The Feast of the Holy Family occurs in the heart of the Church's Christmas season.
It's somehow fitting that as the world puts away the mistletoe and holly and families return to their ordinary lives, the Church reminds us of the importance of family, not just on holidays, but every day of the year.
But we don't always know what it means to be family because so many of us come from broken, dysfunctional, messy families. That's why the Holy Family-Jesus, Mary and Joseph-is such an important role model. Together the three show us that for a family to be a safe haven in a broken world, obedience to God must first be at the center of our individual lives. Mary's "yes" to God's request to become the mother of the Savior changed history: Joseph's prompt response to God's command rescued Jesus from Herod's attempt to kill him. And Jesus' obedience to the will of the Father brought salvation to the entire world. It was through obedience that Jesus, Mary, and Joseph were able to become a truly holy family: As we celebrate the feast of the Holy Family, let us ask ourselves how our own families can more closely model the Holy Family so that we can become witnesses of God’s love to families all over the world.
Unpack the First Reading
The principle theme of Sirach is “If you desire wisdom, keep the commandments” (1:26). In this section, after counseling “fear of the Lord” in the first two chapters – as a kind of general admonition to the observance of the first three of the Ten Commandments – the author turns to observance of the fourth Commandment that requires that we honor our parents.
The Catechism tells us that this fourth of the Commandments begins the second tablet of the law on love of neighbor (CCC 2197). That means this requirement of Christian life stands as kind of bridge between love of God and neighbor.
If we “fear the Lord” rightly, then we will honor our parents, because the God we honor has honored our parents by setting them over us as signs of his own authority. Our parents are also our first neighbors, the first of those others that we are to love (as we do ourselves) in response to our love of God. This is why the promises of children, treasure, and gladness that we see here (and in the Responsorial Psalm) are attached to honoring our parents. If we honor them, God is honored, and we will have taken the first step toward a rightly ordered relationship with all those around us as well. The culture of rebellion against authority, beginning with parental authority, that is a singular feature of our current “culture of death,” is a recipe for unhappiness, which encourages the rupture in our relationships both with God and neighbor.
Unpack the Second Reading
In this passage from Colossians we see the way in which the requirement of the law echoed in Sirach ought to be lived out in New Covenant grace. Precisely because we are God’s “chosen” in grace, “beloved” and “holy,” we are called to live out the fourth Commandment, and so also all our relationships – from the top down – in the superlative way that baptismal grace makes possible. In the first verse of this reading (3:12) some of the fruits of the Spirit are invoked (see Galatians 5:22) in the context of a picture of Christian obedience, which recalls the blessed ones of the Beatitudes—meekness, peacefulness, purity—that come from our having been clothed in mercy.
This passage makes a great examination of conscience as we approach the sacrament of Confession or Reconciliation, or as a kind of “check in” reflection to share as a family as regards our observance of the obligations of the fourth Commandment. Note the two keys to success that Paul mentions for living out this picture of family holiness are love, the principle Christian virtue; and thanksgiving, which ventilates the heart and reminds us of the gifts of God that we are to each other. If we put on love and sing gratefully from our hearts, then the difficult demands of obedience to our obligations to each other will be made the light and easy yoke that Jesus promised (Matthew 11:30).
Unpack the Gospel
In this condensed passage relating the flight to Egypt and later return to Nazareth, which finishes the infancy narrative in Matthew's Gospel, we see St. Joseph as the very picture of the man of the fourth Commandment. Because of his obedience to the God above, he is able to serve Jesus and Mary as protector and provider, as husband and father, insuring that the plan of God for those two central figures will go forward in accordance with God’s gracious designs. It is worth reading this whole section of Matthew 2 in full – including the missing verses 16-18, which tell of the murderous intent and action of Herod toward the divine – because it reminds us of just how much rides upon our conformity to the requirements of the fourth Commandment for both parents and children. While most of us don't face the designs of a murderous king, our spiritual help, as individuals, families, and as a society, depends critically upon the right order in these relationships that serve as a bridge between the two great commandments, to love God and neighbor.
There is an old Latin proverb, corruptio optima pessima, which means the destruction of the best of things is the worst of things. That is where we find ourselves regarding the family. If we don't recover the vital lessons of these readings and this beautiful liturgical feast and apply them to our lives, we will face the worst of futures. Grace makes the very best possible, but we must ask, seek and knock for the grace to make our families holy families in imitation of Jesus, Mary and Joseph.
Reflect & Discuss
Please take a moment to watch the Opening the Word video for today. The presenter, Jules Miles, gives us some valuable insights on why the Holy Family is an important model for us. Then reflect upon and discuss these questions with a friend:
1. How does presenter Jules Miles say that each member of the Holy Family displays the virtue of obedience?
2. In this week’s Gospel, Joseph plays an essential role. What does Joseph do that is so important?
Digging Deeper: Which Herod?
Sometimes the “Herods” in Scripture can get a bit confusing since numerous rulers bore that name. The Herod who ordered the killing of all boys under the age of two was Herod the Great. He ruled for 33 years, from 37 – 4 BC. After his death, his sons Herod Archelaus and Herod Antipas took command. Herod Archelaus was the ethnarch of Judea. Herod Antipas was in charge of Galilee and Perea. It is this Herod that Jesus called “that fox” in Luke 13:32.
Reprinted with permission from Augustine Institute from the Opening the Word Leader Guide available on FORMED.org