The Human Family, an Icon of God

Scott Hahn’s new book, Joy to the World: How Christ’s Coming Changed Everything (and Still Does), is a beautiful one. In it he writes about the Holy Family, whose feast we celebrate today:

Salvation arrives by way of the family — the Holy Family. The household of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph became a “home away from home” for the eternal Son of God. It was an outpost of heaven, an image of the Trinity in the world. “We may say,” said Saint Francis de Sales, “that the Holy Family was a trinity on earth which in a certain way represented the Blessed Trinity itself.”

Jesus is, of course, the Son common to both “families.” Joseph, in his relationship with Jesus, was an earthly image of the heavenly Father. Mary, who conceived Jesus by the power of the Holy Spirit, became the very image of the Spirit in the world.
So God took his place in a human family–and invited you and me to find our place as well. He made a home for us in the Church, “a people,” said Saint Cyprian in the third century, “made one with the unity of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.”
And our own homes, too—our Christian homes—also share in this awesome gift of Christmas. Pope Benedict expressed that in the strongest terms I can imagine.
“God had chosen to reveal himself by being born into a human family and the human family thus became an icon of God! God is the Trinity, he is a communion of love; so is the family despite all the differences that exist between the Mystery of God and his human creature, an expression that reflects the unfathomable Mystery of God as Love…. The human family, in a certain sense, is an icon of the Trinity because of its interpersonal love and the fruitfulness of this love.”
We are created for the sake of love. When we experience love in family life, it is heavenly, but it is still only an image of the greater glory we hope to behold in heaven.

Mary Eberstadt makes the point in her How the West Really Lost God that so much of our Christian imagery is foreign to people: How do you understand the Holy Family, for instance, if you never grew up in a family that looked like that? I like how Hahn answered when I asked him about that when I interviewed him about the book for National Review Online:

I think people who lack a mother or father sometimes have a keener understanding of the meaning of salvation. If some don’t really know what they’re missing, they still sense the privation — the lack, the loss. When they discover their place in God’s family, they’re blessed, I think, with a deeper sense of its meaning and power. No earthly parents are perfect. No earthly family will live up to our hopes. At Christmas, Jesus draws us into the only family that will satisfy us: the Holy Family, the Communion of Saints, the Church.

You can read the rest of the interview here.

I’ve always loved Blessed Paul VI’s meditation on the “school of Nazareth.” It’s a great gift to go back to around this time of year, keeping Christmas holy, for the betterment of our souls and those around us:

The silence of Nazareth should teach us how to meditate in peace and quiet, to reflect on the deeply spiritual, and to be open to the voice of God’s inner wisdom and the counsel of his true teachers. Nazareth can teach us the value of study and preparation, of meditation, of a well-ordered personal spiritual life, and of silent prayer that is known only to God.

Second, we learn about family life. May Nazareth serve as a model of what the family should be. May it show us the family’s holy and enduring character and exemplify its basic function in society: a community of love and sharing, beautiful for the problems it poses and the rewards it brings, in sum, the perfect setting for rearing children – and for this there is no substitute.

Finally, in Nazareth, the home of a craftsman’s son, we learn about work and the discipline it entails…. I express my deep regard for people everywhere who work for a living. To them I would point out their great model, Christ their brother, our Lord and God, who is their prophet in every cause that promotes their well-being.

From the Vatican radio write-up of what Pope Francis said today:

Pope Francis said the infant Jesus with his mother Mary and with St. Joseph are a shining example of mercy and salvation for the entire world. “This light which comes from the Holy Family encourages us to offer human warmth in those family situation in which, for various reasons, there is a lack of peace and harmony and forgiveness. Our concrete solidarity is just as present, especially when it comes to families who are undergoing difficult situations because of illness, lack of work, discrimination and the need to emigrate.”

At that point, the Pope departed from his prepared text to urge all those present to pray in silence with him for families facing these difficulties and who lack understanding and unity. Jesus, he continued “is the person who brings the (young and old) generations closer together.” He is “the source of that love which unites family and people, overcoming every mistrust, isolation and distance.”

Turning next to the role of grandparents, Pope Francis stressed “how important” their presence is within the family and society as a whole. “A good relationship between young and old people is a key element in the functioning of the civil and ecclesial community.” he said. And when we look at the elderly couple in the Bible, Simeon and Anna, let’s “give a round of applause to all the grandparents in the world.”

The Pope explained how the message that comes from the Holy Family is a message of faith. “The family of Nazareth,” he said, “is holy because it is centered on Jesus” and when a family has faith it gives them the strength to face up to difficult situations, just as it did for Mary and Joseph.

Center our lives on Jesus. It makes all the difference in the world.

Holy Mary, pray for us.
St. Joseph, pray for us.
Jesus, have mercy on us.

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