Dec. 29, 1996

Feast of the Holy Family

Lk 2, 22-40

JESUS’ FIRST experience of humanity does not take place in solitude or isolation—like Adam in the garden of Eden. Rather, the New Adam's Incarnate encounter with the world happens within the embrace of his particular human family. The Church honors the Holy Family today to emphasize the function of the family in our own human development and growth; to stress the role of the Holy Family in deepening our relationship with God; and to remind us how the Holy Family serves as an enduring icon of that external exchange of love that is the Blessed Trinity.

The Gospel shows us the Holy Family doing three things that manifest their holiness and that invite us to emulate them. We first meet them worshipping in the temple. The life of the Holy Family is formed by devout faith, marked by prayer and sacrifice. Their communal act of consecration reveals how we can discover our true human dignity and worth in the sacrifices our family makes in faith. The piety a child demonstrates towards his parents becomes the foundation for a lifetime of reverence toward God. In the same way, children who witness their parents worshipping God are blessed with the ability to understand and believe in the truth of God's love for them—for children identify the way God loves them with that first love they experience from their parents.

We also see the Holy Family together, accepting suffering in their life. For Simeon, the Holy Family is the fulfillment of a long-held hope. When he takes the child Jesus in his arms, he also happily accepts the reality of his own death, blessed with the assurance that the “light and glory” of God has appeared in Jesus. The hope the Holy Family gives to Simeon has a price though: Jesus will be opposed and Mary “will be pierced with a sword.” “The thoughts of many hearts may be laid bare” only through the suffering of the Holy Family. However, the trust, commitment, selflessness, and confidence they manifest give them the assurance and strength they need to fulfill God's will with courage. The peace of that family grants us the profound understanding we need to see how God uses suffering to fulfill his divine Providence. The sense of security of the family equips us to confront and overcome the insecurity of our own lives.

The Holy Family's love is not inward and exclusive. It reaches out to the world, beginning with the prophetess Anna, who “gave thanks to God and talked about the child to all.” Just as the love of the Holy Family transformed all “who looked forward to the deliverance of Jerusalem,” so does the charity and outreach of every family rooted in Christ upbuild and perfect human society. The goodness experienced within the family achieves its perfection as it is zealously and generously directed toward the common good of all.

The model of the Holy Family assures us that every Christian family is called to be a community and place of grace where we too can grow in size, strength, and wisdom. As we enter into the faith, hope, and love of the Holy Family, we come to share more in the very holiness of the Blessed Trinity.

Father Cameron is a professor of homiletics at St. Joseph Seminary, Yonkers, N.Y.