Reflection on the Feast of the Holy Family
Sunday, December 29, 2019
A family that says yes
Rex Lago Paras
Ministry of Lectors and Commentators
Our celebration of the Christmas Season continues, and on this Sunday that falls within the Octave of Christmas, we honor the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph. The Feast of the Holy Family aptly follows the Solemnity of the Nativity of the Lord and is intimately related to the narrative of the birth of the Messiah, whose central characters are Jesus himself, the Blessed Mother and St. Joseph.
In every representation of the Nativity, especially in what we Filipinos refer to as the Belen, the principal images are those of the infant Jesus lying in a manger, with Mary and Joseph watching over the Holy Child. The scene is a rendition of the Gospel of Luke which describes the birth of Jesus as follows: “…and she gave birth to her firstborn son. She wrapped him in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger because there was no room for them in the inn.” (Lk 2:7) The scene was first witnessed by the shepherds who “went in haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the infant lying in the manger.” (Lk 2:16)
The setting may be shabby, but the characters are the greatest and most important in our Christmas story: Mary, the most blessed among women (Lk 1:42) who was favored to conceive in her womb and bear the Son of the Most High (Lk 1:28, 31-32); Joseph, “a righteous man” (Mt 1:19) whom we recognize as Patron of the Universal Church; and Jesus, the only begotten Son of God who was sent into the world that we might be saved through him. (Jn 3:16-17)
In the Collect of the Mass for the Feast of the Holy Family, we recognize “the shining example of the Holy Family” of Jesus, Mary and Joseph and pray that “we may imitate them” and model our lives after their own. There is so much that we can learn from this blessed family, and one lesson that stands out from the rest is obedience to the will of God.
At the Annunciation, when the angel Gabriel informed Mary of the virgin birth of Jesus through her, “she was greatly troubled.” (Lk 1:29) Mary even verbalized her confusion and told the angel, “How can this be, since I have no relations with a man?” (Lk 1:34) After the angel explained that it will be accomplished by the working of the Holy Spirit, Mary gave her fiat setting in place the Incarnation. She said, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.” (Lk 1:38)
It is fairly reasonable to expect that Mary’s confusion was not completely dispelled by the angel’s explanation. When the angel left her, Mary most probably kept entertaining questions in her mind about what the future holds for her and for the child that she was to bear. When the shepherds visited the Holy Family at the birth of Jesus, “they made known the message that had been told them about this child” (Lk 2:17), “who is Messiah and Lord.” (Lk 2:11). On hearing this, “Mary kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart.” (Lk 2:19)
A similar confusion plagued Joseph. Mary was betrothed to him, “but before they lived together, she was found with child.” Joseph, “unwilling to expose her to shame,” intended to divorce her quietly. However, “the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream” and explained that “it is through the Holy Spirit that this child has been conceived in her.” The angel explained further that Joseph was to name the child Jesus, “because he will save his people from their sins.” (Mt 1:18-21)
Joseph could not have immediately grasped in full the difficult mission which was entrusted to him—to be the foster-father of the Messiah. Yet, “he did as the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took his wife into his home. He had no relations with her until she bore a son, and he named him Jesus.” (Mt 1:24-25)
After the birth of Jesus, Joseph realized the gravity of the role he had to play in the life of Jesus. For instance, he had to protect Jesus from Herod who was “search[ing] for the child to destroy him.” (Mt 2:13) Thus, Joseph followed what the angel of the Lord told him in another dream. He took Jesus and Mary by night and they all fled to Egypt. They stayed there until the death of Herod. (Mt 2:13-15)
Mary and Joseph were tasked with raising an extraordinary boy. Parenting Jesus was never easy. During Jesus’ presentation in the temple, Simeon prophesied about Jesus and “[t]he child’s father and mother were amazed at what was said about him.” (Lk 2:33) When Mary and Joseph were finally reunited with Jesus after the child remained behind in Jerusalem following the feast of the Passover, Mary could not contain her distress. She told Jesus, “Son, why have you done this to us? Your father and I have been looking for you with great anxiety.” (Lk 2:48) Jesus replied, “Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” (Lk 2:49) However, “they did not understand what he said to them.” (Lk 2:50)
Perplexed though they were because of what has been foretold about their son, Mary and Joseph never doubted the wisdom and providence of God. They completely entrusted themselves to the abiding presence and care of the Almighty. This same abandonment to God’s plan characterized the life of Jesus who “humbled himself, becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross.” (Phil 2:8) He totally surrendered to God’s design even in the midst of pain and suffering. At the hour of his agony before his passion and death, Jesus prayed, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup away from me.” (Lk 22:42) But then again, in the end, he left it all to the Father’s hands saying, “not my will but yours be done.” (Lk 22:42)
May the Holy Family, whose members are bonded by their obedience to the will of God, guide us in reposing our complete trust in the Father. May Jesus, Mary and Joseph, who remained steadfast in their belief in God’s magnificent plan, inspire us to hold firmly to our faith.