Matthew 2:13-15, 19-23) A few days ago, we celebrated the birth of our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ. Today we honour His family – the Holy Family: Joseph, Mary, and Jesus. To be ‘holy’ means that you are saintly, devoted to the service of God, that you are worthy of respect and veneration. But being holy does not mean that God will protect you from all pain and suffering. It doesn’t mean that you won’t be subject to the hardships and realities of everyday life.
Just like us, Joseph, Mary, and Jesus experienced their own set of difficulties and challenges. Just like us, they needed to overcome many obstacles in order to help Jesus fulfill His destiny on earth. First, Mary was found to be pregnant before she and Joseph were married. Then she was forced to give birth to Jesus in a humble manger in Bethlehem. And that was just the beginning! No sooner had the Magi departed than an angel appeared to Joseph in a dream, saying, “Rise, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there till I tell you; for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.” (Mt 2:13)1
It should be no surprise that Joseph did not hesitate to act at once. As Saint Josemaría Escrivá writes, “[Joseph] was a remarkable sound man who was in no way frightened or shy of life. On the contrary, he faced up to problems, dealt with difficult situations, and showed responsibility and initiative in whatever he was asked to do.”2 Joseph did not even wait until morning but immediately got out of bed, woke Mary and Jesus, and set out on the road to Egypt in the middle of the night. It was an exhausting journey – at least six or seven days long – and the fear of discovery must have dogged their every step. But the gifts the Magi had showered on Jesus ensured that they would have the means to undertake the journey and to remain in Egypt until God told them it was safe to return.3
From the moment that Jesus was born, His family played a crucial role in His life. They protected Him, nurtured Him, and most importantly – they loved Him. The Holy Family is the model of what every family strives to be: a “cradle of life and love,”4 a place where children can develop their potential and become aware of their dignity. It is within the family that children receive their earliest education – that they first learn about God and how much He loves them. It is there that they learn of their need to respond to His love and faithfulness. The family is responsible for teaching the first and most important lessons in wisdom and virtue; it is there that children discover the importance of work and the joy of giving of themselves to others. Jesus needed to learn these things, too, and like us, He learned them at the knees of His loving mother and father.
In a recent interview, Pope Francis asserted that the family is “necessary for the survival of humanity. Without the family,” he said, “the cultural survival of the human race would be at risk. The family, whether we like it or not, is the foundation.”5 The Holy Family is an example of the beauty of family life: of what it means to be a family and what it means to truly love one another. Like them, we are called to make God the center of our family. Like them, may we always strive to be attentive to God and obedient to His will.
– Sharon van der Sloot
1 This was the second time that an angel appeared to Joseph in a dream. The first time was when an angel reassured Joseph that Mary had conceived of the Holy Spirit and he shouldn’t hesitate to take Mary for his wife. (Mt 1:18-25)
2 Fr. Federico Suarez, Joseph of Nazareth (New York: Scepter Publishers, Inc., 2004), 118.
3 Fr. Federico Suarez writes, “Between the birth of Jesus and the death of King Herod there was a period of between eighteen months and three years. Thus the stay in Egypt was no longer than two and a half years and no less than a year, at least.” Fr. Federico Suarez, Joseph of Nazareth (New York: Scepter Publishers, Inc., 2004), 125.
4 John Paul II, Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Christifideles Laici, 40: AAS 81 (1989), 469. Cited in Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, 209.
5 Pope Francis, Interview for World Youth Day on Radio Catedral, Archdiocese of Rio de Janeiro, Saturday, July 27, 2013; available from http://www.marriageuniqueforareason.org/2013/08/02/five-great-pope-francis-quotes-about-marriage-and-the-family-from-world-youth-day/; Internet; accessed 17 December 2013.