Feast of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph
The Feast of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph is normally celebrated on the Sunday after Christmas. This feast developed at the beginning of the 19th century in Canada and then spread to the entire Church in 1920. At first, it was celebrated on the Sunday after Epiphany. It is a Feast that seeks to portray the Holy Family of Nazareth as the “true model of life” (cf. Opening Prayer) from which our families can draw inspiration and know where to find help and comfort.
When they had departed, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Rise, take the child and his mother, flee to Egypt, and stay there until I tell you. Herod is going to search for the child to destroy him.” Joseph rose and took the child and his mother by night and departed for Egypt. He stayed there until the death of Herod, that what the Lord had said through the prophet might be fulfilled, “Out of Egypt I called my son.” … When Herod had died, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt and said, “Rise, take the child and his mother and go to the land of Israel, for those who sought the child’s life are dead.” He rose, took the child and his mother, and went to the land of Israel. But when he heard that Archelaus was ruling over Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go back there. And because he had been warned in a dream, he departed for the region of Galilee. He went and dwelt in a town called Nazareth, so that what had been spoken through the prophets might be fulfilled, “He shall be called a Nazorean” (Mt 2:13-15, 19-23).
Family in movement
If there is a fact that is striking when reading today’s Gospel text, it is all the “motion” verbs: depart, arise, flee, take refuge, stay…. There is even a map that is no less impressive: Bethlehem, Egypt, then Nazareth. Certainly, the key to all this “movement” is found in the citation of the Prophet Hosea: “Out of Egypt I have called my son” – a place of refuge for the persecuted and the place of departure for Israel’s Exodus. The Family of Nazareth thus traces the journey of many persecuted people and refugees down through history. At the same time, it recalls the powerful hand of God who knows how to liberate His people.
The experience of the family of Nazareth cannot but make us think of the many families today who are also “in movement” – certainly of those families forced to leave their homes and their own land in search of peace, serenity and work, but also of those families who live with the apprehension and anxiety of not making ends meet, of unstable marital situations, the fear of illness…
In the family of Nazareth, our families, as well as the human family, can learn to allow ourselves to be guided by God’s powerful hand. If it is true on the one hand that in many situations people feel like “refugees”, “strangers in their own homes”, or in the heart of a dear one, it is also true that every obstacle, every difficulty can be transformed into an opportunity to “depart”, an opportunity for a “journey toward conversion” which alone can lead to serenity, peace, stability.
The Holy Spirit speaks to today’s families
Today, the Holy Spirit still continues to guide “all peoples”, “all couples”, “all parents”. But we need to listen to the Spirit who speaks in us. If the Son of God came to live with us as a child, and only the eyes of faith can perceive His presence, how important it is to remind ourselves that everyday things are never of little importance, that daily occurrences are never useless or purely coincidental. The eyes of faith are necessary to grasp the hidden and the beyond. Everything becomes a “place” to encounter or reject God’s presence. Everything is a sign for those who believe.
The gospel of the family
To live the gospel of the family is not easy today. Those who want to defend life from the moment of conception are criticized or attacked. Yet in the Gospel we find the way to live a beautiful life on the personal and familial level, a way that is certainly challenging, but attractive and all-embracing. It is a way that still deserves to be trusted and undertaken after the example and through the intercession of the Holy Family of Nazareth itself. There are happy and sad, serene and difficult moments in every family. This is life. To live the “gospel of the family” does not exempt us from experiencing difficulties and tensions, of encountering moments of pleasant fortitude and painful weakness. Families who are wounded and marked by weakness, failure, difficulty…can rise again if they learn how to draw from the font of the Gospel. There, they can rediscover new possibilities of starting over.
The hidden life of Nazareth
allows every person
to be in communion with Jesus
along the most ordinary paths of everyday life.
Nazareth is the school
in which we begin to understand
the life of Jesus, that is,
the school of the Gospel...
In the first place, may it teach us silence.
Oh! May an appreciation
of this stupendous and indispensable
atmosphere for the spirit return to us...
May it teach us the way to live in the family.
Nazareth reminds us what the family is,
what communion of love is,
its austere and simple beauty,
its sacred and inviolable character…
Finally, let us learn a lesson of work.
Oh! House of Nazareth,
home of the “Carpenter’s Son”!
Here, we especially want to understand
how to praise the severe but redeeming law
of human labor...
We want to greet workers throughout the world
and show them their great model,
their Divine Brother.
(Saint Pope Paul VI, discourse of 5 January 1964)