SECOND VATICAN COUNCIL - ‘The Laity’ - states: “The family has received from God its mission to be the first and vital cell of society. It will fulfil this mission if it shows itself to be the domestic sanctuary of the Church through the mutual affection of its members and the common prayer they offer to God, if the whole family is caught up in the liturgical worship of the Church and if it provides active hospitality and promotes justice and other good works for the service of all the brethren in need.”
The Holy family consists of Jesus, the Son of God and the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity, his Mother the Blessed Virgin Mary, and his Foster father St Joseph. Although major feast days dedicated to each member of this family are in observance, the Feast of the Holy Family commemorates their life together as a family unit, the focus being on the religiosity of family life as expressed in its daily existence. As Pope Pius XII has said: “The life of a family united in intimate love is so beautiful! You can see e4ach member eager and prompt in fulfilling his duties, in pleasing everyone, in practising justice, honesty, kindness, patience in bearing adversities and in forgiving wrongs; of strength in the hour of trial and under the weight of toil. You can see the parents educating their children in love and in the practice of all virtues. In a family such as this, God is honoured and faithfully served; everyone is treated with goodness. Can there be anything more noble and more edifying?”
A feast for the Holy Family has been observed by the Copts - that is, Egyptian Christians - since very early times. In the Western Church, however, veneration of the Holy Family developed in the 17th century and was officially recognised with the institution of a feast in its honour in 1921.
Originally celebrated on the Sunday following Epiphany (January 6), the feast of the Holy Family has been moved to the Sunday after Christmas since 1969, bringing its celebration within the Season of Christmas.
Blessed James Alberione states: “Today’s feast is very important! The family is a natural society, instituted by God and ratified by Jesus Christ. It is also a Christian institution, blessed at the wedding feast of Cana. It is a religious institution. So pray a great deal for the family in the natural, Christian religious sense, because society will be what its families are, and so also will the Church.”
What makes a house into a home and a household into a family? The Holy Family of Nazareth can teach us family life in a very simple and meaningful way. Its members not only loved God and honoured Him but also believed, trusted, loved and respected each other and had great understanding and patience towards each other. When Joseph suffered much confusion and anxiety about Mary, he treated her with respect and great delicacy, making sure that no harm would come to her. In that atmosphere, Jesus was born and brought up. In their life together, they cooperated with each other with perfect understanding and harmony, supported each other and shared joys and sorrows together, as when the boy Jesus was lost and then found in the Temple. They lived in a communion of love. That kind of relationship makes a house into a home and a household into a family. Every couple has a spiritual responsibility to provide their children with a similar atmosphere conducive to their growth in wisdom and grace.
The Book of Sirach tells us, “The Lord has given fathers authority over their children and given children the obligation to obey their mothers. If you respect your father, you can make up for your sins, and if you honour your mother, you are earning great wealth. If you respect your father, one day, your own children will make you happy; the Lord will hear your prayers. If you obey the Lord by honouring your father and making your mother happy, you will live a long life” (Sir 3: 2-6).
A happy family is but an earlier heaven. Only a good home can ensure the warmed, tenderness and deep personal affection that nourish Christian growth. Love in the family is a sharing of life together, a deep respect, concern and solicitude for each of the members, understanding for one another and readiness to help one another, appreciation and support for one another and willingness to forgive and support one another. Parents should help their children, by word and example, to cultivate the spirit and attitude suitable for home and family. They should believe in their children, nurture them, give them guidance, confidence and hope.
Mothers of families: Make Mary your model. Keep the love of God alive and active in your home. The love of neighbour, peace and harmony among the members of the family will follow automatically. Fathers, you should have the patience of Joseph as your model. He laboured, day in and day out, often without any temporal reward, often regretting that he could not provide better for his beloved wife and dearly-loved adopted son. He was glad to suffer as God’s chosen associate in the preparation of the human nature of Jesus for the messianic task that lay ahead.
Children: love, honour and obey your parents, as Jesus loved, honoured and obeyed Mary and Joseph. He, the Son of God, the Creator and Lord of all things, was subject to his parents, to Mary his Mother and to Joseph his foster-father. “He went down with them to Nazareth and was subject to them.” (Lk 2: 51) Think of these words if ever you are tempted complain of your lot. Think of the words if you feel the restraint of obedience or if your pride should ever move you to rebel against those whom God has placed over you. Christ was subject to his inferiors.
Prayer opens the door for Christ to enter. Mother Teresa says: “Be sure to teach the families to pray all together ..... father, mother and children. For the family that prays together stays together, and if they stay together they will love one another as Jesus loves each one of them.... I am praying that the Lord will bring peace into the world through the love of fathers for their families.”
Humility is the root of all virtues and of course, the hallmark of wisdom. Humility generates confidence and God never refuses His grace to those who come to Him with humility and trust. Jesus Christ says, “Learn of me, because I am meek and humble of heart” (Matt 11: 29).