FEAST OF THE HOLY FAMILY OF JESUS, MARY AND JOSEPH
Other than these few snapshot moments captured by the gospel writers, most of Jesus' childhood is spent in silent anonymity. I like to think that it was spent simply being a child, doing ordinary things that children do; playing, learning, exploring, loving and being loved by His parents. The gospel today says that He "grew and became strong," (Lk 2:40) as all parents hope their child will. Perhaps because the gospels are so silent on the early years of Christ, the Liturgical calendar tends to speed through them rather quickly. Just a few days ago we celebrated Christ's birth at Christmas. The Christmas season officially ends two weeks from now with the feast of the Baptism of the Lord, an event that took place when Jesus was about 30 years old.
It is important that the Church pauses today to give us this Feast of the Holy Family. It is important for us to remember that our Lord was once a child, who honored and obeyed His parents, Mary and Joseph, who in turn loved and honored Him and one another. This feast, commemorating such a seemingly normal aspect of our Lord's time on earth, is perhaps more significant in our time than in any before. Love, honor, devotion and obedience within the family is sadly not the reality for many in our society. Today, 41% of marriages in America end in divorce. This year (as it has been for the past several years) over 40% of children born will be born to parents who are not married. In fact, the New York Times calls out of wedlock birth "the new normal" for women under 30. This is not because of an epidemic of teenage pregnancy, but because more and more couples are choosing either to delay marriage, or nor marry at all; yet this is not seen as an impediment to living together, or even having children. Living together before marriage used to be considered scandalous. Today, most couples wouldn't imagine getting married without first "trying it out" by living together. We have redefined normal so that a child growing up in a home with a married mother and father is no longer the norm, but the exception.
We live in a society that has forgotten the importance of marriage to family life. The same NY Times article linked to above quotes a university sociologist who calls marriage "a luxury good," something nice to have if you want it and can afford it, but certainly not for everyone. Marriage is still seen as a good, as are children, as is sex. But these are viewed today as three separate goods which can be pursued independently of one other. Because of the widespread acceptance of contraception, abortion and divorce, one can have sex without children, sex without marriage, children without marriage, and marriage without children. We see the effects of this mindset in the debate over homosexual marriage. Just a few short years ago even most liberal politicians (including our president) rejected the idea of legalizing same-sex marriage. Today its acceptance is almost mainstream. If marriage is simply a contract between two people who are in love, valid so long as both parties involved consent to it, with children just an optional add-on, then why not same-sex marriage?
But a marriage does not make a couple. A marriage makes a family. We are reminded of this by the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which defines a marriage as "a covenant or partnership of life between a man and a woman, which is ordered to the well-being of the spouses and to the procreation and upbringing of children." Marriage is more than a celebration of love between two people. Marriage involves a self-giving love oriented toward life and the generation of a new family; a selfless love that is willing to put others first - one's spouse and one's children. It is a love that has a life beyond the fulfillment of selfish desires. It is a sacrificial love that is ordered to the good of the family and to the world.
This true marital love is modeled by the Holy Family. Joseph and Mary were devoted not only to one another but to the child Jesus. They protected Jesus. They cared for Him. And Christ in turn was devoted to them. Our Lord kept the fourth commandment perfectly. This means that even God, in His Incarnation, was obedient to His human mother and father, out of reverence for the family. Even though the gospels are largely silent on the first 30 years of Christ's life, today's feast reminds us that the majority of His time on earth was spent participating in family life. As with all things He does, Jesus' participation in family life was perfect. This means Christ perfectly lived out the instructions of today's readings. He revered His mother, Mary, and honored and cared for his aging father, Joseph (Sir 3:2-6, 12-14). He obeyed His parents, who in turn were subordinate to one another in humility, patience and love (Col 3:12-21).
The good news of the gospel is good news for the family. It is an oft-repeated lie that Catholic marriages fail at the same rate as the general population. This is untrue. Recent studies have found that while the general American divorce rate is 41%, for Catholics it is 28%. For Catholic couples practicing Natural Family Planning and attending Mass together faithfully, the divorce rate is lower still. One recent study has found it to be around 3%. In other words, nourishing your relationship with God will help to nourish and strengthen your family relationships, as well. The example of the Holy Family is an example of love. By imitating their love and devotion, your family can be a light of love to the world.
So let us today reverence the Holy Family, in whose bosom Christ was nourished. Let us look to them as a model for our own lives. Let us repent and seek forgiveness for those ways in which we have not fulfilled our role as son or daughter, husband or wife, mother or father with love and devotion. And let us imitate the love of the Holy Family in our own families, whatever our situation, so that we can bring our families into union with Christ, as part of His family forever in eternity.