Feast of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph

The Christmas story is very familiar to us: the Father sent us our Savior, His only-begotten Son, incarnate as a human being.  Jesus didn’t just put on flesh like a costume and pretend to be one of us; from the moment He was conceived by the Holy Spirit, He fully experienced human life. He lived nine months in Mary’s womb and then entered the world as we all do, naked and cold.  But not alone.  Jesus’ first human experience was the love of His mother and foster father.  His first human experience was family.

I guess it’s not surprising that the Father would have things this way.  God Himself is a family: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, three distinct persons living in perfect, complete, inseparable, loving union with each other as the Holy Trinity.  Every family is modeled on, and a reflection of, this union.

Sounds exactly like your family, right?

Well, possibly not exactly.  Every family has its tensions, its challenges, its frustrations, its brokenness.  Despite the divinity of Jesus and the holiness of Mary, even the Holy Family had its bad days.  (It’s interesting that, outside of the infancy narratives, the only story of the Holy Family passed on to us in the gospels, the story of the finding of the child Jesus in the temple, tells of a pretty rough few days for Mary and Joseph.)  But despite all its imperfections, each family is indeed called to be holy.

What does it mean to be a holy family?  I think it means striving to live up to the challenges Jesus laid out for us in his teachings:  to love and respect each other unconditionally; to forgive each other continuously and completely; to accept what each of our family members can give; to put each other’s needs and concerns ahead of our own.  Of course, we will fall short; but if we can shape our families to be a haven where falling short of our goals is met with love, compassion, and forgiveness rather than animosity, then our families can indeed be a holy place that will help us walk in the way of Jesus Christ.  And even in – especially in — the most broken of families, small acts of love carry within them a divine presence.

Jesus’ first experience of humanity was grounded within his family.  By bringing His divinity into a human family, Jesus has opened up the possibility that each of us might experience His divinity through our own families.  When we allow Him to be present in our day-to-day family life, that’s when our families can become holy, and that’s when we can truly experience the joy of Christmas every day.

– William F. Merlock