The Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph


When a Sunday does not occur between December 25 and January 1, this feast is celebrated on December 30 with only one reading before the Gospel.
When the magi had departed, behold,
the angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said,
“Rise, take the child and his mother, flee to Egypt, and stay there until I tell you.
Herod is going to search for the child to destroy him.”

Joseph rose and took the child and his mother by night and departed for Egypt. He stayed there until the death of Herod.


The word child appears nineteen times in the second chapter of Saint Matthew’s Gospel; the word mother, five times. But the expression the child with Mary his mother (or a variant of it) also appears five times. When the magi arrived “where the child was… they saw the child with Mary his mother.” The mother and her baby are inseparable.
Some authors have compared the expression “the child and his mother” to an icon which Joseph bore from Bethlehem to Egypt and then to Nazareth. We cannot imagine the child without his mother holding him.

In his recent book, Tribe, the journalist Sebastian Junger, recalled the intensely communal life of Native Americans during the early days of the American republic. Aboriginal Americans had no interest in privacy or individuality; they lived their  entire lives in tight community and were never alone.
Oddly, when kidnapped Europeans were restored to their New England villages, many fled back into the wilderness, to their captivators. Other Europeans voluntarily went native, abandoning all the comforts of an "advanced, Christian civilization"; but very few natives ever joined white society. They found the luxury of privacy unbearable.
Mr. Junger addressed in his book the companion plagues of drug addiction and suicide among Veterans. In war zones these men and women survived by protecting one another. Each had the others back. Each played a vital role in their survival. Leaving military service many complain that they miss it very much and would readily return.

Junger was asked during a radio interview here in Louisville, “How do we help them return to civilian life?” He replied that we’re asking people to leave a healthy environment – companionship in a war zone – to live in an unhealthy one – our isolating, atomized society.
The Feast of the Holy Family reminds us that the Lord God of Heaven and Earth abandoned the isolation of godhood to be wrapped in the tight communion of father, mother and family. There Jesus discovered his mission as the Messiah, one who was sent to save those who had become intensely dear to him, from whom he could not and would not be separated.

In recent years I have heard people wonder about Jesus, “What did it feel like to be God?” and “Did he know he was God?” The question is all wrong; it is framed by our fetish with isolated individuality, a condition which is fatal to the human being. 
We might better ask, “How did he love his mother, father, neighbors, friends, disciples and enemies?” In his relations to others we discern the person.

If we were to visit through some impossible time machine the village of Jesus’ childhood we would probably find a boy running with the other children, inseparable from them and indistinguishable among them, like a bird in a flock of sparrows. He would certainly not be a boy or man eager to set himself apart from others. He would not sing, “I did it my way.” 

Only in his young adulthood would the Holy Spirit set him apart, leading him into the desert and consecrating him as the priest destined for the altar of crucifixion. Yet even in that fatal place he remained a son and brother as he spoke to his mother and the beloved disciple. 

As we celebrate this Feast of the Holy Family, I thank God that many Catholic and Christian families have become more affectionate and less punitive; parents touch, hug, pat and kiss their children, and the children respond in kind. Even as alcohol and drug abuse afflicts millions of lost individuals who cannot form families, the Holy Spirit draws the faithful into ever closer bonds of affection. I have seen this in my 40+ years of priesthood. For that we may be grateful. 

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I love to write. This blog helps me to meditate on the Word of God, and I hope to make some contribution to our contemplations of God's Mighty Works.

Ordinarily, I write these reflections two or three weeks in advance of their publication. I do not intend to comment on current events.

I understand many people prefer gender-neutral references to "God." I don't disagree with them but find that language impersonal, unappealing and tasteless. When I refer to "God" I think of the One whom Jesus called "Abba" and "Father", and I would not attempt to improve on Jesus' language.

You're welcome to add a thought or raise a question.