When the days were completed for their purification according to the law of Moses, they took him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord. When they had fulfilled all the prescriptions of the law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth. The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favor of God was upon him. (Luke 2:22, 39-40)
This weekend is the feast of the Holy Family. Always the Sunday following Christmas, this celebration recognizes the gift of family and that the family itself often forms the core relationships that shape our faith. Yet when it comes to honoring the Holy Family, we can easily sentimentalize them. After all, they are perfect: Mary is the Immaculate Conception, Joseph is a saint, and Jesus is the Son of God. Like beautiful statues or stained-glass windows, the Holy Family seems worthy of our admiration, but not a real flesh-and-blood example for our imitation. However, we are invited to go beyond such sentimentality, for though we recognize that they are holy, we remember that they are human. In other words, the reason we celebrate the Holy Family is not because they were perfect, but because they were faithful.
In fact, the story of the Holy Family is the story of faithfulness both in the midst of unexpected crisis and in the routine of the mundane. First, there are the moments of family crisis. The story of the Holy Family begins with the account of a young teenager who conceives before she is married. It’s the story of a confused, anxious groom, who contemplates divorce in the face of this embarrassing scandal. It’s the story of a frantic father, who searches for shelter for his laboring, pregnant wife in the chaos of a crowded city. It’s the story of two new parents and a newborn forced to flee as refugees to a land that enslaved their ancestors. It’s the story of three desperate days of searching for a missing child in a crowded city.
Second, between these unexpected crisis moments, it’s an ordinary story. In fact for the most part, it’s a silent story. As we hear in the Gospel today, the last word we hear about the Holy Family for the twenty years between finding Jesus in the temple and His baptism is the detail, “the child grew in wisdom, age and grace.” Even among their own relatives, the Holy Family was regarded as ordinary. Much of Jesus’ family and friends are surprised when he begins to preach, teach and heal because they never had any inkling that he was anything more “than the carpenter’s Son, the son of Mary.” (Matt 13:55) Because of this, Jesus is unable to work any miracles in his hometown, and in the end, Mary has to witness her own people reject and conspire against her Son.
The theme that emerges from these stories of struggle and routine is not that the Holy Family was particularly extraordinary or successful, but that it was faithful. Mary is faithful to Gabriel’s words to trust that “nothing is impossible for God.” Joseph overcomes his natural fear and shame to care and provide for Mary and her child. Even though her relatives reject her Son, Mary stands by Him all the way up the hill of Calvary to the Cross.
This weekend, we are reminded of the story of the Holy Family, because it is our story. The Holy Family stands by all those who struggle, search and pray. They comfort teenage mothers and single parents. They stand with the homeless and immigrants separated from loved ones. They console parents who have lost or have had to bury their children. They offer compassion to those who grieve. But they also uplift us by their faithfulness. Even the silent, ordinary story of their lives gives us hope that God is present within the routine of our day. Their example of faithfulness is a powerful witness to all of us that we are not alone. The Holy Family walks with us to discover God’s presence wherever life’s journey leads.
~ Fr. Michael Hurley, O.P.