The Holy Family at Christmas: Model of Faith and Love

How (and why) to center life around Christ at home.


The miracle of Christmas, centered on the birth of Christ, reminds the faithful of the beauty and holiness of the Holy Family: Mary and Joseph adore the Christ Child.

The importance of the Holy Family’s example of faith and love is essential for families, as the feast of the Holy Family — which is celebrated on the Sunday following Christmas — reminds us. As Blessed John Paul II said, the Holy Family is "the prototype and example for all Christian families."

Back in 2006, during his Angelus address on the Holy Family feast, Pope Benedict XVI urged families to "resist the disintegrating forces of a certain contemporary culture which undermines the very foundations of the family institution."

Many laws and cultural pressures are attacking the family. Families must model themselves on the Holy Family, living as domestic churches, to counter these anti-family forces.

"When we look at the Holy Family, we easily see several crucial elements about what made them holy," says Father Roger Landry, pastor of St. Bernadette’s parish in Fall River, Mass., and host of EWTN’s series on the theology of the body.

"First and foremost, they were centered around Jesus, the living Son of God," Father Landry says. "Every family is called to center their lives around Jesus the Lord. The family that does this grows in holiness. The family that doesn’t, doesn’t."

"Secondly, all the members of the family strived to do God’s will," says Father Landry. "The Holy Family was holy because they always sought to do God’s will. Every family that wants to be holy is called to do the same."

Mary gave her "Yes" to God at the Annunciation; Joseph obeyed God by caring for Mary and Jesus. Luke recounts that Jesus at 12 "was obedient to them (Mary and Joseph). … And Jesus advanced [in] wisdom and age and favor before God and man" (Luke 2:51-52), always obedient, even to death on the cross.

To be Christ-centered, families must inspire one another to become holy.

"We need to encourage each other to do God’s will by doing God’s will with joy," Father Landry says, "and help each other to do that by our own contagiously faithful example."

Benedict confirmed this in his Angelus address: "Mary and Joseph taught Jesus primarily by their example: In his parents, he came to know the full beauty of faith, of love for God and for his Law, as well as the demands of justice, which is totally fulfilled in love."

In the Holy Family, Joseph teaches husbands and fathers, whose primary role is to provide and protect their wives and children in all things — especially from spiritual danger — by providing and inspiring them with examples of strong faith, says Father Landry.

The Blessed Mother is also a marvelous model. "Mary is a great model and intercessor for wives and mothers in how to make their homes true schools of sanctity," he explains. Like Mary, wives and mothers must be on fire for the faith and make their love for God contagious.

"Thirdly," notes Father Landry, "the Holy Family was holy because they prayed. From the earliest days, the Holy Family went regularly to the Temple. They celebrated the major feasts. His parents taught Jesus Hebrew, like all Jews, by reading and learning the sacred Scriptures."

Because families are little churches in the large Church, the celebration of the Eucharist at Mass — the greatest prayer — always needs to be the heart of the family, says Joseph Atkinson, associate professor at the John Paul II Pontifical Institute in Washington and host of The Domestic Church series on EWTN ( "Prayer becomes the basic structure of family life, particularly daily offerings and grace at meal time. It is also a prayerful attitude toward life in general, which means that everything we do we’re doing with an awareness of God. Our spiritual life permeates and influences our whole life."

And, as a model for all families, the Holy Family really loved each other, sacrificing for each other, bearing one another’s burdens and always forgiving.

Even the youngest children in families can understand such deep love.

Andrew and Sarah Swafford are instilling such family holiness in their children: two sons, age 5 and 6, and one daughter, 18 months. Andrew is a theology professor at Benedictine College in Atchison, Kan., where Sarah is the part-time director of special projects for Catholic identity; she is also the founder of Emotional Virtue Ministries (

The Swaffords try to have meaningful conversations with their children about faith; they also read together and pray the Rosary (even if they can’t always get in all five decades).

Whether it’s Bible stories, biographies of the saints or wholesome tales, Andrew says, "In these moments, they are coming to understand the beauty of moral character, hard work, integrity and the triumph of good over evil, and they are coming to see the great drama of their own lives as part of God’s overarching narrative of salvation history, from creation to the present day."

"The family Rosary has also been a wonderful blessing," adds Sarah. "We can’t begin to enumerate how many wonderful conversations have been spawned just by praying the Rosary together — whether it’s questions about a particular mystery or in regards to the language of a particular prayer, like when they asked what was meant by ‘poor banished children of Eve,’ or even questions regarding the nature of demons, angels, heaven and hell."

"These questions bubble up naturally from their own curiosity," Andrew says, "all just because we sat down to pray the Rosary together and focused directly for a short while on the most important matters of human life — indeed, matters of eternal significance."

"Even when the kids seem on occasion uninterested," adds Sarah, "we’re confident that these times together are communicating an enormous message to them."

This approach fulfills something Benedict spoke of in his Angelus address about "the most authentic and profound vocation of the family": "to accompany each of its members on the path of the discovery of God and of the plan that he has prepared for him or her."

Sometimes that discovery requires radical conversion.

Dr. Mark Hickman is a surgeon who specializes in vasectomy reversals, helping married couples become open to life again. Hickman, who is also a board member for the Missionaries of the Holy Family ( in St. Louis, sees life-changing decisions all the time from his patients, who come from all across the country, as well as Canada and even as far away as France and Tanzania.

"When they grow in faith, they realize vasectomy is a sin," says Hickman. They want to "get right with God."

"Vasectomy is disobedience," emphasizes the surgeon, whose "practice is all about God and his dominion over our fertility. Couples are attracted to that, and they’re giving obedience to God by putting him back in control, together acknowledging God’s dominion over their fertility."

And, consequently, the purpose of the family is fulfilled: raising and educating children to love God in a loving home.

Families can be encouraged in their Holy Family-inspired journeys by the Missionaries of the Holy Family’s Holy Family Prayer Book: Prayers for Every Family (Ligouri Publications, 2012), which promotes devotion to the Holy Family with traditional and original prayers, intercessory prayers to many saints, prayers to strengthen devotion to the Blessed Sacrament and a consecration to the Holy Family.

Modeling every family on the Holy Family is essential. As Benedict summarized in his Angelus address: "The Holy Family of Nazareth is truly the ‘prototype’ of every Christian family, which, united in the sacrament of marriage and nourished by the word and the Eucharist, is called to carry out the wonderful vocation and mission of being the living cell not only of society, but also of the Church, a sign and instrument of unity for the entire human race."

May Jesus, Mary and Joseph help all families succeed in their holy purpose, at Christmas and always.

Joseph Pronechen is the

Register’s staff writer.