The Sunday after Christmas was the Feast of the Holy Family. It is a fitting celebration to have after Christmas and it serves as a great reminder of the importance of family in our lives. That God decided to come into this world within the context of the family and not as a singular individual (which was well within His power to do http://www.newadvent.org/summa/4001.htm#article2) is instructive to say the least. The mystery of the Incarnation is not just the mystery of God taking on human flesh (though it is principally that). It is the mystery of God entering into a human family and paying heed to His human parents. From this perspective we see how Christ not only sets an example for the renewal the life of the individual, but also of family life by His grace.
First, we see that family life is not devoid of problems, but rather, confronts problems through mutual love and trust. Joseph was concerned upon learning that Mary was with child, but he was also “unwilling to expose her to shame” and thus decided to “divorce her quietly.” This created a serious problem for a first century Jewish family. The penalty for being unfaithful could very likely lead to death, however, Joseph is unwilling to expose Mary to this because of his love for and trust in her. But, these reasons are not great enough to entirely put Joseph’s mind at ease about continuing his betrothal to Mary. It is only when the angel redoubles his faith in God’s plan that Joseph decides to continue the betrothal despite what the consequences might be in the community (Matthew 1:18-25).
Love and Trust
It was the trust and love that Joseph had for Mary which was the prior building block upon which God established Joseph’s faith in His plan. In the same manner in our own families, we must have mutual love and trust for God’s faith to confirm and strengthen us. This is not easily established and many families experience significant difficulty when it comes to cultivating love and trust. There might be past injuries that need to be addressed, perhaps some members of the family have been ostracized for one reason or another.
Whatever the problems, if a family does not make the effort to build up love and trust among one another, then God’s grace will not force a family to be together. It must have been terrifying to think of what the consequences might have been if others in the community thought Mary had been unfaithful. More terrifying still, it must have been to flee to Egypt. Yet Mary and Joseph were able to overcome because of the faith that confirmed their mutual love and trust.
Secondly, Christ’s family life shows us the value of perseverance. Too many families today fall victim to disintegration due to a dearth of perseverance. Scripture tells us that Christ stayed with His parents for the entirety of His youth and was obedient to them (Luke 2:51). Naturally, we often find it difficult to obey our parents at times – especially as we begin to mature in age and understanding. We can also find it grating to be patient with members of our family for one reason or another.
Consider how difficult it must have been for God Himself to be obedient to His own creation while He is sustaining them in their very being! This is not to say that every situation in family life calls for us to give obedience or patiently bear with the situation at hand. But it does impel us during this time in the liturgical year to reflect on how we can cultivate more patience and understanding within our familial relationships.
Acceptance of the Circumstances at Hand
Lastly, Christ’s family life calls us to accept our family situation and work within it for our own sanctification. Again, this does not mean that if there is a situation that is abusive or otherwise problematic that we ought to content ourselves with such treatment. Rather, it is a call to accept the situation we find ourselves in rather than fantasize about some ideal or what could have been. Mary did not refuse the angel Gabriel though she did not understand what was to become of her. She said fiat. Joseph did not wish he could have married someone else or had a different life. He guided and guarded his family to the manger and to Egypt. By accepting their respective circumstances and working as well as possible within them, the Holy Family achieved something greater than what they could ever have done following their own designs.
Thus, during this time of Christmas and New Year, let us reflect upon our own personal and familial lives. And let us find places where we can work on increasing love, faith, trust, and perseverance within the hand the God has dealt us in this life. In this way we can experience a renewal of ourselves and our families as we face whatever might come in the new liturgical and secular year.