Quos cæléstibus réfocos sacraméntis, fac, Dómine Jesu sanctæ Familiæ tuæ exépla júgiter imitári: ut, in hora mortis nostræ, occurrénte gloriósa Virgine Matre tua cum beáto Joseph; per te in ætérne tabernácula récipi mereámu.
Make us, O Lord, unceasingly to strive to imitate the example set us by Thy holy Family: so that, at the hour of our death, welcomed by the glorious Virgin Thy Mother, and by Saint Joseph, we may be received by Thee into our everlasting home.
-Postcommunion Prayer, Feast of the Holy Family
Yesterday was the Feast of the Holy Family. Devotion to the Virgin Mary and St. Joseph date back to the earliest days of the Church. Feast Days similar to the Feast of the Holy Family were first celebrated in Patristic times, primarily in the Eastern Church. For example, in Egypt, it was not uncommon to celebrate a feast day dedicated to the flight into Egypt. Devotion to the Most Holy Family, as it exists today, first emerged in the West in the 17th century, and a feast day dedicated to them was first created in 1921 by Pope Benedict XV. In 1969, during the liturgical reforms of Pope Paul VI, the feast day – which was originally celebrated the Sunday after Epiphany – was moved to the Sunday after Christmas. 
I think the readings for this week touch on a major point: true, authentic, relationships, based on charity, are communion – that is to say, a sense of intimate union with the other. The reason for this is because true charity between humans is meant to imitate the charity shared between us and God. The second reading emphasizes this point to a great degree. Taken from the third chapter of St. Paul’s letter to the Colossians, St. Paul writes that we, as God’s chosen people, are to “[p]ut on…heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, bearing with one another and forgiving one another.” (Colossians 3:12-13). We need to “put on love, that is, the bond of perfection.” (Colossians 3:14) Love is one of the highest of the virtues, as it makes us imitators of God and gives all other virtues a meritorious character (cf. 1 John 4:7-20; Summa Theologiæ, I-II, Q. 109, A. 4). The bonds of charity connecting us to God and to one another thus perfect us.
The reason St. Paul prompts us to do this is because this is the way God relates to us. God relates to us in love, goodness, kindness, and mercy. Our relationship with God, our reaping of the fruits of God’s love, is what liberates us from sin. An awareness of God’s liberating presence in our lives should so overwhelm us to as to move us to act accordingly. St. Paul, for example, says that we should learn to forgive one another for the following reason: “as the Lord as forgiven you, so must you also do.” (Colossians 3:13). St. John speaks similarly: God expresses His love for us in the highest manner in redeeming us from our sin, even as our sin turned us against God and made us His enemies (cf. 1 John 4:10). He concludes from this, “…since God so loved us, we should love one another.” (1 John 4:11) And we have the words of Jesus Himself: “As I have loved you, so you should love one another.” (John 13:34) In the following verse, Jesus says that this is the sign that we are His disciples (cf. John 13:35).
The love that God has for us should thus move us to reciprocate this love, and God’s love for us, and our love for Him, must permeate all that we say and do. This is what it means to say that love between us and God creates communion between us and God. That God’s love for us and our love for God should permeate everything we do includes our relationships. Our love for one another needs to model the selfless, self-giving, self-emptying, unconditional love which God has for us, and which we should have for God. In fact the former, in order for it to be truly authentic and meritorious of salvation, must be born out of the latter.
In the Person of Jesus, God manifests this in a concrete way. In the Person of Jesus, the God-man, the self-giving love of God, whereby mankind is elevated out of His sin and turned back to God, is manifested in a concrete way within the created realm. It thus sanctifies and elevates the human condition. This includes family life. The Most Holy Family is a sign of God elevating and purifying family life, and is thus the restoration of God’s plan for marriage, in that Jesus uses His family life as a model to be followed of the self-giving, self-emptying love which is the ethical and spiritual focal point of human life.
Many may interpret this as too high of a goal to be followed. Two people who were utterly permeated by the grace of God, and God Himself in the flesh. How could we ever live up to the standard they set? God doesn’t expect from us to be perfect from the get-go; nonetheless, spiritual perfection is the end goal of human spiritual life, and the grace by which it is attained is offered to all by God. What God commands of us is to never give up hope, to constantly strive against sin, and in doing so be constantly receptive to God’s grace. God’s grace will make manifest in us that which God already accomplished through His larger plan of salvation.
It is easy to look at the high divorce rates, the legalization of abortion, the widespread use of contraception, and the perverted view most people have toward love, sex and relationships, and think that all is lost. All of this is the OPPOSITE of what true love, including in a marital and familial context, is all about. But, by constantly growing in virtue and holiness and constantly being receptive to God’s grace, the example set by the Holy Family will never be out of reach for our family life. And the example of the Most Holy Family is this: a sense of self-giving – and, more specifically, a sense of self-giving love born out of an acute awareness of God’s love for us, and through the expression of which we not only grow closer to God, but also draw others to God.
This latter part is seen in the first two readings. One of the ends of the marriage relationship is the bringing forth of children. In bringing forth new life into the world, we are bringing into existence someone destined by God for the goal of union with Him. We must form them in the ways of God, so that they can fulfill this destiny. Woe is the parent who fails to acknowledge the supernatural end of their child. But blessed is the parent who, like Hannah in the Old Testament, devotes their children to service of the Lord (cf. 1 Samuel 1:20-22, 24-28).
Jesus, when found in the Temple, said that He was doing His Father’s work (cf. Luke 2:48-49). We must do the same, and in doing so, prompt others to do the same
- Encyclopædia Briannica, entry for “Feast of the Holy Family.” Accessed on https://www.britannica.com/topic/Feast-of-the-Holy-Family
- To see the readings for the Feast of the Holy Family, visit: http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/123018.cfm