LOF: What can the Holy Family teach us today?

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There is perhaps no better exemplar for the Christian life than the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph. While each is celebrated, commemorated and honored in unique ways throughout the church year, the Sunday following Christmas is generally observed as a feast in honor of the whole family.

            As with all saints the church has raised to the altars, the Holy Family is to be revered and emulated. As we celebrate it in a special way on this feast, we would do well to reflect on specific lessons that can be learned from the Holy Family today.

            It may indeed be that, when considering the Holy Family, we tend to emphasize the fact of its holiness and neglect its other constituent feature: that it truly was a family. As a family, they would have lived together, eaten together, played together and prayed together.

 

Pope Francis accepts an icon of the Holy Family from Coptic Orthodox Metropolitan Bishoy of Damiette, Kafr El-Sheikh, and Bararya, all in Egypt, before a session of the Synod of Bishops on the family at the Vatican Oct. 15, 2015. There is perhaps no better exemplar for the Christian life than the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph. (CNS photo/Paul Haring) See MIDST Nov. 23, 2016.
Pope Francis accepts an icon of the Holy Family from Coptic Orthodox Metropolitan Bishoy of Damiette, Kafr El-Sheikh, and Bararya, all in Egypt, before a session of the Synod of Bishops on the family at the Vatican Oct. 15, 2015. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

        During his general audience on Dec. 28, 2011, Pope Benedict XVI reflected on the Holy Family, particularly the role played by St. Joseph: “As we know, the Gospel has not recorded any of Joseph’s words: His is a silent and faithful, patient and hardworking presence.”

            What a beautiful example Joseph sets! Tasked with providing for and protecting the Blessed Mother and the Son of God, he silently and persistently works to be the man he is called to be.

            “We may imagine that he too, like his wife and in close harmony with her, lived the years of Jesus’ childhood and adolescence savoring, as it were, his presence in their family,” Pope Benedict continued. Here, St. Joseph shows us the importance of always remembering the presence of Jesus in our lives, in our families — real, true presence, at the heart of it all.

            Under the headship of Joseph, the Holy Family persisted through many hardships, a few of which have been recounted to us by the Gospels. One of the most dramatic examples comes to us in the Gospel of Matthew, when the Holy Family is forced to flee their homeland as refugees, escaping the tyranny of King Herod. Yet through all of these struggles, their faith never wavered.

            St. Joseph certainly would have taught Jesus to pray, together with Mary. Pope Benedict noted, “Joseph, in accordance with the Jewish tradition, would have led the prayers at home both every day — in the morning, in the evening, at meals — and on the principal religious feasts.”

            Again, the Holy Family shows us the importance of prayer as part of the essential rhythm of everyday life.

            St. Joseph is patron saint of, among many other things, a happy death. It is not difficult to see why this is: Tradition holds that St. Joseph died with Jesus and Mary at his side.

            We hear a great deal about Joseph in the Nativity and infancy narratives in the Gospels, particularly in the Gospel of Matthew. However, it is interesting that we do not hear anything directly about Joseph in the Gospels following the incident when Jesus went missing and was found teaching in the Temple at age 12.

            This has contributed to the tradition that, by the time Jesus was grown and in active ministry, Joseph was already dead. And it also contributed to the idea that Joseph had died in the company of Jesus and Mary.

            Certainly, we can all hope to die in the company of Jesus and Mary. One thing we can learn from the Holy Family, and St. Joseph’s death in particular, is to trust that we will not be abandoned in our final hour.

            This is one of the chief responsibilities we have to our families: steadfastness — as God does not abandon his people, as Mary did not abandon her son, as Jesus did not abandon Joseph.

            In his homily on the Feast of the Holy Family in 2015, Pope Francis said, “How important it is for our families to journey together toward a single goal! We know that we have a road to travel together; a road along which we encounter difficulties but also enjoy moments of joy and consolation.”

            The Holy Father said that at the end of the Holy Family’s pilgrimage to Jerusalem, “Jesus returned to Nazareth and was obedient to his parents. This image also contains a beautiful teaching about our families. A pilgrimage does not end when we arrive at our destination, but when we return home and resume our everyday lives, putting into practice the spiritual fruits of our experience.”

            Here Pope Francis is once again emphasizing the fact that family life is more than simply a biological coincidence. It is a reality that informs our whole lives.

            One of the most important lessons we can learn from the Holy Family is that God has given us the gift of the family to help us on our earthly way. It takes no stretch of the imagination to see that we live in challenging times — or to see that Jesus, Mary and Joseph did, as well.

            But their unity, a reflection of the Trinitarian unity that all families personify, surely provided strength and fortitude by the grace of God. We are called to do the same.

— Paul Senz

            (Senz is a freelance writer living in Oregon with his family.)