Archbishop DiNoia on the Holy Family: What do we know and what does it mean?…
We can imagine their dismay.
“Thinking that he was in the caravan, they journeyed for a day and looked for him among their relatives and acquaintances, but not finding him, they returned to Jerusalem to look for him. After three days they found him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the teachers, listening to them and asking him questions, and all who heard him were astounded as his understanding and his answers.”
After three days, during Passover, with the paschal mystery thus already on the horizon, Christ’s first words recorded in the Gospel express his divine sonship and his dedication to his Father’s will. We are deeply struck by what he has to say when for the first time we hear him speak.
The dramatic circumstances of his parents’ anguished search for him accentuate the absolute determination with which the twelve-year old Jesus embraces the divine plan for our salvation. Jesus replies to Mary and Joseph: “Why were you looking for me? Did you know not know that I must be in my Father’s house?”
Notwithstanding the seemingly sharp tone of this reply, Venerable Bede is on the mark when he writes that Christ “does not upbraid them…for searching for their son, but he raises the eyes of their souls to appreciate what he owes him whose Eternal Father he is” (In Lucae Evangelium expositio, in loc.).
When for the first time we hear God the Son of God speak, we understand that he is clearly thinking of his Father and clearly thinking of us. What is it that he owes to his eternal Father other than to fulfill the work of our salvation by which we come to share the divinity of Christ who humbled himself to share in our humanity?
And, my dear friends in Christ, he did indeed humble himself. “He went down with [Mary and Joseph] and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them.” For our sake, the Lord of the universe, just like an ordinary human child, was subject to his earthly parents, and thereby acknowledged their authority as sharing in the authority of his Father. “And Jesus advanced in wisdom and age and favor before God and man.”
During these years of his so-called hidden life before the start of his public ministry, Jesus worked with St. Joseph as a carpenter in Nazareth, living an ordinary life as a devoted son and, moreover, consecrating family life as a sign of the communion of Trinitarian love.
Christ’s human family is made holy by his presence in its midst. The primary lesson of the feast of the Holy Family, as celebrated within Christmastide, lies here. Just as the incarnate only begotten Son of God makes his family holy, so he wants to make our families holy as well.
This purpose fits with the whole economy of salvation by which he comes to share our humanity in order to accomplish something that is completely beyond our capacities, namely, that, sharing in his divinity, we become children of the Father.
The feast of the Holy Family is not simply intended to present an example to be imitated or a model to be reproduced, but the possibility of Christ’s transforming grace made actual in our own families.
When approving the feast of the Holy Family, Pope Leo XIII wrote: “When a merciful God determined to complete the work of human reparation which the world had awaited throughout long ages, He so established and designed the whole, that from its very inception, it would show to the world the sublime pattern of a divinely constituted family.
In this [Holy Family] all men should see the perfect example of domestic unity, and of all virtues and holiness” (Neminem Fugit, 14 June 1892, §1).
May our families be made holy by the eternal source of all created communion, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit dwelling with us. Amen.