The feast of the Holy Family is commemorated each year on Jan. 6 and celebrated on the Sunday within the Octave of Christmas to honor St. Joseph, the Blessed Mother and Jesus. Beyond the formal recognition of Jesus’s early life, the feast of the Holy Family showcases the perpetual importance of family.
The Holy Family endures as the model for our own families to live the life of the Church every day, everywhere. Michael Donaldson, director for the Office of Pastoral Care for Families in All Stages, says that reflecting on the roles of father, mother and son from a spiritual perspective can help us understand our own roles.
“All families are called to work with what has been given to them, the challenges and the joys,” Donaldson says. “St. Joseph was called to accept the fact that his wife was pregnant. Mary was called to accept her role as the Mother of God. Jesus showed humanity the importance of families by being born into a family. Indeed, the Second Vatican Council called the family ‘the first and vital cell of society.’”
While the Holy Family’s simplicity and devotion may seem divorced from modern Christian life, looking to St. Joseph, Mary and Jesus as role models remains relevant, writes Mike Sullivan in the December 2006 issue of Catholic Answers Magazine. “We are called to be in the world, not of the world. If we hold up the Holy Family as the example for our families, not only will we learn how to live holy lives, but we will begin to change the culture in which we live.”
Our own family, then, can become the sanctuary we seek in the rush and bustle of our daily lives. In studying the lessons of the Holy Family, we come to know the virtues that strengthen us as individuals, as family members, and as citizens of the world, including the virtues of loyalty, obedience, faithfulness and unconditional love.
Donaldson says that our world fails to honor sacrifice and values, and instead prizes convenience and instant gratification. Yet the Holy Family models unselfishness. He notes that Pope John Paul II said, “To maintain a joyful family requires much from both the parents and the children. Each member of the family has to become, in a special way, the servant of the others.”
In fact, the message of the Holy Family is that families continue to be the basic cell of society and the Church, Donaldson notes. “If families are broken, so there is a breakdown in our society. It is within the context of family that children are taught virtues, personal responsibility, and respect for others.”
St. Joseph showed his devotion to Mary by putting his needs and fears aside and committing himself to Mary and Jesus, he continues. “He showed that marriage is not for the individual, but rather for the other. Mary recognized, even after Jesus was grown, that her role as mother was still in place.
“The Holy Family shows that families are called to be communities of support.”