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A Holy Family
A Gospel Reflection on Matthew 2:13-15, 19-23 – 30
Let the peace of Christ control your hearts; let the word of Christ dwell in you richly.
(Col 3:15a, 16a)
Rest During the Flight from Egypt, Francesco Mancini (Kren and Marx)
Today we celebrate the feast of the Holy Family. When I consider the Holy Family, I often picture them in idyllic terms. Mary is working in a beautiful, bucolic house with a smiling child Jesus at her feet, gazing often and lovingly at His mother. St Joseph is nearby, speaking to his wife in tender conversation, and casting a gaze at this child whom God wondrously gave to his care. If we look at Sacred Scripture, we know that this is not the case. Like many families, the Holy Family experienced concern for the unknown, the trials of poverty, persecution, and separation from their extended families. They know the fear of living as a stranger in a strange land, seeking asylum from a harsh and vengeful government. St John Paul II preached that,
It is not the absence of hardships that is the measure of a happy family life, but the courage and fidelity and love—for one another and for God—with which the family members meet trials, and either overcome them or accept them as expressions of God’s will, and as opportunities to share in the redemptive sacrifice of Jesus Christ. (St John Paul II Homily 19 September 1995)
The Holy Family teaches us that amid trials, God must reign at the center of family life. It is His will, not ours, that we must do in all things. This is a holy family.
Consider St Joseph’s experience. He enters family life at his betrothal to Mary. Like anyone in love, he probably envisioned an incredibly happy life with Mary in a large family, within a contented and small community, surrounded by extended family. Yet, that is NOT what happens. From the outset, St Joseph is confronted with a pregnant fiancé, and he knows that he is not the father. He creates his own plan to quietly divorce his wife when an Angel tells him,
“Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary your wife into your home. For it is through the holy Spirit that this child has been conceived in her.” (Matthew 1:20 NABRE)
Joseph does as God commands Him and with Mary, and Jesus in the womb, they become a family. Just as this problem is settled, the Government imposes a requirement to travel with his very pregnant wife to Bethlehem for a census (Luke 2:4–5). It is about seventy to ninety miles on foot over very treacherous terrain. At the end of this exhausting journey, they arrive at a Bethlehem full of travelers with no room and with Mary very close to delivering her child. I can imagine the look that must have passed between the two newlyweds as they wonder; “What next?” Yet, they trust and follow where the Lord leads them. God reigns!
They find a nearby stable, and amongst the animals, experience a night of wonder as Jesus is born, angels appear in fields, and shepherds come to adore. It must have been overwhelming! We hear from St Luke that, “Mary kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart.” (Luke 2:19) I cannot help but think the family pondered together.
In the Gospel today we hear that Kings come to the Holy Family and prostrate themselves before their child giving gifts of gold (for a King), frankincense (for a Priest), and myrrh (for a burial). As the Kings depart, yet another challenge confronts the young family as an Angel warns Joseph to flee the country because “Herod is going to search for the child to destroy him.” (Matthew 2:13 NABRE)
Consider this happening to you. You are told to flee your country. People are searching to kill your child. You are a fugitive. You have been uprooted professionally and from all family. You do not speak the language, and you have no clue where you will live or if you can find work. Your idyllic dream for your family is nowhere near reality. Amid all this, you are called to trust God, and follow His will. That is exactly what the Holy Family, any holy family, does.
The Holy Family is a model for the living Gospel of Love.
The Gospel today gives us a model of a holy family, where trust in God is the foundation of happiness. A holy family is not caught up in fear and anger over the swirl of crazy circumstances with which the world surrounds any family. It is a family who together place their trust in God and His promises. It is a family which looks beyond the hardships and trials of life and acquires a deeper understanding of what it means to follow Christ. It is a place where the “we” together overcome the apparent tension between the active and contemplative life. The Holy Family invites us to look within our own families and, despite circumstances that tend to separate us, grow in love for each other as we serve Christ as our center. Family becomes then, a refuge of patience, forgiveness, and peace. It is the place where we live out the purity and loving tenderness of Mary, the fidelity and honesty of Joseph, and the humility and obedience of Jesus. In the words of St Paul,
Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, bearing with one another and forgiving one another, if one has a grievance against another; as the Lord has forgiven you, so must you also do. And over all these put on love, that is, the bond of perfection. And let the peace of Christ control your hearts, the peace into which you were also called in one body. (Colossians 3:12–15 NABRE)
Like for St Joseph, your vision for the perfect family might never be achieved. Yet, trusting God, we are called to live and rejoice in the family life God has given us. May God, the spirit of the Holy Family of Nazareth, reign in all Christian homes, and especially yours.
St John Paul II. Homilies of Pope John Paul II (English). Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 2014. Print.
Kren, E. and Marx, D. (Eds.). (1996). Rest during the flight to Egypt by Francesco Mancini. Web Gallery of Art. Retrieved December 27, 2022, from https://www.wga.hu/html_m/m/mancini/egypt.html
New American Bible. Revised Edition (NABRE). Washington, DC: The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, 2011. Print.