A Feast for Families
Linking up, as always, with the lovely ladies of Fine Linen and Purple for "What I Wore Sunday".
Well, less what I wore Sunday (since I changed out of my Mass clothes fairly quickly) but what Sister Stinky wore to Mass. Picture courtesy the Abbot’s ipod, since our camera battery was kaput.
The Feast of the Holy Family is actually one of my favorite feastdays of the liturgical year. It actually became one of my favorites long before I met the Abbot, got married, and had a family of my own. Back when I was in high school, I remember realizing, on one Feast of the Holy Family, just how special that day was. There are so many beautiful feasts in the Church year - days that celebrate individuals of all sorts and events of salvation history. But, on this one particular day every year, we celebrate how it is possible to grow in holiness in one’s own family.
When we read the stories of martyrs, prophets, theologians, etc. it is easy to excuse ourselves. Oh, yes...of course they are saints! Just look at what they did with their lives! But then, once a year, the Church forces us to bump up against the Holy Family, and ponder what it is that made them holy. What made them holy?
The lives of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph (particularly through the hidden years of Jesus’ time on earth) were not remarkable. Joseph went to work every day. Mary took care of their home and of the baby. Jesus played, ate, slept, got his diaper changed, got potty trained, learned how to read and count, etc. They didn’t do anything all that different than what we do in our own families. So what was it that made them so holy exactly?
Yes, you can argue that what made them holy was the fact that the mother of that family was immaculately concieved and the father visited by an angel and the child God incarnate. Yes, yes, that is all true. But stopping there makes it too easy to write off the Holy Family as being too “other” for us to emulate.
The Holy Family, along with everything else touched by Jesus in his time in this world, was a part of the way that God was making the world new. Jesus was baptized in the Jordan? Bam! Purifies all water and prepares it to be used for our own baptisms. Jesus attends the wedding feast at Cana and performs his first miracle there? Pow! Gives marriage his blessing and raises it to the level of a Sacrament. The Incarnation (i.e. God becoming flesh) was a part of God’s plan in its entirety. Theologians throughout the ages have pondered this mystery, and that is what makes Christmas so special. It is not just significant that Jesus died on the cross and rose again (although, yes, that is the high point of the work of salvation). The very fact that God became a human being to begin with is what is so remarkable. It isn’t as if Jesus popped out of Mary and then proceeded to twiddle his thumbs for thirty-three years. Rather, everything that Jesus did transformed that thing.
Jesus being a baby, a child, transformed childhood. Through the Incarnation, even very small children can look to Jesus and say, “Oh, yes, he was like me! He was a baby like me!” Likewise, Jesus being born into a family transformed the family into something holy. Families everywhere can look to the Holy Family and say, “Oh, yes! He was like us! He was a part of a family!”
And what was it that was so special about that family? What was it that was so worthy of emulation?
Their love, of course.
The Holy Family loved in the way that God calls all families to love. It was a love with God at its center and with their eye toward service of each other. But is was also something more...it was a family with Christ at its center.
That is what makes a family holy - having the Christ child as the focus of its life and love.
When the Abbot and I were newlyweds and celebrating our first Christmas, we were a little bit sad. We’d been trying to conceive since our August wedding, and had, as yet, been unable to. We felt the lack of a child in our lives that Christmas. Fortunately, we’d recently read a good piece of advice - to make the Christ child the center of our marriage, and to love him with as devoted a love as if he were our own child.
That first Christmas Eve together, we visited the adoration chapel at the Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration, about fifteen minutes from our house. We spent that precious time together, hearts longing for a child of our own, but deciding to make that sweet babe of Mary’s the focus of our love.
Now, two children and several years later, we still recognize the importance of making the infant Jesus the center of our marriage and our family. Do we do a perfect job of that? Certainly not. We are as susceptible to the busyness of the Christmas season as any other family. But, we also know that placing him at the center of our lives is the key to our own family becoming holy.
The Holy Family is what brings hope to our own family.
Sing of Jesus, son of Mary, in the home at Nazareth
Toil and labor cannot weary love enduring onto death.
Constant was the love he gave her, though he went forth from her side
Forth to preach and heal and suffer til on Calvary he died.
-Sing of Mary, Pure and Lowly