Ecclesiasticus 3:2-6.12-14; Colossians 3:12-21; Matthew 2:13-15.19-23
It would be a mistake to imagine that today’s feast belongs on the ever-growing list of special Sundays like Seaman’s Sunday, Respect Life Sunday, Refugee Sunday, Social Justice Sunday, and so on. Neither does it belong with secular feasts like Father’s Day or Mother’s Day. You won’t find any of these celebrations in the Roman Missal but you will find the feast of the Holy Family, and you will always find it on this day as part of the celebration of Christmas because the feast of the Holy Family is actually a part of the celebration of the Incarnation of Jesus.
The Saviour took flesh of the virgin Mary by the power of the Holy Spirit and even though this miracle bypassed natural means of conception it could not bypass the matrix into which all children should be born and raised – the family.
If we cannot speak of a fish without reference to water, it is even more unthinkable to speak of a child without reference to a family.
Therefore, God in his providence set about searching for an earthly father for his Son. I use the word ‘searching’ not because God needed to search, but as a tribute to the apocryphal literature which tells us how all the would-be suitors for Mary were examined by the High Priest who could not arrive at a decision. He therefore sent them home but asked each man to leave his staff in the temple overnight. In the morning one of the staffs had burst into blossom. It was Joseph's. From his staff sprouted beautiful lilies.
And so Jesus was born into a human family, just as it is the unchangeable plan of God that every one of his children should be born into a family. And let me hasten to add, not a family with two fathers or two mothers because that is not a family, but a family with a father and a mother.
Family is not an option for us as humans, it is a necessity, somehow written into our DNA. How many sociological and psychological tests have shown this! A child grows to maturity, in all its many dimensions, most effortlessly in a normal, loving, human family.
No wonder the family is one of Satan’s prime targets. If he can destroy the family he destroys the basic building block of growth for individual human beings as well as the basic building block of society. Let us resist his attempts to do this wherever and whenever we can.
Jesus was born not only into a family but into a holy family. A holy family is a family which has God at its conscious centre.
As we saw during the readings of the last few days, from the moment of her conception of Jesus, the life of Mary and Joseph became even more centred on God who had now entered their lives in bodily human form. Both took up positions of profound reverence. Mary did not speak to Joseph of her pregnancy, she considered this to be God’s prerogative.
Joseph, noticing Mary’s pregnancy and yet, fully convinced of her purity, did not think himself worthy to speak to her about it. Both spouses humbly left to God the ‘unfolding’ of the mystery he had introduced between them, and God did not disappoint.
Let me repeat: A holy family is a family which has God at its conscious centre. It is a family in which all the members, including the children, seek out the will of God as their primary goal in life. In their marriage, in their parenting, in the orientation of their individual hearts this ‘seeking’ was, in Mary and Joseph, utterly, awe-inspiringly habitual.
The Holy Family is the model for every family and yet, how far from this ideal has modern secular society not drawn us! All too often God has been granted but the merest foothold, even in Catholic families. It would not be too much to state that today Catholic family life is in deep, deep crisis. The conscious centre of family life today is all too often the ideals held up to it by a Godless, materialistic, individualistic society, which is itself in deep crisis.
What can be done? Well, there are lots, and lots of different levels at which something can be done but there is just no avoiding the fact that the only place we can begin is with ourselves. Forget the husband, forget the wife, forget mum and dad; I can only start with me.
And where do I start? Perhaps St Paul offers the best answer in today’s second reading. It’s a request addressed today personally and individually to you, and only you give it the real thought it needs so that it can open up a way forward for you: Let the message of Christ, in all its richness, find a home with you.