Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, the Holy
Family-11 January AD 2009
"He went down with them and came to Nazareth,
and was subject to them."
The Holy Sacrifice of the
Mass in Latin and English
Holy Family - Jesus, Mary, and Joseph
Dominica infra Octavam Epiphaniæ -
Letter of Pope Leo XIII, Néminem fugit.
Today's feast of the Holy
Family is observed every year on the Sunday following the Epiphany. This
devotion to the family of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph is relatively new; having been
established in the Church only since the 17th century. The feast day itself is
even newer, receiving its own proper Mass and Office from Pope Leo XIII only in
This devotion to the Holy
Family developed only as Western Civilization became more urbanized and more
industrialized; bringing about conditions that are hostile to the stability of
families. In agricultural societies, as existed most everywhere before the 17th
century, extended families tended to stay together. Their members were dependent
on each other to accomplish the various tasks necessary for survival; farming
itself, preserving foodstuffs, making clothing, nursing the sick, raising the
children, and so on.
As people moved into cities
in industrial societies they were cut off from such extended families. Quarters
were cramped. Wages were earned and used to pay for necessary services, so that
family industry was replaced by impersonal commerce. Employees, thus dependent
on wages were forced to work longer hours at tedious jobs, and could no longer
expect to take off on Holy days and Saints' feast days, and maybe not even on
Sunday. I am reminded of a poster printed by the Garment Workers' Union in the
1960s that depicted an early clothing factory with a sign that said: "If
you don't come in Sunday, don't come in Monday." Food and clothing had to
be bought with cash money, making additional children to feed and clothe seem
like a liability, rather than the asset they had been in rural life.
Given these pressures,
Christian people turned to the best model for family life they knew; to Jesus,
Mary, and Joseph. As Leo XIII put it:
families have in Joseph a shining norm for fatherly care and foresight.
Mothers have an outstanding example of love and modesty, or the spirit of
submission and perfect trust in the most holy Virgin Mother of God. And
children have in Jesus, who was subject to His parents, a divinely given
model of obedience, which they should admire, study, and imitate.
may learn from this family how virtue should take precedence over riches. On
the other hand ... those of a low standard of living ... will find a motive
to rejoice ... for they have in common with the Holy Family the labors and
cares of daily live.
Now, if things made family
life difficult in the 18th or 19th century, they are clearly worse in our own
time. The world is even more urbanized, modern advertising has raised everyone's
expectations of wealth and self gratification; and has paid for an onslaught of
Television programs to encourage a selfish, all-consuming lifestyle, governed by
no moral constraints. Those with no morals are promoted to positions of
authority in society, forcing their distorted ideas on those who try to remain
Christians-persecuting Christian belief, and sometimes Christians themselves.
And, perhaps at the time when their strong leadership is most necessary, both
Catholic and Protestant churches seem to have collapsed in their own moral
values-in various degrees permitting and even endorsing the immoral conduct they
condemned 50 or 75 years ago-divorce, contraception, abortion, homosexuality,
euthanasia-the list gets longer each year.
So if family life is to
survive and prosper, the burden lies on the individual and the individual
family. The government, the media, and for the most part, even the Church can no
longer be counted upon. We must do the job ourselves.
And the job is actually
simple in principle; although it can be very difficult in practice. In either
event, it is absolutely necessary. The principles are based on the relationships
of the Holy Family
The first principle is
chastity. If we are married, or single; widowed or divorced; a child or an
adult; we must practice chastity according to our state in life. Not only is it
foolish to think that families can survive marital infidelities, but it is also
foolish to expect the world around us to mend its ways if we who call ourselves
Christians behave like the cattle of the field (and sometimes worse).
The second principle,
probably even more important, is humility. No Christian should see himself as
being more important than the next person. Particularly within the family!
Fathers are not superior; children are not inferior; wives are not somewhere in
between. Even though there must be relations of leadership and obedience, there
should never be domination and fear. Men and women, adults and children, are not
identical-but in the family environment above all others-each must be not only
respected, but also cherished, and loved.
And that is the third
principle: charity, or as we usually say, love. The kind of love that makes a
family flee the country to protect their children, or enables a mother to stand
at the foot of her Son's cross. The kind of love that God must have had for His
earthly parents; and they for each other.
The last principle is
prayer. Can there be any better authorities on prayer than Mary and Joseph who
taught the Son of God to pray His first prayers and who held daily conversations
with Him; any better authority than the Son who constantly spoke with His Father
in heaven? We may not have the young boy Jesus to speak with, but we do have the
Blessed Sacrament in our churches, ready to visit at any time. And when our Lord
spoke of being with us "when two or more are gathered in My name,"
didn't He just have to be talking about families praying together?
Again, these things may be
difficult in practice, requiring patience, effort, and even mortification. But
we do have the perfect model to imitate, and to show to us that it is possible.
Jesus, Mary, and Joseph are examples for all of us-men and women-to imitate;
Joseph's care and foresight, Mary's chastity, submission and trust; and above
all, our Lord's humility.
For He who was God, the
Creator of the Universe, "went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was
subject to them."