The Feast of the Holy Family is connected to Christmas. At Christmas what we’re celebrating is the beginning of God’s final move in the history of salvation. The world is to be redeemed through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Christ isn’t just a human being, though, Christ is also truly divine: Christ is fully and truly human and fully and truly God. Therefore, if it’s Christ’s death and resurrection that will redeem us and Christ is both human and divine, then in order for this to happen God had first to come into the world as a human being and that’s what we celebrate at Christmas.
But at the risk of stating the obvious, because Christ was both human and divine Christ was different to us all of us. Christ was different to us in virtue of his humanity because he was perfect in holiness and he didn’t sin and we shouldn’t forget this when we reflect on our own frailties. But Christ was also different to us in virtue of his divinity and to understand the Feast of the Holy Family that’s where we need to focus our attention.
In virtue of his divinity Christ could do things we couldn’t do and Christ’s age made no difference to that. Thus, for example, St Luke describes Christ going to the Temple whilst still a child, sitting among the Masters of the Law and teaching them. That would be extraordinary behaviour by any normal standard but not so in the case of Christ because he was divine. Indeed, from the moment he became Incarnate Christ was perfectly equipped to teach us and bring us to our salvation. Instead, however, he chose to live with his family and wait until later in his life to begin his public ministry.
So given the urgency of Christ’s work what was going on?
Well it’s quite common to undergo a period of preparation before undertaking a task. That preparation necessary can vary. It might include a formal period of instruction or it might just be a case of waiting for the right moment- perhaps until we’re old enough to do whatever it is we want to do. And that’s what’s happened here. Christ waited until adulthood to begin his mission in order to make what he had to say more plausible for us. And the place where he waited was among his family. Nor is this insignificant; after all one of the key functions of a family is to provide a warm and loving space in which children can mature and ultimately go out from to find their own place in the world.
So that’s one reason why the Holy Family were important. But it’s not the only one. Because unlike a normal child Christ didn’t need to spend time preparing for adult life he just did so for our benefit, to make our acceptance of his message easier. That’s not to say however that the time Christ spent waiting for adulthood and the start of his mission was wasted. Rather Christ used that time to live under God’s law as it was at that time, just as any Jew of his time would have had to do also. Thus we find St Luke telling us about Christ being circumcised, named and presented in the Temple, all as the Law required.
Now none of this was necessary for Christ, Christ could have achieved his goals without it. Rather the point of choosing to live under the Law is to connect Christ’s mission with God’s earlier revelation of himself in the Old Testament. God only has one plan of salvation, it’s revealed to us in the Old Testament and then it’s perfected and completed by Christ the Word made flesh who dwelt among us.
Of course, the context in which Christ lived under God’s Law was that of his family, the Holy Family. It’s there that Christ took the Law to himself, so that subsequently he could perfect it, and it’s there that Christ’s first move in offering a definitive and complete sacrifice to his Father were made.
Now given that we share in this sacrifice through our incorporation into Christ at our baptism and that Christ’s first move in offering that sacrifice occurred in the Holy Family, then the Holy Family cannot but be important to our faith. Let’s pray today then that our reflection on the Holy Family will deepen our appreciation of Christ and his atoning sacrifice.
By Fr. Dominic Ryan