This feast of the Holy Family ought to be one of the most joyous feasts in the Christian calendar. It should call to mind the perfect example of family life; Jesus, Mary, and Joseph living together in Nazareth in peace and harmony. The Sacred Scriptures are relatively silent about this period in our Lord's life, but it seems safe to assume that two, most holy people, living together with the Son of God would have experienced the most perfect family life imaginable.
In fact, when this feast was instituted by Pope Leo XIII, he urged Christians throughout the world to meditate on Jesus, Mary, and Joseph -- making them a model for life in our own families. That was just about a hundred years ago, and the difficulties of life in modern society were already showing themselves.1 The ideological revolutions of the 16th and 17th centuries combined with the industrial revolution of the 18th and 19th century and the movement of populations into crowded cities to exert a severe pressure on family life.
In many respects, the society of Pope Leo's 19th century and of our 20th century, is quite different than the society in which the Holy Family lived, 2,000 years ago in Palestine. But, people are people, and in many respects the problems of family life have not changed at all:
"Fathers of families have in Joseph a shining norm for fatherly care and foresight."
"Mothers have an outstanding example of love and modesty, of the spirit of submission, and perfect trust, in the most holy Virgin."
"Children have in Jesus, who was subject to His parents, a divinely-given model of obedience, which they should admire, study, and imitate."
"Those born of higher status may learn from this royal family how to keep within limits when things are going well, and how to maintain composure in the face of misfortune."
"The wealthy may learn from this Family how virtue should take precedence over riches."
"Those of a lower standard of living and uncertain resources.... have in common with the Holy Family the labors and cares of daily life."
Things have changed some in 2,000 years, but it is not difficult to imagine how Jesus, Mary, and Joseph would have dealt with conditions in the 20th century; or, for that matter in the 30th century:
Family prayer will always be an important element in keeping the Christian family together: Mass together on Sundays, of course; perhaps the Rosary recited together at some regular time, or reading the Scriptures together; prayer together at bed-time (and that shouldn't stop when the kids grow up); grace recited before every meal, and perhaps a thanksgiving afterwards.
Doing things together will never go out of style. It's a bit tough to even think about Joseph and Mary leaving Jesus with a baby sitter and going out to a cocktail party! Children very rapidly reflect the level of maturity with which their parents treat them. And parents often do well to reflect a little bit of their children's' innocence and joy. Even Jesus Christ needed Mary and Joseph to teach Him about the ways and customs of human society -- 20th century children are no different.
The chastity of the Holy Family is another thing that will never go out of date. So many of the problems of modern families would never happen if everyone observed chastity in accordance with their state in life. This is as true for the married as it is for the single; for those who live alone or in a crowded household. One of the things sorely missing from 20th century society is what we might call an "atmosphere" of chastity, in which it is taken for granted that people will be chaste.
I don't know if Joseph would have owned a TV set or gone to the movies, but it's safe to say that he would have been selective about what he watched. In fact, that's a good question to ask yourself: Would you be embarrassed to have Mary and Joseph in your home to watch the things you normally watch on TV?
Finally, there is a political dimension to modern family life. In our Lord's time, the extended family tried to look after own members, young and old alike. The community, centered around the synagogue, took care of those who had no family; the widows, the orphans, the sick, and the poor. Today we have grown accustomed to a lot of that being done by government. That can be good or bad, depending upon the people we elect to do the job. Again, we might ask ourselves before we go to vote: What would Joseph and Mary have to say about the "family policies" of the candidates we hope to elect?
Jesus, Mary, and Joseph lived 2,000 years ago. But things haven't changed that much. Always try to keep them in mind here on earth, following their example in any decision you make in your families -- always looking forward to becoming part of their Holy Family in eternity.