The “Holy Family” is the designation given to the family unit of Jesus Christ. It is comprised of Jesus Christ – The Divine Son of God, The Virgin Mary – the Mother of Christ, and Jesus’ Earthly “Adoptive” father, Joseph. The canonical Gospels do not speak much of the Holy Family, just primarily the birth of Jesus, the flight into Egypt, and when Mary and Joseph find Jesus in the Temple. While the precise facts of the day-to-day life of the Holy Family might be shrouded in mystery, we can still absorb a lot from the stories we do have. Devotion to the Holy Family is a more current development. The love of Jesus and his Family is something that grows naturally.
The Feast of the Holy Family became really popular in the 17th century, where several religious organizations were founded under this label. It was also depicted in art works during this time. On October 26th, 1921 the Congregation of Rites led by Pope Benedict the 15th, introduced the Feast of the Holy Family into the Latin Rite common calendar. Before that time it was observed provincially. Popes before Benedict the 15th such as Leo the 13th sponsored the feast as a way to counter the dissolution of the family unit. The church today observes the Feast on the Sunday between Christmas and New Year’s Day. Before 1969, the Feast was held on the first Sunday following the Epiphany.
In our Reading today from Hebrews 2:10-18, the writer of Hebrews is stating that in bringing children to glory will make their development of redemption perfect through suffering; that the one who consecrates and those who are sanctified all have one unifying Father and because of this, Jesus is not ashamed to call us all brothers and sisters. He states, “I will declare your name to my brothers and sisters, in the center of the churchgoers I will praise you.” And also, “I will put my trust in him.” And “Here am I and the offspring whom God has given me.” Since, then, the children share flesh and blood, he himself similarly shared the same things, so that through death he might end the one who has the control of death, that is, the devil, and permit those who all their lives were seized in bondage by the fear of death. For it is clear that he did not come to aid angels, but the children of Abraham. So he had to become like his brothers and sisters in every aspect, so that he might be a compassionate and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make a sacrifice of compensation for the sins of the people. As he himself was tried by what he suffered, he is able to aid those who are being tried and tested.
And in Matthew 2:13-23, the adoptive father of Jesus, Joseph is given a remarkable vision in a dream by the angel of the Lord and is telling Joseph to take the baby Jesus and his mother Mary into Egypt, because King Herod is seeking the boy to kill him. They all travel by night into Egypt. There they remained until Herod died and was so fulfilled by the prophet, “Out of Egypt I have called my son.” Herod was tricked by the wise men and in his anger; killed all the children in the proximity of Bethlehem who were two years old or under, thus fulfilling what the prophet Jeremiah spoke: “A voice was heard in Ramah, wailing and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be consoled, because they are no more.” After the death of Herod, the angel again visited Joseph in a dream and told him to take Jesus and his mother Mary back to the land of Israel, for those who were seeking to kill the boy are now dead. After Joseph learned that Archelaus was now ruler of Judea in Herod’s place, he felt great fear, and after being advised in a dream, he went to a district of Galilee. He made their home in Nazareth, so that the words of the prophets would be fulfilled, “He will be called a Nazarene.”
Sometimes family can be a really daunting thing. We may not all get along well with our family; brothers and sisters have disagreements, perhaps you may have grown up in a family of all brothers or all sisters. We may not all work like a well-oiled machine. Sometimes Mothers and Fathers go through seasons where they do not mesh effectively. Maybe you grew up in a unit that was not like a “typical” family. Each person may be going through something that could make connections a bit difficult. Parents could be struggling at work, with work, children dealing with their own struggles in school with friends or teachers or homework. One thing to remember during this holiday season is that our differences really aren’t that different. It’s not that difficult to relate to something a parent faces as much as it is observing a child in their day to day life.
When we think about the hardships of the Holy Family, how Mary and Joseph struggled in their travels from Nazareth to Bethlehem, or going into Egypt by night, it’s not really much different than what most families go through either once or many times. If a parent gets a new job and the entire family has to relocate, that means new schools for the children. One thing that weighed heavily on the Holy Family was that the entire journeys were done on foot, even atop a donkey is not much easier. Joseph had a great responsibility to protect this child, the baby Jesus, and his wife, Mary. Just imagine what it must have been to have known that there were people out there seeking this child’s life! And for Mary, a woman of whom had just given birth, keeping on the move for miles and miles.
During this time of the year, when you are spending time with your family, think of your family, think of the sacrifices your parents or guardians made to help get you where you are in life. As a parent or guardian, take time to reflect on the children that you have raised, to the great kids that they are or fantastic adults that they have become. Give thanks for each other during this time of year and be open with one another. If your family is not one to spend a lot of time together, give them a call, send them an e-mail, break open the fog of silence and start communicating. Family is an integral part to the community aspect of being a Dominican. So, work past your differences, and forgive often! Spend time with friends, rejoice with them through all the good times, and be with them during the hard times. Spend quality family time during this time of meals and merriment. It really is a season of growing together as a family. Amen.