Holy Family Benedetto Gennari
The Holy Family, by Benedetto Gennari the Younger, 1682

 Holy Family 

The Holy Family, whose feast we celebrate today, commemorates the Holiest Family, Jesus, Mary, and Joseph. But, as always, there’s more to it. The name of the feast also reminds us that “the family” in general, composed of father, mother, and children, is itself “holy.” It is, in fact, a gift of God.  

St. Paul underscores the sanctity of the family, qua family, in his letter to the Ephesians: 

“For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.” This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church. (Ephesians 5:31-32)

 Alarming Trends 

Today’s feast, much like the Solemnity of Christ the King, is a fairly new addition to the liturgical calendar. Devotion to the Holy Family had been growing for some time. The formal feast did not join the ranks of official observances until 1921. Pope Pius XI established it in response to increasing threats to the integrity of the traditional family.  

The trends that already looked alarming a century ago have now grown and metastasized in ways that would have astounded our great-grandparents. The family in its traditional configuration is tottering under open and sustained attack.

  It is in this regard that we see an interesting connection to the recent Feast of the Holy Innocents. King Herod had ordered the slaughter of all the male children up to two years old in Bethlehem. He targeted these “holy innocents” after he learned from the Magi that the Messiah had recently been born there.  

 Sides of the Same Coin 

Holy Family Murillo
The Flight into Egypt, by Bartolomé Esteban Murillo, 1647-1650

The two different feasts, in fact, are really different sides of the same coin.  Where the Holy Family of Joseph, Mary, and Jesus is a model of God’s plan for the family, the slaughter of the Holy Innocents underscores how far we fall short, right now, of that model.  It is likewise noteworthy that one of the few places in Scripture where we see the Holy Family in action as a unit is the same passage from Matthew’s Gospel that describes the Holy Innocents:

And being warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they [the Magi] departed to their own country by another way. Now when they had departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Rise, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there till I tell you; for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.”

And he rose and took the child and his mother by night, and departed to Egypt, and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfil what the Lord had spoken by the prophet, “Out of Egypt have I called my son.” Then Herod, when he saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, was in a furious rage, and he sent and killed all the male children in Bethlehem and in all that region who were two years old or under, according to the time which he had ascertained from the wise men. (Matthew 2:12 -16)

A Crisis of Fatherhood 

Our world today often overlooks Joseph, just as it does fathers and fatherhood itself. It’s no secret that the crisis of the family is, to a great degree, a crisis of fatherhood. We know from Matthew’s Gospel, however, that God saw to it that his son would have a human father when he was born (see Matthew 1:18-25).  

In the passage from Luke above Joseph is clearly the leader of the family.  Like his Old Testament namesake, and the Wise Men from the East, he encounters a warning in a dream, and takes action. He has the vision to guide and protect his family. Even our separated brethren in the Protestant communities, who have sometimes feared that our devotion to the earthly parents of Jesus might distract us from the Savior Himself, are coming to a new appreciation of the example of St. Joseph.  

The Model We Most Need 

St. Joseph With the Infant Jesus, by Guido Reni, 1620s

A few years back, for instance, I ran across an interesting quote from Russell Moore. At the time he was president of the Southern Baptist Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission.  He has since become the Editor-in-Chief of Christianity Today.  Moore made spoke explicitly of our need for St. Joseph in the midst of the current crisis:

For several years, I’ve been convinced that the model we most need in this day is that of Joseph of Nazareth. In a day when fathers are seen as expendable, we should look at Joseph, who sacrificed his own future for his wife and child. In a world filled with orphans in need of families, we should look at the example of this adopting father who poured out himself to become a father to one who was of no biological relation to him. 

The family in our day and age is badly in need of guidance and protection.  On this Feast of the Holy Family, we would do well to pray for the intercession of the head and guardian of that Family. Let us ask that he help our own families, and the institution of the family throughout the world.  

Music for the Christmas Season

 ‘Once in Royal David’s City’ by C.F. Alexander & H.J. Gauntlet. Featuring the voices of Rebecca Rashleigh, Rebecca Gulinello, Shakira Dugan, Stephen Marsh, and Timothy Reynolds, accompanied by Orchestra Victoria and conducted by Richard Mills.
This wonderful performance was recorded at the Palais Theatre. victorianopera.com.au/

Once in royal David’s city,
Stood a lowly cattle shed,
Where a mother laid her baby
In a manger for His bed:
Mary was that mother mild,
Jesus Christ her little child.
He came down to earth from heaven,
Who is God and Lord of all,
And His shelter was a stable,
And His cradle was a stall;
With the poor and meek and lowly,
Lived on earth our Saviour holy.
And through all
His wondrous childhood,
He would honour and obey,
Love and watch the lowly mother,
In whose gentle arms He lay.
Christian children all should be,
Mild, obedient, good as He.
For He is our child-hood’s pattern,
Day by day like us He grew,
He was little, weak, and helpless,
Tears and smiles like us He knew,
And He feeleth for our sadness,
And He shareth in our gladness.
And our eyes at last shall see Him,
Through His own redeeming love;
For that child so dear and gentle,
Is our Lord in heaven above,
And He leads His children on,
To the place where He is gone.
Not in that poor lowly stable,
With the oxen standing by,
We shall see Him, but in heaven,
Set at God’s right hand on high;
When like stars
His children crowned,
All in white shall be around.

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