The Feast of the Holy Family
The Feast of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph is normally celebrated on the Sunday after Christmas. This feast developed at the beginning of the 19th century in Canada and then spread to the entire Church in 1920. At first, it was celebrated on the Sunday after Epiphany. It is a Feast that seeks to portray the Holy Family of Nazareth as the “true model of life” (cf. Opening Prayer) from which our families can draw inspiration and know where to find help and comfort.
The first fact that emerges from the Biblical texts for this Feast is that a child is a gift from God. We see this in the First Reading that narrates the birth of the prophet Samuel. It can also be gleaned from Jesus’ response to His parents in the Temple.
“Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” In Mary’s question, “Your father and I have been looking for you with great anxiety”, Mary is thinking of His father, Joseph. In His response, Jesus refers to God His Father. Mary and Joseph “do not understand”, even though they knew that this child was a “gift from God”. In the end, only the Cross will fully reveal everything regarding who Jesus is, the Son of God.
Mary’s journey of faith
That response was not easy for the Virgin Mary. In fact, the evangelist points out that she “kept all these things in her heart”. She did not throw the memory of the event out of her memory and her heart. Rather, she was aware that she had to wait in order to understand. This is the journey of faith in which doubt does not impede hope, but opens it up in expectation.
Joseph and Mary – parents
As parents do today, even Joseph and Mary experienced difficulty understanding the words and choices of Jesus, their Son. Above all, today’s parents can learn from them that a child must grow up and is certainly called to correspond to the many expectations placed on him or her – expectations of parents, friends, colleagues…. But there is an even more important, fundamental and foundational expectation that comes from God, the Father and Creator. Before this expectation that comes as a “call” in each person’s heart, the most appropriate attitude is that of prayer, of “keeping it” at heart so that everything might be revealed in its time and at the right moment.
The Holy Spirit speaks to today’s families
Today, the Holy Spirit still continues to guide “all peoples”, “all couples”, “all parents”. But we need to listen to the Spirit who speaks in us. If the Son of God came to live with us as a child, and only the eyes of faith can perceive His presence, how important it is to remind ourselves that everyday things are never of little importance, that daily occurrences are never useless or purely coincidental. The eyes of faith are necessary to grasp the hidden and the beyond. Everything becomes a “place” to encounter or reject God’s presence. Everything is a sign for those who believe.
The gospel of the family
To live the gospel of the family is not easy today. Those who want to defend life from the moment of conception are criticized or attacked. Yet in the Gospel we find the way to live a beautiful life on the personal and familial level, a way that is certainly challenging, but attractive and all-embracing. It is a way that still deserves to be trusted and undertaken after the example and through the intercession of the Holy Family of Nazareth itself. There are happy and sad, serene and difficult moments in every family. This is life. To live the “gospel of the family” does not exempt us from experiencing difficulties and tensions, of encountering moments of pleasant fortitude and painful weakness. Families who are wounded and marked by weakness, failure, difficulty…can rise again if they learn how to draw from the font of the Gospel. There, they can rediscover new possibilities of starting over.
Jesus, Mary and Joseph
to you, the Holy Family of Nazareth,
today, we turn our gaze
with admiration and confidence.
In you, we contemplate
the beauty of communion in true love.
To you, we recommend all our families,
so they might be renewed in this wonder of grace.
Holy Family of Nazareth,
attractive school of the holy Gospel:
teach us to imitate your virtues
with a wise spiritual discipline.
Grant us a pure vision
that knows how to recognize the work of Providence
in the everyday happenings of life.
Holy Family of Nazareth,
faithful guardian of the mystery of salvation:
grant us a renewed esteem for silence,
make our families cenacles of prayer
and transform them into small domestic churches.
Renew our desire for holiness,
Sustain the noble fatigue of labor, of education,
of listening, of reciprocal understanding and forgiveness.
Holy Family of Nazareth,
reawaken in our society the awareness
of the sacred and inviolable character of the family,
a priceless and irreplaceable good.
May every family be a welcoming abode of goodness and peace
for children and the elderly,
for those who are sick and alone,
for those who are poor and in need.
Jesus, Mary and Joseph,
we pray to you with confidence,
we entrust ourselves to you with joy.
(Pope Francis, Prayer recited in front of the Icon of the Holy Family on the World Day of Families, 27 October 2013)