Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
At some point or another, we all have had a boss who, in our considered opinion, wasn’t quite suited to have his authority. There have been politicians, or even pastors who we thought were not fit to be in their positions. And, of course, we grumble and complain about how unfair it is and how we would certainly do a better job we were in charge. We have just celebrated Christmas and today we take a look at the Holy Family, focusing on the life of Jesus with Mary and Joseph. I want you to think about how different the example of the boy Jesus was. Mary and Joseph had parental authority over the Son of God! How unqualified do you suppose they were? Imagine it: in every argument, their son was always right! Yet, think about the cheerful obedience Jesus gave to his human parents. Do you see how incredible that is? The Son of God condescends to obey his creatures! Yet, this demonstrates how important family was to Jesus. The holidays are a time when we think more about family. How important is family to you?
The Example of the Holy Family
You know, Jesus could have burst onto the scene in any number of ways. He could have walked out of the wilderness as a fully-formed adult. The Son of God could have descended from heaven amid thunder, lightning, and fireworks. Our God is a God who has a family. And I don’t simply mean in the spiritual sense, where we are all brothers and sisters in Christ–though that is obviously true and very important. But here I mean that Jesus, God the Son, had an earthly family. In his perfect wisdom, he decided that something else would be more suitable. Christ chose to be born and grow up as part of the family of Joseph and Mary. He was born like any other baby and raised by a carpenter and an ordinary maiden. All of this He does “for us and for our salvation.” To save you. He joins our humanity and doesn’t leave out a step. The womb, the manger, the family, the workshop, the cross, the tomb. He does it all. He joins our humanity all the way to death and in dying rescues our humanity from Death.
So, why then is family so important? The family is the source of human life. But there’s more to the importance of family. Did you notice that Elkanah took his family to offer the yearly sacrifice? Did you also notice that the Gospel lesson says that Joseph and Mary took Jesus every year to Jerusalem for the festivals, a pattern he kept the rest of his life? He also worshipped and prayed regularly, which he undoubtedly learned from the Holy Family. Family is the place where the faith is nurtured. Within the family, the promises of Christ are first shared with children. The seeds of faith are planted and carefully nurtured in children through the parents, producing great fruit. The family is like a little church because it is called to be a model of the Church. The family is the first Church for young children. In fact, the Church gains strength, grows, and flourishes through the family. Parents have a particular responsibility to bring children up in the faith. They need to model the faith themselves. They are the first preachers of the Gospel, bringing to their children the light and life of Christ. Every married couple is called to follow the example of Joseph and Mary and create a “holy family” with Jesus as its centre. The example of the Holy Family is not an unattainable goal either. It is an example of what is truly possible when we make Jesus the centre of our lives and families.
An Explanation from Paul
Family is covered in the first article of the Creed in your Catechism. It’s part of the “house, home, spouse, and children,” all gifts that God gives us to support this body and life. In our texts, we find the basic structure of the family as God has revealed it. A family is one man who loves his wife and one woman who loves her husband. It begins with a wife who is supportive of her husband and his authority. It’s equally a husband who supports, loves, and encourages his wife. Within that stable, lasting, and faithful union of mutual support and love, they conceive and raise their children in the holy fear of the Lord (if they are physically able). A family has a mother and father who have authority over her children. It includes Children who honour and obey their parents. In the family, parents instruct and admonish their children, not in a way that badgers or discourages them, but instead encourages them and builds them up. This family structure helps children advance in wisdom and stature in favour with God and man.
Many people today would like to omit what Paul says because of the challenge presented by the women’s rights and feminist movements. “Wives, be subject to your husbands.” Does that sound like the wife is reduced to second-class citizenship in the family? That’s how some people interpret it. Of course, men and women are equal before God, but this does not mean they’re identical. God has made and makes men and women different. They both have the same worth, but they do not have the same roles. Their roles are different because there are significant psychological and biological differences between men and women. So both equally bear God’s image, but they also complement each other. There is no superiority or inferiority—simply differing roles and responsibilities.
Paul urges mutual responsibilities upon both husband and wife: it is not all one-sided. A wife’s side is hardly possible without a husband’s, and vice versa. Those responsibilities call the husband to take the lead and his wife to follow. The rule of Christ demands that a man serve his wife. He is absolutely never to treat his wife harshly. The evidence that a husband is serving Christ is seen in how he treats his wife and children. The idea is all about taking your place in God’s order. That’s what we call “vocation.” This is not about power. The husband is not the boss, and the wife is not a slave. Husband and wife work together, but each in their various roles.
Paul shows us how families can live their lives with Christ at the centre. Paul tells us that we must put on “compassion, kindness, lowliness, meekness, and patience, forbearing one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.” These are the fruit of the Spirit, not simply qualities that we can choose to have. They are ways of living that we must work on all of our lives. Whether parents or children, we all need to develop these qualities: heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, bearing with one another and forgiving one another. What a different world we can live in when we strive to live with these qualities in our lives! How different would our families be if families always practised these!
Our Family in Christ
Of course, sin brought disorder and chaos into creation and infected every aspect of our human experience, including the family. There is a war against the family today. Many groups would freely admit that they are seeking to destroy the biblical family. Families are in crisis because of the wilfully evil habits of many people in the areas of sexuality, marriage, and family life. This includes sins such as cohabitation, fornication, abortion, adultery, homosexuality, and pornography. Our culture is under the illusion that sex doesn’t have consequences. It promotes the lie that there is no necessary connection between children and sexual relations. When people do get married, it is more for self-centred reasons. Marriage and family can be seen as a way to achieve self-fulfilment. It’s rarely seen as a lifelong commitment to mutual love and service.
That’s the thing we learn most in families: self-sacrificial service. Jesus shows us this in today’s Gospel reading. His obedience to His earthly parents flows directly from His obedience to the will of His heavenly Father. Christ does not live for self-fulfilment and pleasure-seeking, instead he lived in service to others. He follows God’s will in every situation: always loving God, always serving neighbour. All the way to a bloody death upon the cross. We become part of God’s family, not by being dragged off unwillingly by force, but because Jesus gave himself totally and utterly for us. There was nothing that love could do for you that Jesus did not do. The crucifixion shows Christ’s love for us. His love was an act of complete, self-abandoning love. He loved you to death on a cross that He might cleanse you, forgive you, raise you, glorify you, and make you part of God’s family, the Church.
When we call fellow Christians “brothers and sisters in Christ,” that’s not a metaphor. We aren’t saying that we should treat them as if they were our brothers and sisters. No, we Christians truly share an adoptive Father. God himself has adopted us into his family. We are family – not by the blood of genetic inheritance, but by the blood of Jesus. The adoption papers have been filled out and filed. Signed, sealed, delivered by the shed blood of Jesus. You’re in, adopted, a family member. Now God is our Father by adoption. Now our spiritual mother is the holy Church, who gives us life and feeds us with God’s Word. We are all one family now, and each one of our families is a little Church. And may our families ever strive to live up to the example of the Holy Family.
May the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.