Within the octave of Christmas, we observe the Feast of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph. Saint John Paul II said in his 1994 Letter to Families (Gratissimam Sane), “To the family is entrusted the task of striving, first and foremost, to unleash the forces of good, the source of which is found in Christ the Redeemer of man. Every family unit needs to make these forces their own so that…the family will be strong with the strength of God.”
We are ever cognizant that the family is under attack in today’s world. There is much brokenness in families all around us. Is not anyone left untouched in some way by the culture of death? Might we be tempted to look at the perfect Holy Family and think that this is an unachievable ideal? Yet, despite any temptations to discouragement, we can indeed find hope and promise in the example and inspiration of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph. And in this Holy Family, we find the resolve to carry on, and to overcome.
With much attention being given to the Synods on the Family and the 2015 World Meeting of Families, both the beauty and the challenges experienced by today’s families are being brought to light. We are inspired by the faithful witness of those who persevere in a Christ-centered way of life. At the same time, we suffer with those whose families are wounded.
The human heart knows the deep need to love and be loved. It is in the family where we first come to know and experience what love is. Pope John Paul noted that the breakdown of the family threatens humanity’s very future. Love overcomes evil. So how do we love the family in a way that restores and heals? He answered this question in Familiaris Consortio: “Loving the family means identifying the dangers and evils that menace it, in order to overcome them.” (n. 86).
What does that mean for us in practice?
First, we must honestly proclaim the truth, the truth about the human person, and the truth about marriage. We live in a society that sees disorder as normal, so proclaiming the truth is not always easy and we can expect persecution for doing so, no matter how lovingly we approach the issues. However, the truth is beautiful and when we let it challenge us, and do not resist the weight of that challenge, we can really experience the true freedom Christ offers to each of us.
Second, we must proclaim the Gospel of Life with charity. When someone suffers – whether, physically, spiritually, emotionally, or morally – the Church suffers with them. Sin wounds all of us – whether we are the cause or whether the cause is from without. Love helps us to recognize the reality of sin, guides us to repentance, and leads us to experience the Divine Mercy if we cooperate with God’s grace. We may still suffer the effects of sin, but once we have been sacramentally forgiven, we are also given the grace to view the burdens we carry as a form of redemptive suffering. We are amazed and grateful when we behold how God can transform something that seems practically hopeless into something beautiful we could never have imagined.
When we reflect on the gift and mystery of the Holy Family, when we gaze at the Christ Child in the manger, we cannot help but ponder that God saved the world through a baby. The mystery of the Incarnation is the lens through which we can see all of life’s problems and allow God to transform us despite our problems. Let us consider an example:
Currently about 41% of births in the United States occur out of wedlock. This is a dramatic increase in recent decades. What most of society understood for centuries as scandalous, is now culturally seen as common place. The reality is that marriage and children are meant to go together. That is how God made it to be from the beginning. Here one cannot help but think of the many heroic women and men who, despite their circumstances, have chosen life for their child conceived in less than desirable circumstances. We can thank God for the dedication of so many people committed to the Cause of Life – the sidewalk counselors and all who care for women in crisis pregnancies, the people who pray outside of abortion clinics rain or shine, the young and the old who March for Life every January, those who care for the elderly, sick, and dying with selfless love and devotion, and many, many more. At the same time, we have to ask ourselves, what more can we do? The breakdown of marriages and families, the lack of commitment to Christ and the practice of the faith, have led to so many people not understanding what love really is, and what marriage means. What can we do to educate our youth and young adults about the truth of love, so that they can change this cycle of suffering that comes with single parenthood? How can we support single mothers as they raise their children so that they realize that just as Christ saved us by becoming a helpless infant, so too is their child here for a reason – created as God’s masterpiece for all eternity – and is here to lead them to heaven. When we can rediscover the truth about love, sex, and marriage, we will transform the culture of death into a culture of life and love.
The Feast of the Holy Family is not just for the perfect, it is for all of us – with our joys and sorrows, hopes and fears, wounds and brokenness, and infinite potential. May the intercession of Mary and Joseph who lived through their own trials, tribulations, and joys while maintaining a constant disposition of yes to God, bring us faithfully to our eternal destiny. Let us follow St. John Paul II’s advice and strive to “unleash the forces of good” whose source is in Christ the Redeemer, no matter what struggles we may have had. This goodness is inherent in each person, and in each family. Will we claim it as our own for Christ and become strong once again? In Familiaris Consortio (n. 86), Pope John Paul said, “The future of humanity passes by way of the family.” What kind of future are we going to have? We must decide, and act accordingly.