Various characteristics and attitudes go with different families. It is not strange to hear people credit or discredit a family because of some recurrent virtues or vices the members exhibit. Consequently, there are good families and there are bad ones; there are nice families and not so nice ones. Furthermore, there are happy families and unhappy ones. Finally, there are fighting families and peaceful ones; what’s your family type? Don’t be shy about it!
Today, we celebrate the Feast of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph. Typically, the feast comes on the Sunday following Christmas day. Christmas generally is a family-based event as it gives the narrative of the family where God decided to use as the first point of His contact with humanity as per the incarnation. We could rightly say that the Word became flesh and dwelt among us (John 1:14) through the family of Joseph and Mary.
As we celebrate the feast of the Holy Family, the word “Holy” jumps out for us for a more profound understanding. There are numerous definitions of the word as there are various religious dispositions and creeds. The dictionary definition would refer to holy as something consecrated, sacred, revered or hallowed but these are not all about holiness.
Still, in dire search for a more inclusive definition, we have a more insightful approach from the First Letter of St. Peter (1:15-16),
But as he who called you is holy, be holy yourselves in all your conduct; since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.
A careful look at the quotation above shows us that holiness has a lot to do with our conduct than being exclusively devoted to prayers and estranged from the world. From this, also we understand that holiness is not a one-time accomplishment but a journey that ends with God, who is the author. In his letter to the Ephesians (1:4) St. Paul throws more light when he says that God chose us to be holy and blameless before Him. To be blameless means that our actions do not attribute any guilty to us; that is what holiness entails.
What Made Them A Holy Family?
There are thoughts that the family of Joseph and Mary became holy the moment Jesus Christ, the Holy One, was born. Other ideas hold that God poured holiness on them. We shall begin this section of our reflection by transforming the word Holy into an acronym. For this reflection HOLY as an acronym would mean Humility, Obedience, Loving, and Yielding. We shall locate and examine the resonance of these virtues in the lives of the members of the Holy Family.
The Humility of the Holy Family
Starting with the Blessed Virgin Mary, we discover humility at its height. She humbly accepted the awesome invitation to become the mother of the messiah in line with God’s plan. Furthermore, we see Mary humbly setting out to visit her cousin Elizabeth at the news of her sixth-month pregnancy not counting on her potential status as the Mother of Christ.
Two verses from Mary’s Canticle while visiting Elizabeth reaffirm her humble nature (Luke 1:48, 52).
For he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant. From now on all generations will call me blessed… He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted the humble.
Joseph and Mary had no accommodation available when the child was to be born. The only open space in the whole of Bethlehem was a manger in an animal’s house, a humbling cradle for the King of the Universe.
The life of Jesus Christ on earth has every detail of humility. St. Paul says that though he was in the form of God, he did not count on his equality with God but humbled himself, taking the form of a servant (Phil. 2:6-8).
The Obedience of the Holy Family
Starting with Mary again, we locate her steadfast obedience to God. If we understand obedience as compliance Mary was excellent in that regard. Before the miracle of changing water into wine, she instructed those present to do whatever his son our Lord Jesus Christ tells them (John 2:5); in other words, she was telling them to obey our Lord.
Joseph was obedient to God’s instruction through the angels in his three-fold dreams (Matthew 1:20-24; 2:13;19-20). The life of our Lord Jesus Christ shows obedience at its apex. In the Gospel of John (4:34), our Lord Jesus Christ says, “my food is to do the will of my father and to finish His work. St. Paul concludes that Jesus was obedient even unto death.
The Loving disposition of the Holy Family
God is love (1 John 4:8), and every act of God is motivated by love. The gospel of John (3:16) tells us that God loved the world so much that he gave His only begotten Son.
The actions of all the members of the Holy Family was motivated by love. Mary’s loving heart made her intervene at the wedding at Cana (John 2:3). Joseph was a man of great love; in fact, the bible calls him a righteous man (Matthew 1:19). During his ministry, our Lord Jesus Christ gave us a new commandment of love (John 13:34).
The Yielding disposition of the Holy Family
To yield is to surrender, submit, or give way to someone or something. The members of the Holy Family lived the life of total yielding to God. Mary’s fiat, “I am the handmaid of the Lord, let it be done to me according to your word” (Luke I:38), is an expression of yielding to God. Joseph yielded to God by following all the instructions he received; he allowed God to have His way.
The life of our Lord Jesus Christ shows total submission and commitment to God. Our Lord personally said that he does nothing on his own apart from what he sees His Father doing (John 5:60); that is yielding. And before the death on the cross, he yielded his spirit to the Father (Matt; 27:50).
Moving Forward: Becoming Holy in our Families
The elucidations we have made so far should prompt us at this point to have a rethink on what it means to be Holy. It is essential to note that we are not by implication, excluding prayer life from the route of being holy. We become more prayerful and connected with God when we are humble, obedient, loving and yielding towards God and others.
It is also important to note that having a holy family does not exclude your family from trials and troubles; being holy does not stop you from being human. The Holy Family of Nazareth had their share of human problems from the moment Mary conceived to the time our Lord was crucified and died on the cross with his mother Mary standing at the foot of the cross (John 19:25).
As we celebrate the feast of the Holy Family today, let us try as much as possible to pay attention to the values in the Holy Family of Nazareth and learn how we could redefine and renew the face our various families and advance with the virtues of humility, obedience, love and yielding to God and those who constitute family for us.
Have a beautiful Sunday and joyous feast of the Holy Family.