Today we celebrate the Feast of the Holy Family. It is quite fitting that it comes so close to Christmas when we celebrate in a special way the mystery of the Incarnation. It fits well because for most of us our lives take root through our family. For good or bad. There is an increasing amount of research these days that points out just how important the early years in childhood development are. That is: so much of how we become human flows from family life. So much is learned, so much is incorporated, so many patterns of behaviour are instilled.
For most of us, the effect of our families and especially our parents is something we must continually reflect on. And as we do, the mystery of families deepens. We find more and more of ourselves coming from our family. Again, for good and bad. Initially, they are almost too close to us to see clearly. It takes a long time to get any sense of perspective. I can see how my brothers relate to my parents differently now that they have children, and vice versa.
It is perhaps fitting then that the holy family slips from view in the gospels. We really only hear about them at the beginning. Then St Joseph slips from view entirely. The Holy family’s role in the life of Christ is a bit like the part of the iceberg that is under water. It takes up most of the life of Christ, but is hidden from sight. There is a deep silence, a deep mystery of love that we must search for in the scriptures of our own families.
I keep saying for good and bad, because though family life is mysterious, we all know it is not guaranteed. Perhaps one of the greatest blessings, one of the greatest riches is a loving family. And many do not have this. Like with everything, the corruption of the best turns into the worst. So, how can we turn to the Holy Family to help our own families? What lessons can we draw? Well, two brief comments.
First, Pope Francis said something profound on Christmas Eve. He said Christ was born an outcast, so that all outcasts can become children of God. This is a brilliant formulation of an ancient teaching. What Christ becomes, becomes for us a way to God. We hear the same thing in the baptism of Christ. For us, baptism washes us clean and immerses us into the life of Christ. For Christ, he washes the water and immerses it into his new creation. When we look at icons, we are drawn by them to the reality beyond. However, when Christ becomes visible, he blesses light and so makes it a way to see the kingdom.
It is the same with the Holy Family. God does not skip a step in becoming human, and so all become steps on the way to heaven. God now has a family, and so now families are ways into Christ’s humanity, which is our only way into the heart of God.
But this brings me to the second point. The mystery of Christ’s incarnation is not magic. Christ’s blessing of family life has the same form as the whole life of Christ. It is loving sacrifice. This is what makes family life holy. And we see that in our gospel today.
We have already heard before Christmas how our Lady accepted the potential scandal of becoming the mother of God. Again, we have already heard how Joseph accept the social humiliation of raising a child that was not his own. They did these things out of love of God and love of each other. They sacrificed themselves, they offered themselves willingly out of love for each other. And we can see all this in a special way today.
In the presentation at the temple, Jesus is dedicated to God according to the law. Mary and Joseph make the prescribed offering that must be made for each firstborn child. But what is going on? How can you dedicate God to God? What is really going on here?
I think what is happening is like my first point. What is happening is actually the opposite. In consecrating Jesus to God, it is Mary and Joseph and their family that is being blessed. In designating their child as first for God, the Holy Family is naming their fundamental reality: they are first for God. The Holy Family exists for Jesus, and in existing for Jesus, in handing over their child to God the Father, they show who they are and become who they are meant to be.
This then must be the task of each family. To see each other first as a child of God, and to consecrate oneself in the job of giving each other to God. What would our families look like if we started here? What would our days look like if each family member saw the others as holy, as created for God’s glory, as worthy of infinite love and reverence? What joy would flow from this vision? What peace could descend? What love and trust would be born?
So, in our Mass today, let’s pray for the grace to become a holy family. Let us take confidence that family life is sacred, that it is a path to God, and that we are open to the blessings that Christ wants to give us through our families.