Dear Friends, Christmas continues for Catholics today with the celebration of a great feast: the Holy Family . God chose to send His Son to us by means of a woman, it’s true (Galatians 4:4-6). But this woman had a husband. And the beauty of the manger scene is that it includes not only the animals, the shepherds, and angels sent from heaven…but right there in the midst of the miracle is St. Joseph. He was chosen by the Father to be the perfect, faithful, and attentive husband of the world’s greatest woman. He accepted through her to become Jesus’ father on earth. And so, with the marriage of Mary and Joseph (who took her to be his wife, believing the angel’s message that she was expecting by the Holy Spirit ), and with the birth of Jesus , we see how the Messiah came to our rescue: in the context of the human family.
This family, though small by anyone’s standards, exemplifies the virtues of a strong Christian household. Joseph is a man of strength and conviction: a Palestinian carpenter living in difficult times. He perseveres despite public criticism of Mary’s pregnancy and the oppressive boot of Caesar’s military occupation of his people. At the same time, he’s a quiet man, thoughtful, and willing to let his wife speak for them both in critical moments. This doesn’t detract from his spiritual leadership. It is Joseph who receives messages from the angels sent from heaven. Day or night, he listens carefully and acts immediately. All of this is contained in the first chapters of the gospels of Matthew and Luke. It is portrayed beautifully in the movie, “Nativity Story”, and in Zeffirelli’s “ Jesus of Nazareth ”.
Regarding Mary, even the Muslims hold her in veneration, for being the pure, transparent, and totally willing vessel through which (and in whom) God’s Eternal Word took flesh. She existed to “magnify” the glory of God on earth, and to serve the Father as His humble handmaid. We learn as much about her from the new testament scriptures (especially Matthew 1 & 2, Luke 2, and John 2) as we need. But the Old Testament is filled with women who pre-figured this greatest of all human beings (aside from her Son, Jesus). She was the strongest woman in the world, yet knew how to yield with docility to God’s guidance through her husband, Joseph.
As for Jesus, although he was conscious at a young age of his true identity and of his real Father (see Luke 2:49), he submitted himself to the parental authority of Joseph and Mary (Luke 2:51), remaining in the home of Nazareth until the age of 30. Even after leaving home, he recognized his debt of gratitude to his mother. In Cana’s wedding, he allowed her to launch his public ministry (John 2:3-11). And during his agonizing death on the Cross, he entrusted Mary into the care of John, the Beloved Disciple (John 19:26-27).
The Book of Revelation speaks of a great sign in the heavens: the Woman clothed in the sun (12:1ff). By invoking the term, “woman”, this vision recalls the promise by God that the redeemer would come through “the woman” (Genesis 3:15). This is the title Jesus uses in the Gospel of John for his mother (see the above passages).
In other words, Jesus’ relationship to his mother, Mary, transcends the earthly plane and elevates the Holy Family to a higher dimension. Though we hear nothing of Joseph’s later years or death, the Church never forgets his role as the protector and provider of the Messiah and of His blessed mother. In this sense, Joseph remains for all history not just a great role model for fathers, but as well an intercessor from Heaven. And Mary is there, too, vested in glory.
This year, the Feast of the Holy Family coincides with the Feast of the Holy Innocents (Dec. 28). This commemorates the martyrdom of the baby boys of Bethlehem as the insane and insecure King Herod did everything in his power to cling to his worldly throne.
Let us pray, then, that the Christ-child make his home with our families – whatever our circumstances may be – and that we, as families, as communities, and as a nation might welcome the new life God sends us.
May our leaders of church, of government, and of our civic life defend all life, from conception to natural death, so that our families might be blessed.
May we all study the Holy Family, seeking to translate their example into the realities of today. And may God bless you all.