The Model of the Holy Family

Yesterday we celebrated the Incarnation. It is also the Nativity of the Lord. It is a solemn celebration of the mystical reality that God became man, that God, who is the author of all creation, sent himself, his only son in human flesh, to live with us and share our earthly experience. And he came in human flesh finally to redeem us by his sacrifice on the cross at Calvary. So the celebration of Christmas is a celebration of our Heavenly Father’s love for his children.

Today we celebrate the gift of the Holy Family. Our God loves us so much that he gave us a model on how to live in the state of life that is common to all of us. All of us are somebody’s son or daughter, and so all of us are part of a family.

We all start as a member of a family, though some of us choose another state of life, such as the priesthood or religious life. And some of us lost the family state of life when we became an orphan or a widow or some other disruption in the traditional family arrangement.

In the Holy Family, we have a model for holiness in family life, even if our family has not always reflected that. In Jesus, and Mary, and Joseph, we have examples of what to strive for – as children of parents, as parents of children, and as spouses. Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, give us models – sometimes directly and sometimes indirectly – of what sonship or motherhood or fatherhood should look like, and we reflect on that today.

In the Joyful Mysteries of the Rosary, we meditate on some of the moments that stood out for the Holy Family. Mary and Joseph demonstrate for us the duty of religion that we all have as Catholic Christians. And they perform that duty when they present the child at the temple. In another of the Joyful Mysteries we are told that after a pilgrimage to Jerusalem, the young boy was lost in the caravan, but the parents found him when they returned to the temple.

Surely these stories from the gospel are invitations to us who are parents to consider how well we are responding to our religious duty as Catholic parents. The Holy Family is a perfect model, and while we may not reach their standard, we are still called to try. So in the area of being the first teachers of the faith to the children, all of us who are Catholic parents can take to prayer the question of how are we doing there?

For example, today is the 26th of December. The world is done with Christmas. Catholics have just started Christmas. Do our kids know that? If not, perhaps God is calling us to a higher standard of holiness when it comes to celebrating religious feasts. Perhaps our celebrations should be more religious and less cultural. If we commit to prayer on this question, God will give us an answer.

I am a father. I have three children. In the parable of the Prodigal Son, Jesus taught on the subject of being a Holy Family. Let’s consider the father first. As a father, I don’t think I would like to hear from my younger son that I was getting old and he would like to have his inheritance right now and go off and do his own thing with my money. But that is what the prodigal son said to his father. And the father gave the son what he wanted. And why would he do that? Well on a practical level perhaps he just wanted this thing to be done and send the ungrateful boy on his way.

But Jesus doesn’t teach us parables to teach us practical things; he gives us parables to teach us mystical things. And the father in the parable understood on a mystical level that God had a plan for his family and this particular conversation with his son wasn’t the last word in the family conversation. And when the Prodigal Son finally chose to return home, how did the father receive him? Was his finger wagging? Did he demand that the boy know how much pain and anguish he put his father through? I probably would have, if I’m being honest about it.

No, the father rushes out to greet him and calls for new clothes for the boy and a celebration meal to be cooked. That is how our heavenly father responds when we finally turn back and return home. And it is how I should respond when one of my children finally decides to return home and rejoin the family.

Let’s consider the Prodigal Son. In asking for his inheritance ahead of time, the boy definitely showed no respect to his father. This is contrary to the fourth commandment. When he got his money, the boy showed no prudence and no temperance. And it was only when he was miserable and humiliated that he was willing to go back home to his father.

I am somebody’s son. As I think back to my childhood and my days as a young adult, how many times did I behave toward my own father in the disrespectful way that the Prodigal Son behaved towards his father? It’s too many to count. Jesus gives us his own model and the models through the parables so that those of us who are sons and daughters can choose a more holy way to live out that state of life.

Showing respect to my parents is a choice I can make. It is an act of the will. Far too many times, I did not choose that. But like the father in the parable, our heavenly father will welcome us back into his family no matter how many times in the past we refused to show him respect.

Choosing to make good use of the things of this world that I have been given is another act of the will. Far too many times, I attached importance to the things of this world, or I considered them things that I possessed rather than as gifts I was given by my heavenly father. This Feast of the Holy Family is an opportunity for me, and for all of us, to consider how holy we have been with regard to the things of this world.

Our Lady gives us many examples of how to live a holy life. The first joyful mystery of the Rosary is the Annunciation. When God asks something great of her, she is receptive. She may be confused, but she is receptive. Am I receptive when I hear God speaking to me?

Our Lady gives us a model of how to maintain joy while at the same time enduring sorrows. Imagine what goes through her heart and her mind when she presents the baby Jesus at the temple, and Simeon gives his prophecy that an arrow will pierce her heart. Imagine what goes to her heart and her mind when she stands at the foot of the Cross when the soldier sticks an arrow into the side of her son Jesus. Our Lady is a model of patience, putting up with pain when the walk to Heaven is an uphill slog. Our Lady is a model of Faith and Hope, knowing on some deep level that Good Friday is not the end of the story of her son Jesus. Mary did not have a divine nature, so there’s no way she knew how things were going to play out. But she had Trust.

On this Feast of the Holy Family, as we prepare to receive our Lord Jesus at Holy Communion, can we respond to the call to holiness? Can you and I be more like Joseph and the father in the parable of the Prodigal Son? A father who is there for his children? A father who gives his children room to learn and to grow? A father who welcomes his children home when they come back humiliated by life?

Can you and I be more like the good son Jesus Christ, respectful of his Earthly father and obedient to his Heavenly Father? Can we be honest about what we want but ultimately choose what God wants, as Jesus did in his prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane before his Passion?

Can you and I be more like the good mother, Mary, open to God’s invitation to do something great and willing to suffer the consequences of choosing God instead of choosing the world?

Not by our own power, no. Yes, by God’s power. By God’s power and his grace, we actually can grow in holiness and be more like the Holy Family. And prayer is the key. We can ask the Holy Spirit to shower us with his grace so that we can grow in holiness. We can ask Jesus, Mary, and Joseph to pray for us to the father so that we can grow in virtue and in religious devotion and obedience. The church gives us this Feast of the Holy Family every year as an opportunity to reflect on our state of life and how we are living it. And if we choose to run back to the church and our heavenly father as the Prodigal Son did, we are guaranteed that we will be welcomed as he was.

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