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The Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph

This Sunday places before our eyes the image of the Holy Family of Nazareth, and while we might immediately leap into beautiful meditations on the virtues of that home, on the lessons of their lives, and on how we might imitate their example, we ought not miss the astonishing truth contained in the bare fact that we can celebrate this feast at all.

The Gospel provides us with the details of life after the Lord’s Nativity: the flight into Egypt to escape Herod, the return to Israel at the word of the angel, and the decision to settle in Nazareth for fear of the new king, Archelaus. We take these details for granted, perhaps, having learned the stories as children, and always having known Our Lord as Jesus “of Nazareth.” Yet these historical details drive home a powerful reality, namely, that in Jesus Christ, our God has come to us in a concrete way. 

That is perhaps the most basic truth of this feast. God has not reached out to us in the abstract, in metaphor, or in a purely spiritual manner. He has entered history to speak with us face to face. He lived among us in a particular time, and in a particular place. In Jesus Christ, God has a face that can be recognized among other faces, a voice that can be recognized among other voices. He has a life story, as humans do, full of difficult episodes which, to a secular eye, seem chaotic and lamentable, but are in fact the working out of God’s plan for the salvation of the world. Our Jesus is not simply a mythic hero, appearing fully formed from a heavenly vision, but a man with a mother and foster father, a man who grew up in a certain town, learning a language, a culture, a trade and a way of life.

Of course, we hold this while simultaneously believing that this man, the son of Mary, the heir to Joseph, the workman of Nazareth, is also the second person of the Trinity, the Word of the Father, through whom all things were made. The feast of the Holy Family, by bringing into relief this double reality, makes known to us the full impact of our belief in Jesus.

The secular world in our present moment often prefers a form of general spirituality, a notion of God that means whatever a person wishes it to mean, a non-system of thought based on the metaphorical and un-defined, a belief in a vague “something beyond” that can be accessed best when the particulars of our physical lives fall away. Christianity, in stark contrast, witnesses to the near scandalous truth that God has spoken for real, in concrete, and in definite words. Our God has not simply reached out to us through the impulses of human reason, through inspired thinkers, or even through prophetic vessels. He has lived with us as one of us, complete with all the trappings of our life except sin, and by the grace of baptism, invites us to join his historical family as his younger adopted siblings.

It remains true that the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph has much to teach us about the trust we ought to have in God’s designs, the love we ought to have for one another in our homes, and the love we ought to have above all for the Father’s will. We could each spend a lifetime there in the house of Nazareth, learning from this absolute height of human excellence.  But let us not forget what a world-shattering joy it is to be able to celebrate this feast in the first place.

Fr. Rampino is chaplain at Marymount University in Arlington.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2019