Scripture Readings, Dec. 31, 2023

Merry Christmas and a Blessed New Year!

On the Sunday within the Octave of Christmas this year, December 31, the Church celebrates in the liturgy the solemn memory of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph.  I have always loved the feast of the Holy Family because I have been always in awe that Jesus wanted to have a family here on earth. The Redeemer of the world chose the family as the place for his birth and growth, thereby sanctifying all families. Most of us are probably spending this feast day with our own families. This year, I will be in Colombia with my family for this great feast.

It makes absolute sense that we celebrate this feast day the Sunday after Christmas. After all the business of the days leading to Christmas and the exciting hours of Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, I love the quiet and simplicity of the days between Christmas and the New Year that we spend with family. I remember the following quote from St. Paul VI when he was pope: “The home of Nazareth is the school where we begin to understand the life of Jesus — the school of the Gospel. First, then, a lesson of silence. May esteem for silence, that admirable and indispensable condition of mind, revive in us … a lesson on family life. May Nazareth teach us what family life is, its communion of love, its austere and simple beauty, and its sacred and inviolable character … a lesson of work. Nazareth, home of the “Carpenter’s Son,” in you I would choose to understand and proclaim the severe and redeeming law of human work.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church #533)

The family of Nazareth, which the Church, especially in today’s liturgy, puts before the eyes of all families, really constitutes that culminating point of reference for the holiness of every human family. The history of this Holy Family is described very briefly in the pages of the Gospel. We get to know only a few events in its life. However, what we learn is sufficient to be able to relate the fundamental moments in the life of every family, and to show that dimension, to which all who live a family life are called: fathers, mothers, parents, children. The Gospel shows us, very clearly, the educative aspect of the family. “He went down with them and came to Nazareth and was obedient to them.” (Luke 2:51)

The family is such an important building block of society and the healthy development of each person, so there is no surprise to see how the enemy wants to destroy families. In the first year of the pontificate of St. John Paul II in 1978, he gave a beautiful and timeless reflection on the meaning of the family and the threats it faces, in 1978 and today: “The deepest human problems are connected with the family. It constitutes the primary, fundamental, and irreplaceable community for man. ‘The mission of being the primary vital cell of society has been given to the family by God himself,’ the Second Vatican Council affirms. (Apostolicam Actuositatem) The Church wishes to bear a particular witness to that too during the Octave of Christmas, by means of the feast of the Holy Family. She wishes to recall that the fundamental values, which cannot be violated without incalculable harm of a moral nature, are bound up with the family.”

How can we defend the sanctity of the family? I want to go back to St. Paul VI and use his image of the family as a school. For every believer, the humble dwelling place in Nazareth is an authentic school of the GospelHere we admire, and put into practice, the divine plan to make our family an intimate community of life and love. The Church teaches us that every Christian family is called to be a small “domestic church” that must shine with the Gospel virtues. Recollection and prayer, mutual understanding and respect, personal discipline and communal generosity, and a spirit of sacrifice, work and solidarity are typical features that make the family of Nazareth a model for every home.

Every family is unique, but mine is not the typical family; I was raised by a single mom with my half-brother and two half-sisters; lived through the divorce of most of my aunts and uncle; some of my family members are practicing Catholics, but some haven’t been in church for years, and others have joined other Christian denominations. My family is not perfect, but each member is trying to grow and be better. My prayer is that each one of them embraces the holiness that God is inviting us to live. I like the following quote from St. John Paul II, because it reminds me that nothing is impossible for God: “Let us look to the Holy Family of Nazareth as an example for all Christian and human families. It radiates genuine love and charity, not only creating an eloquent example for all families, but also offering the guarantee that such love can be achieved in every family unit.”

Jesus, Mary and Joseph, pray for us.