Today's feast was introduced by Pope Leo XIII at the end of the last century, and extended throughout the entire Church during the early part of this century by Pope Benedict XV. Jesus, Mary, and Joseph -- the Holy Family have always been a source of inspiration and a model for imitation -- but, perhaps, never so much as in the years since the beginning of the industrial revolution.
The family, of course, is the basic building block of society -- both of secular society; our town, state, and nation -- and of the religious society in which we live; the Catholic Church. If families are weakened, both of those societies will be likewise debilitated.
During these past few centuries, Christian families have been under constant pressure caused by confinement to cramped urban quarters, and sometimes by real economic pressure. Various social pressures tend to pull families farther and farther apart, and to compete for the time that they can spend together. There has been no shortage of false prophets with false solutions to these problems. Indeed, often the difficulties of the modern family are caused even more by the solutions than by the problems themselves.
In order to counteract the effects of false philosophies like materialism, liberalism, and communism, the popes have urged the people of our times to pattern themselves after Jesus, Mary, and Joseph. In today's Office we read a letter of Leo XIII explaining that men and women and children have their models for family behavior in the Holy Family:
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.
And children have in Jesus, who is subject to His parents, a divinely given model of obedience, which they should admire, study and imitate.
Those 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.
On the other hand, laborers, and all those whose lower standard of living and uncertain resources tend to stir up anger and bitterness should look to the members of the Holy Family . . . they have in common . . . the labors and cares of daily life.
In all of the members of the Holy family we will find virtues to emulate -- whether we are man, woman, or child -- whether we are young or old.
But, once again, there are false prophets who would prefer us to find our examples and our inspirations in more worldly things. Some are simply misinformed, others are positively evil in their intent. In either event, it is important for us to be on our guard -- to carefully follow the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph -- to carefully avoid false solutions to the problems facing our families.
In the years ahead, we can expect to see even greater challenges to Catholic family life. Perhaps "to be forewarned is to be forearmed." We have seen and will continue to see
* Greater restriction and taxation on the land and property a family may own.
* Increased taxes on those who are industrious and trying to make a better life for their families.
* Stronger controls and taxation on inheritance, so that parents may not pass on their wealth and property to their families.
* Centralization and government control of credit, so that only those approved by government can engage in business and prosper.
* Greater numbers of jobs in which the state is the employer, thus exercising greater control over the lives of citizens and their families.
* Pressure brought to bear upon married women, so that they will forsake the begetting of children, and have no time to raise them. Such pressures can be economic, or simply the availability of birth control and abortion.
* Increased instruction in the schools to teach children anti-family and immoral values.
* Mass media promotion of lawlessness and immorality as normal and expected behavior among both adults and children.
Perhaps there will be other ways in which Christian family life will be assaulted. Most of those that I just mentioned come from the Communist Manifesto -- communism is not dead, and Russia is still spreading its errors.
But, certainly Karl Marx was not the only false prophet this world has even known. There are and will be others. They will propose similar schemes -- leaving out God, and ignoring the damage done to human nature by original sin.
But equally certain, there is one way by which we can maintain the vitality of our families, and thus promote the well-being of our nation and of the Catholic Church. That one way is the way of emulating the Holy Family. Of living in our own lives and our own families, the virtues of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph.