Sunday, December 26, 2004 +

On the Holy Family

A Talk

I am so glad that Jesus’ public ministry did not involve his family—that he did not require his followers to say good things about Joseph and to recognize Mary as the Mother of God, that he did not establish a Holy Family website, jmj.com.

Jesus’ family and background did not recommend him to his hearers. A son of a carpenter? From Nazareth? And his mother—weren’t the circumstances of her pregnancy and marriage rather suspect?

Of course, we [Catholics] believe that Joseph was a saint to whom angels spoke, that Mary was the immaculately conceived Virgin Mother of God, and that Jesus was God’s son, a descendant of David born in Bethlehem as the Scriptures foretold.

What is the connection between Jesus’ family in his lifetime and the Holy Family that we have been learning to know for two millennia and will continue to learn to know in this millennium?

The most important connection is: it’s the same family. The Joseph who heard the angel also worked for a living, paid taxes, and registered in the census. When the Blessed Virgin was found to be pregnant before marriage, others besides Joseph knew it, and not everyone had Gabriel’s insider information. Jesus, God’s Son, would not have been born if Mary had not accepted the angel’s word and would have been killed by Herod’s troops if Joseph had not obeyed the angel’s command.

There were indeed perks for being the parents of God. We know of a few: messages from angels early on, visits from shepherds and astrologers, good wine at a wedding—once. But however many of these there may have been, great experiences recede, and life—so difficult and unsatisfactory for me and so easy for everybody else; or perhaps so sweet to me, but with a precarious sweetness—comes back. The angel spoke to Joseph in dreams, and Simeon had told Mary: “A sword shall pierce through thy own soul.” And Jesus was forsaken by God.

When Joseph and Mary’s twelve-year-old son was missing after the feast, his parents really didn’t know where he was, did search for him sorrowing, did receive from him a rather smart remark about “Why did you search? Didn’t you know I had to be here in my Father’s house?”—and it certainly wasn’t Joseph and Mary’s house in Nazareth—and they really didn’t understand what he was saying. And: how would you have felt?

Much of the Holy Family’s life was like our life: eating and drinking, earning a living, cooking and cleaning, being tired, sleeping, being faithful to our spouse, raising and protecting our children, visiting relatives, partying with friends, praying in a group, dancing; and whatever may have been the state of their souls and spirit, their bodies and perceptions and emotions and joys and sufferings and fears were like ours. And we know from the Gospels that Mary and Jesus did not always agree.

This life with family and friends and coworkers is the life that God asked the Holy Family to live and asks most of us to live, and it affords plenty of opportunity to learn to love God and learn to love our neighbor—to learn to love God by learning to love our neighbor.

And that neighbor includes our family. In some ways, it is harder to act with charity towards those we love than towards a friend or a stranger. We want more for our loved ones and expect more, and we expect them to agree with us about the what, the how, and the when even before we tell them. A long day of working, homemaking, and schooling shortens fuses, and we face, yet again, other wills, when we want our will be done.

It is at home when I most feel Our Lady’s admonition at Medjugorje: “You cannot say you are converted because your life must become an every day conversion.”

I used to regret that I did not do great things. I know now that the great thing always available to me is to do from obedience and love what I am doing. For most of us, it is our vocation to live in a family, and it is our path to glory. For myself, I don’t tell Mary and Olivia often enough how much happiness I have experienced in this path.

The opportunities for learning to love that God’s love gives us are abundant. They come our way much more frequently and inconveniently than we want them to come. Every moment—this moment—is a calling from God. Often we do not listen, or listening, do not hear, or hear noisily. God accepts this. It has taken me years to hear some things, and I still miss a lot; and too often when I do hear, I still disobey.

Every moment is a calling from God. And we may also say: a calling from Mary, who is our Mother. On the cross, Jesus saw his mother, and the disciple whom he loved, and he said to his mother, “Woman, behold thy son!” And to the disciple, “Behold thy mother!” And from that hour the disciple took her into his home (John 19:26–27).

As we have taken her into our own homes with devotions, images, and the Rosary. We know that Mary considers us her children: she has told us. We in our homes, our friends in their homes, and strangers, some of whom have no homes, are brothers and sisters in her holy family, now and forever.