THEME: THE HOLY FAMILY – MODEL FOR CHRISTIAN FAMILIES
READINGS: 1 Samuel 1:20-22, 24-28/1 John 3:1-2, 21-24/ Luke 2:41-52
Feast of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph
The nativity of Jesus Christ calls for celebrating the family into which He was born. In doing so, Christian families should learn from the Holy Family of St. Joseph, Mother Mary and the child Jesus.
COMPLEMENTARY GENDER PARENTING OF A CHILD
The feast of the Holy Family is being celebrated at a time when some men deny responsibility for the conception of their children, other children are born out of wedlock, adults of the same gender try to raise children and some single ladies seek artificial conception through anonymous sperm donors. Therefore, before learning from the individual members of the Holy Family, it is worth emphasizing that in God’s design, a child should be born into a family. That is, barring the death of a parent, a child should be lovingly received into the world and nurtured by both his/her mother and father.
So important is this complementary gender parenting that God made St. Joseph the foster father of the child Jesus. In other words, even in the case where the divine holiness of the child (Jesus) necessitated bypassing the natural contribution to conception by St. Joseph, God still deemed it necessary to make him the foster father of Jesus. Consequently, we should respect God’s will about having a child born into a family and parented by both his/her father and mother.
LOVE: PRIMARY KEY OF MARRIAGE
Love is the primary key of marriage and family life, and the Holy Family exhibited perfect love in various ways. The demonstration of love between St. Joseph and Mother Mary and their love for the child Jesus was motivated by their understanding of the divine mission of their marriage and family. Similarly, every couple (a husband and a wife) should base their love for each other on God’s mission or purpose for their marriage and family. That is, every couple should understand that marriage, as a divine institution, is a vocation. It is the calling of a man and a woman by God to establish a unique partnership of mutual love, fidelity and total self-giving for life. The appropriate elements (e.g. kindness, care, nurturing, etc.) of their love are to be extended to their natural or adopted children.
Where a couple limit their relationship to purely human reasons of love and overlook the divine mission, some challenges in their relationship and/or some difficulties of life in general could lead to the weakening of their love, the breaking of their oath of fidelity and, in the worst case, the eventual break-down of the marriage. So, beloved, if you are married or about to marry reflect with your spouse (-to-be) on how to let the divine mission for marriage become your supreme mutual motivation. Otherwise, you may get a trained marriage counsellor or a priest (with the requisite counselling skills) to facilitate the (re-)activation of your supreme mutual motivation.
JOSEPH: HUSBAND AND FATHER
Here, let us consider how St. Joseph demonstrated love to Mother Mary and the child Jesus. He exhibited what it means to love one’s wife in good and bad times in several ways. In the first place, true love for Mother Mary made St. Joseph decide to divorce her quietly when he found her pregnant without any marital encounter between them (Matt. 1:18-20). St. Joseph’s decision was made to avert any danger to the life of his betrothed. If you are married, the question is: how do you react to your spouse when you feel offended by him/her? Does your reaction take into consideration the safety, security or general well-being of your spouse?
Secondly, true love for Mother Mary made St. Joseph accept as credible the message he received in a dream about her pregnancy. Without a precedence of a virgin conceiving without any intercourse, only true love for Mother Mary could have made St. Joseph open to the message of his dream. True love overcomes the spirit of suspicion and gives enough room for the benefit of doubt. Therefore, if you are married, the question is: are you often suspicious of your spouse or do you give your spouse adequate space for the benefit of doubt?
Thirdly, only true love could have made St. Joseph journey with the expectant Mother Mary to Bethlehem as well as care and provide for her to ensure her safe delivery. Like the journey to Bethlehem, marital love is a lifelong journey during which spouses care and provide for each other. Therefore, if you are married, do you still adequately care and provide for the needs of your spouse (and children)?
Fourthly, true love motivated St. Joseph to make a longer journey to Egypt to escape threat to the life of the child Jesus and possibly to the life of Mother Mary. Without true love and from a purely human perspective, St. Joseph would have said of the child: “your conception disrupted my planned normal marital life, your birth has turned the whole nation into confusion and I have the trouble of taking you and your mother away to Egypt. Probably, my dreams are merely dreams and this whole venture is not from God.” On the contrary, true love made St. Joseph take the right decision and act accordingly. If you are married, then, what is your reaction when, apparently or in reality, a child or your spouse is the cause of crisis in your family?
Furthermore, once St. Joseph understood that his marital love had been raised to another level because of the divine mission, he executed to perfection his role as the spiritual leader of the Holy Family. He remained the spiritual leader of his family despite the higher spiritual status of Mother Mary and the divine nature of the child Jesus. In this regard, he communicated to Mother Mary the angelic messages he received in his dreams and ensured that they acted accordingly. Also, he ensured that the child Jesus was dedicated in the Temple of Jerusalem in accordance with the Law of Moses (Luke 2:22-24). In addition, he ensured that his family made the annual pilgrimage to Jerusalem (Luke 2:41-50), etc.
Similarly, fathers of families should become true spiritual leaders of their respective families. In this role, they should ensure that the family gathers around the Word of God at home to discern His messages. Also, they should ensure that the family members are dedicated to God through the reception of the Sacraments. As far as the reception of the Sacraments are concerned, I wish to encourage the regular reception of the Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation. Years ago, I observed in a previous parish where I ministered, that a few families (parents together with their children who were communicants) visited the Confessional on monthly basis (and took turns to confess their sins, waited for each person do their penance and then return to their homes). This is worthy of emulation by other families.
In addition, as St. Joseph ensured the regular visit to the Temple, so fathers should ensure that their families go for worship together, at least, every Sunday. Once again, like St. Joseph who appreciated the higher spiritual status of Mother Mary and the child Jesus, fathers who discern that their spouses or children have some spiritual gifts or calling (vocation) should assist in fostering them to the highest level for the good of the community and the glory of God. They should in no circumstance discourage their children who may receive the call to priestly or religious vocation from responding appropriately to God.
The Holy Family teaches us that a child should be lovingly welcomed into the world and raised by both father and mother, that love is the primary key of marriage and that the divine mission of each marriage and family should positively influence how love is expressed. Finally, may the intercession of St. Joseph and Mother Mary and the unique mediation of Jesus at the right hand of the Heavenly Father bring renewal in the love of all Christian marriages and families. Amen!
By Very Rev. Fr. John Louis