Holy Family: Jesus, Mary, and Joseph--12 January AD 2014
“The Peace of Westphalia,” a series of treaties signed in 1648, ending the Thirty Years' War in the Holy Roman Empire, and the Eighty Years' War between Spain and the Dutch Republic, are an important marker of historical change. For roughly 1200 years before Westphalia, the Church had been an important player and peacemaker in Western international politics. A mere 131 years after Martin Luther posted his ninety-five theses on the church door at Wittenberg, the governments of Europe determined that the Holy See would no longer play a role in the politics of nations. The treaties declared that territories would be Protestant or Catholic in accordance with the boundaries that existed twenty-four years earlier.
It is important to note that Westphalia was not simply a political change, but that it enabled a challenge against the smallest “building block” of society, the family. For the next two-hundred-odd years, governments would arrogate to themselves more and more authority over families, parents, and children. The Holy and indissoluble Sacrament of Marriage was manipulated by politicians. The State could make and dissolve these holy unions, as though they were nothing more than business contracts—a contract to buy or sell a hundred pounds of beef or so, which might be broken with any reasonable excuse.
Governments began to take over matters that were the legitimate interests of the Church. They claimed not only authority over marriage, annulment, and divorce; they claimed not only authority over the education of the children of faithful families, By 1864, Pope Pius IX issued his encyclical Quanta cura, and his “Syllabus of errors” condemning the political modernists. In the next century, Pope Saint Pius X would condemn modernism as a philosophical assault against truth, but for Pius IX modernism was a more down to earth assault of rationalism and socialism against the Church and against Christian marriage and families.
In 1892, the saintly Pope Leo XIII issued an Apostolic Letter calling on Catholics to consecrate their families to the Holy Family of Jesus. Mary, and Joseph—for in these three—fathers, mothers, and children—could find a model and inspiration for their relationship with one another.
“And [Jesus] went down with them, and came to Nazareth, and was subject to them.” Family life requires a certain yielding of personal rights in order for the family group to work smoothly together. If God Himself could be subject to Joseph and Mary, and if the Mother of God could be subject to Joseph the carpenter, certainly none of our families should have problems in this respect.
Yet, the devil and those whom he employs to bring about the ruin of souls is ever seeking new ways to disrupt the Christian Family. In this, he has made use of liberal governments and their anti-family laws. Laws tolerating not only easy divorce, but even sodomy, birth control, and abortion! Indeed, laws which actually encourage such evil behaviors. To their credit, the largely Protestant founders of our states and nation had enacted a very much pro-family body of laws. But in recent years, we have seen those laws eroded by political correctness, as our nation follows a downward spiral of licentiousness.
The Conciliar Church has not helped. Modernism produces moral relativism, where everything is open to dialogue. Some priests lead openly perverted lives, and horrendous crimes against the young are covered up. Marriage is not quite as permanent as it once was, and the procreation and education of children are not quite as primary as they once were. A Catholic Pope would condemn any “program of irresponsible population growth.” Local churches began to offer “family planning courses” as prerequisites to marriage. The Vatican has ratified the UN’s “Convention on the Rights of the Child,” which exposes families to even more government intervention.
Perhaps a return to the teaching of Pope Leo XIII is in order. If family life is to be sanctified, we must sanctify it in our own lives and families, to the best of our abilities. And, as Pope Leo pointed out, the best exemplar of Catholic family life will always be the family of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph.
For roughly a year now, whenever permissible, I have been adding the collects from today’s Mass of the Holy Family to the collects of my daily Mass. I hope that you will join me, whenever you assist at my Mass:
Whenever you attend Holy Mass—my Mass or some other priest’s Mass—please pray that my family and yours will be made holy like Jesus, Mary, and Joseph. Pray that Christian family life may be restored throughout the world.
 H.H. John Paul II, Crossing the Threshold of Hope (NY: Knopf, 1994) p. 208.