Family life for Jesus, Mary and Joseph was not the same as for every family in history.
However, no family’s life has ever been the same as any other’s.
Nonetheless, in Catholic doctrine the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph is impossibly different from all other families since the beginning of the world until its end.
- The Child is the human incarnation of the person of God the Son. As a human being, he existed without ever bearing the stain of original sin, he had no tendency to sin, and he never committed sin. He has no biological father.
- The mother, though a human person, also existed without ever bearing the stain of original sin, she had no tendency to sin, and she never committed sin. She conceived the Child without human insemination, and she remained a virgin.
- The father in this family, unlike the Child and the mother, had the stain of original sin, or at least our Catholic Church’s dogmas don’t hold that he was free of that stain. God sent him messages through angels who spoke in his dreams, though it appears that angels never came and spoke to him while he was awake.
But was this family similar in any way to other families?
The shorter selection of the Gospel reading for the Feast of the Holy Family this year [Lk. 2:22,39-40] shows us a family not much different from other Israelite families of the day.
When the days were completed for their purification
according to the law of Moses,
they took him up to Jerusalem
to present him to the Lord.
When they had fulfilled all the prescriptions
of the law of the Lord,
they returned to Galilee,
to their own town of Nazareth.
The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom;
and the favor of God was upon him.
The purification rite was the norm for Israelite women who had just given birth.
And since the Child was a firstborn Israelite male, the traditional norm was for his parents to present him to the Lord in the Jerusalem temple and redeem, literally, buy back, his freedom as an Israelite male by paying the Lord the animal sacrifice that Israelite law prescribed.
So this family fulfilled the religious norms and went about their life in the town of Nazareth.
The child grew and became strong, which is good, but not unusual.
But then the Gospel notes two things that, while they might not be impossibly rare, are meaningful enough to mark:
- the Child was filled with wisdom;
- the favor of God was upon him.
What’s in all this for ordinary families as we celebrate this relatively impossible and holy family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph?
Christian families do not have the calling or mission to strive for the “salvation-of-humankind” level of holiness of the Holy Family.
Even the unique role and mission of the Holy Family did not come about without the context of ordinary, daily family life.
In fact, if we try for spectacular holiness without fulfilling our normal, ordinary obligations in daily life, then we are fooling ourselves.
The Gospel passage above says Mary and Joseph fulfilled all the prescriptions of the law of the Lord, and then they settled down in their home town.
Keep the commandments, settle down, and there you have it: the foundation of holiness.
Give it your all in loving God, and give your neighbor the same love you give yourself.
Turn. Love. Repeat.