Dear Good People of Saint Mary,
As Pope Francis said in his general audience last week, Jesus chose to come to the world as part of a family. The mystery of the incarnation of the Son of God, which opens a new chapter in the universal history of man and woman, “occurs within a family, in Nazareth. He could have come spectacularly, or as a warrior, an emperor… No, he came as the son of a family, in a family,” he emphasized.
God can do anything he wants, and he doesn’t do anything by accident.
Today we are challenged to look at the family in its most basic form. Joseph was a man of integrity, righteous and true and loving. We imagine him providing a humble and safe home for his wife, Mary, and her child, Jesus. It is clear that he was not affluent or proud. The silence of Scripture accounts shows him quietly protecting, doing what is necessary to preserve this family, sometimes courageously. In the Bible he pays attention to God’s voice, but never speaks himself.
Mary, likewise, only points to her Son: “Do whatever he tells you.” So receptive, devout, reflective, yet so unmovable that she will not miss even a moment by his side on the way to Calvary, at the cross, or at the tomb and beyond. In her lowliness lies the real power of God: “My soul magnifies the Lord.” What we see in the God-made-man, Jesus, in his humanity we must also see in her: hers was the only human DNA that gave birth to the Son of God.
They lived in relative obscurity. We don’t really know what he was up to for most of his life. Sometimes I think this is the most fascinating and mysterious fact of the whole thing, that the most interesting Being ever to live on this earth, this God-man, stayed mostly invisible for most of his life, unknown. Nearly all of it, unless you all the time up to his presentation in the temple “public.” His work of three short years in the public eye, certainly his most productive years in terms of teaching and example, doesn’t mean that he wasted the rest of his years; the Son of God wouldn’t waste anything. He spent it in Nazareth,
where the family settled after they fled for their lives as refugees in Egypt, until the time he left Nazareth and came to the desert, afterward to be baptized by John.
The large part of Jesus’ life on this earth was spent in the context of this family life in Nazareth. I can’t imagine their family would have been any different than yours or mine, except that it would have been the simple life of the day. There would have been no electricity. Nothing that works by electricity. No running water. When I was in the Dominican Republic a great part of our day was spent just getting water from the river. In those days all a family could be was a family, together, always present to each other, eating and laughing, talking and praying, learning and teaching, growing together, working and hoping for tomorrow.
Somehow we need to get back to Nazareth. We are far from there.
The Pope continues: “Every Christian family – as Mary and Joseph did – must first welcome Jesus, listen to Him, speak with Him, shelter Him, protect Him, grow with Him; and in this way, make the world better. Let us make space in our heart and in our days for the Lord. This is what Mary and Joseph did, and it was not easy: how many difficulties they had to overcome! It was not a false or unreal family. The family of Nazareth calls to us to rediscover the vocation and the mission of the family, of every family. And so what happened in those thirty years in Nazareth can also happen to us: making love, not hate, normal; mutual help common, instead of indifference and hostility. It is not by chance that Nazareth means ‘she who preserves,’ like Mary who, as the Gospel tells us, ‘treasured all these things in her heart.’ From then on, whenever there is a family that preserves this mystery, even if it should be at the outer reaches of the world, the mystery of the Son of God is at work. And he comes to save the world.”
They set a high bar to meet, right? I don’t think any of us can say that we came from a perfect family. Often, the ones who want to appear most perfect are the ones that most need our love and support. On this feast of the Holy Family, let’s make a commitment. To defend the love between members of our family. To strengthen our marriages so parents can love their children from their own store of love. To look again at each other— to stop using the word “sibling” but consider truly what the word “brother” or “sister” means in the plan of God. Such an exalted and beautiful and blessed place to be, our families.
God bless you.