In our home, we have a little olive wood carving of the Holy Family hanging near our front door. I walk by it all the time and scarcely give it a second glance most days. But a few days ago, something struck me about it. As in most depictions of the Holy Family, Jesus is in the centre. It suddenly occurred to me that the artisan had purposefully made it this way – and for very good reason. In the home of Mary and Joseph, Jesus was at the centre, not as their child, but as Lord and Saviour.
Now I know what you’re thinking: Jesus and Mary were perfect, and Joseph probably just kept quiet… How could they possibly get it wrong?!? While it’s true that the Holy Family wasn’t your typical family, they remain the definitive model and reference point for all families. What made their family work so well was that Jesus was the focus. If we want to experience peace, joy, and harmony in like measure, we must also put Jesus at the heart of our own families.
Remember the Gospel passage where someone tells Jesus that His mother and brothers are outside and He responds by saying, “Who is my mother, and who are my brethren?”1 Casual readers may find His words somewhat disrespectful, even flippant, but that’s not what Jesus meant at all. He is describing the nature of true kinship and wants to emphasize the bond that comes from discipleship.2 In baptism, we are brought into God’s family and introduced to the life of grace. As we grow, we are nurtured in the Church through the sacraments and the Word of God, yet not as something separate or set apart, but fully integrated into the rest of our lives – in all that we are and do. This is what it means to have Jesus at the centre: choosing those things that bring us closer to Him so that His love can touch and transform us, while also avoiding whatever leads us away from Him.
None of us is perfect, and therefore no family is either. Clearly many Catholics in the world today face very challenging family situations. Whereas at one time, we might have been able to say what the “typical family” looked like, today there’s no such thing. Yet at some level (perhaps even unconsciously), all people seek the love, acceptance, and belonging that comes with being part of a family. This is encouraging, for in God’s plan, the family is essential, paramount. “The fact that God in Jesus willed to be born into a human family and to grow up in it has made the family a place where God is present and a prototype of a helping community.”3
My mother-in-law tells me that when she was in school, they were instructed to write J.M.J. on their papers. I never understood this practice, but now it makes more sense to me. It was like a prayer, a way of entrusting your work to the Holy Family. Perhaps it was a way to strive for the perfection they modeled so well. This pious practice may have fallen away, but our devotion to the Holy Family must remain strong. For Jesus, Mary, and Joseph have so much to teach us: about love, commitment, faith, and sacrifice. Like the Holy Family, we must remember to keep Jesus at the centre of our lives and thus become “centers of living, radiant faith.”4 In this way, we will be that leaven that transforms not only our own families, but also the world around us.
– Kelley Holy
1 Matthew 12:48-49
2 Cf. Ignatius Catholic Study Bible: New Testament
3 Youcat: Youth Catechism of the Catholic Church, 86.
4 CCC, 1656.