In the Missal I use at home, there is a short commentary by St Pope John Paul II on today’s feast, I like it and thought I would share it with you today. St John Paul said
If we aspire to a deeper understanding of Jesus’ life and mission, we must draw close to the mystery of the Holy Family of Nazareth to observe and listen. Today’s liturgy offers us a providential opportunity to do so. For every believer, and especially for Christian families, the humble dwelling place in Nazareth is an authentic school of the Gospel. Here we admire, put into practice, the divine plan to make the family an intimate community of life and love; here we learn 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 community ascetism and a spirit of sacrifice, work and solidarity are typical features that make the family of Nazareth a model for every home.1
This image of the Holy Family is something, as Christians we all aspire to. In our homes and churches at this time of year we have the Nativity scene, the baby Jesus at the centre with his devoted parents usually on either side, staring in wonder at this miraculous child. These images, while idyllic, do not depict the type of family Jesus grew up in, but are there as a reminder to us, that Jesus; the Son of God; grew up in a family. Every family is different, and we never truly know a family unless we are part of that family. Sadly not every family stays together, and for some people the image of the Holy Family and the expression of us being called to be a small ‘domestic church’, is so far away from their reality that they struggle to imagine what that could possibly mean.
Where God’s love is present and everyone pulls together, regardless of what that family looks like, it can be a small domestic church. This is where everyone in that family puts the needs of others before their own needs. The family I grew up in was far from perfect. We were never a wealthy family in terms of finances, but my parents made sacrifices to do their best for us. Does that mean we always got everything we wanted? Definitely not. But we got most of the things we needed, we always had a roof over our head, we always had food and we always felt loved; even if the word love, was not used very often until later years.
We look at our Christmas Crib and see this family, from 2000 years ago in Bethlehem, and we recall some of the feast days we have celebrated in the past week related to the Christmas story and we compare them to Bethlehem today. The crib at Bethlehem has been different this year2, here we see a baby lying in the rubble, symbolising the children who are having to be dug out of buildings destroyed by war. For some families in Ukraine and Gaza this is their reality.
Earlier this week we had the Feast of the Holy Innocents, where we commemorate the deaths of hundreds of children; killed by a jealous king who was afraid that he might lose his throne or that his son may not inherit his throne. As we end 2023, this is the reality for some families, for them it is not something from history books, it is their reality now. When terrorists attacked occupying families in Israel, they claimed it was to highlight injustices committed by Israelis against the Palestinians. What they have brought down on their own people, through the vengeance of a very angry leader is a modern-day slaughter of the innocents.
One of the first casualties of war is the truth, and with so many sources being difficult to verify in this world today, it is difficult to understand what is actually happening in war torn areas. However, what is not in doubt is that entire cities are being destroyed in the hunt for the terrorists, with the innocent people caught up in the events since the terrorists attacks seen as collateral damage, used as human shields by some, as hostages by others, forced from their homes, imprisoned, killed or forced to become refugees. Just like the Holy Family 2000 years ago.
Today we hear how Simeon, rejoiced to set eyes on the infant Messiah, Oh how the whole world needs to stop and recognise Jesus as Saviour now. We hear how Mary and Joseph wondered at the things being said and how Mary was forewarned that her soul would be pierced, that she would know suffering and that through this others will come to her when they are suffering.
We look at our crib and share the Christmas story with our family, we aspire to be like them, we encourage our children to be like the baby Jesus and the young Jesus we know from our Scriptures. As we look at the crib, please remember the families in the Holy Land and if you can make a donation. As requested by Bishop Philip, all the donations for our crib this year are going to Friends of the Holy Land3. If you are able to support this, please help as the people living there are desperate and in need of our help.
Finally, the modern world gives us opportunities, which our grandparents could only dream of. We are able to stay in touch with family members wherever they live elsewhere in the world, for a fraction of the cost of what it cost years ago. I would like to encourage us all to make this new year, a year when we stay in touch [perhaps better] with our families, a year when we are kinder to the people we meet and a year in which our prayer life remembers those in our families who have gone before us and are hopefully now with the Lord praying for us.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church
The Holy Family
CCC 531-534: the Holy Family
CCC 1655-1658, 2204-2206: the Christian family, a domestic Church
CCC 2214-2233: duties of family members
CCC 529, 583, 695: the Presentation in the Temple
CCC 144-146, 165, 489, 2572, 2676: Abraham and Sarah as models of faith
Please keep in your prayers this week
- Those who are sick, those recovering from surgery, those who are dying, the recently deceased and those who mourn.
- All those struggling to feed their families at this time.
- Those working to help others who are struggling with the cost-of-living crisis.
- Those discerning a vocation and those considering coming into the Catholic Church.
- The innocent people caught up in wars and conflicts around the world, but especially those in Palestine, Israel, Ukraine and Russia.
- All families, especially those who are estranged at this time.
- Those families who are struggling, those for whom family life is not happy.
1 St Pope John Paul II, The CTS Daily Missal, People’s Edition, [Catholic Truth Society, London,2012]93.
2 Photo taken from Clonard Monastery (@ClonardMBelfast) / X (twitter.com)