the family?
The Holy Family
The name says it all. The Holy Family is called the Holy Family because of the Incarnation. Just as Jesus’ becoming human gave a new dignity to the human race, so also God’s Incarnation into a family gives a new dignity to the human family. That said, the family was already considered a sacred unit in the Jewish tradition. This understanding of the dignity of the family comes from the idea that the family is God’s creation. God gave Adam and Eve to each other and created the first human family. However, when Jesus was born into a human family, he gave the human family a renewed dignity. The family is God’s dwelling place. Our home is God’s abode. Christians even call our home the “domestic church.”
The most important thing we can do on the feast of the Holy Family is to remind ourselves that by its very nature our own family is already holy. The sacredness of our family does not totally depend on the holiness of its members. If it did, no family would be holy, because we all fail in numerous ways. Rather, the holiness of the family stems from the reality that the family is of divine origin. The family is God’s creation, and our families and homes are the dwelling place of God. I suggest that this week, you reflect on and become deeply aware of the reality of the sacredness of your home and your family. And no matter what your family is like, thank God that God considers your home worthy of being God’s dwelling place.
Faith, the bedrock of the family
The infancy narratives in the Gospels do not shield us from the struggles of Jesus’ family. As I mentioned, the Holy Family faced challenges like all families do. But through it all, there is one thing that is consistent in their story: their constant, undying, and undiminished faith. No matter what happened, they always respond in faith. For example, Mary consented to the angel Gabriel’s Annunciation in faith. Joseph obeyed the angel in faith. Even when there was no angel to reassure them, we see them facing life with faith. The climax of this faith is seen at Calvary. Even as Mary stands at the foot of the Cross (in all probability, she was a widow by this time), and even as Jesus sees his weeping mother, their faith never wavered. It was their faith that helped them to face and carry their crosses and to be strong for each other.
Our families too have faced unprecedented challenges during this pandemic year. I hope that these challenges have strengthened our faith. I hope we will face the upcoming challenges of the new year like the Mary and Jesus did. As we identify with them in their struggles, I hope we also identify with them in their faith.
There is an area of particular concern during these times: the impact of the pandemic on the faith and religious education of our children. I am also concerned that when things get back to normal, getting back to church for worship will require immense discipline and effort. If you are concerned for your family in this regard, may I suggest that in the new year you make an extraordinary effort and gradually reconnect with your faith community. If you have not yet returned to Mass, as the situation with the pandemic improves, perhaps your family can return to church once a month. Until then, be sure to watch Mass at home and pray or reflect on scripture together. If you have not signed up your children for religious education, perhaps you can do this in the new year. Either way, please nurture the faith of your family. Please remember that just like the Holy Family, it is our faith that sustains us during these times.
Finally, I would like to offer a blessing for families.
Let us pray:
origin of life and creator of families,
when the appointed time came,
You chose to send Jesus into a family,
and made the home your dwelling place.
In this way, you consecrated each home and every family.
Today, we bring our families before you.
As we model our family around the Holy Family,
we pray that we might have a renewed awareness of Your presence in our homes.
Help us see every member of our family as your gift,
and help us to treat one another with the same honor that we have for you.
During this pandemic, we raise up:
- Families that are grieving the death of a loved one,
- Families or family members struggling in their faith,
- Families struggling with physical, mental, and emotional health,
- Families that are stressed and fearful because of unemployment and other financial burdens,
- Families that experience domestic abuse or substance abuse in any form,
- Children and youth who are finding education difficult,
- Families that face break-up because of the stress created by the pandemic.
hold our families in your protective, comforting, healing and redeeming embrace.
One day, may we be reunited with you in our eternal home in heaven.
Image: Adobe Stock. © Renáta Sedmáková.