Holiness and the Family

Photography © by Andy Coan

Photography © by Andy Coan

Every year right after Christmas, we celebrate the Feast of the Holy Family. There is an important reason for this.  It’s easy to think the “incarnation” means God took on a human body, that he appeared in human flesh.

But there is much more to it than that. In Jesus, God unites himself to an entire human nature.  He fully enters into human experience, with all its peaks and valleys. An a part of that human experience, with more than its share of peaks and valleys, is family.

Jesus spent over 90% of his years in the obscure, nitty-gritty of family life. Though only a few chapters of Scripture are devoted to this lengthy period, what they reveal is significant. First of all, despite the cuddly image of our nativity scenes, the original nativity was anything but cozy. A woman nine month’s pregnant rides 75 miles on the back of a donkey over bumpy, dusty roads, so she can have her baby in a stable full of animals. Stuffed lambs may be soft and cute; real sheep are dirty and smelly. Quickly after the birth they have to pick up and flee for their lives seeking asylum in a foreign land where they have no friends or family to support them. A few years after their return to their homeland, the now adolescent son goes missing for several days, and there ensues a conversation characterized by a bit of emotion. Joseph is a saint, Mary is without sin, Jesus is God incarnate, yet there are still challenges, difficulties, tense moments, and opportunities for misunderstanding. Welcome to real family life.

All things created by God are good, with human beings and human life very good according to Genesis chapter 1. Yet in assuming a human body, the Divine Word elevated its dignity, sanctifying it, and ennobling it. In accepting baptism from his cousin John, Jesus sanctifies water and, in baptism, makes it an instrument of his sanctifying power. In entering into family life, Jesus does the same. The family, up until now naturally good, becomes an instrument of sanctification and growth in holiness.

As a teen, I assumed that a serious pursuit of holiness meant opting out of marriage and family to enter a convent, monastery or seminary. Holiness was about lots of quiet prayer and apostolic work. The noisy, everyday life of family was a distraction to all this. The role of married folks was to merely get to Mass on Sunday, obey the 10 commandments, and get into heaven.

The feast of the Holy Family shows how far off-base I was.  It reminds us, as Vatican II teaches, that all human beings are called to the heights of holiness. That all states in life, including student, teenager, and parent, offer abundant opportunities to grow in faith, hope, and love. That the nitty gritty of family life, if approached right, can be a road to profound personal transformation and communion with God.

Think about it. The creator of the universe spent most of his human life as a craftsman, working with dad in the family business and ultimately taking it over. Mary, the holiest and greatest of all creatures, spent most of her time changing diapers, cooking, and cleaning. The secret to holiness is not to do extraordinary things, but to do ordinary things with extraordinary love and gratitude (Col 3:15-17).

The word seminary means “seedbed.” It is a greenhouse where, in a sheltered environment, vocations can sprout and develop so they can be ready not only to survive in the real world, but to bear fruit there. The family is the original seminary. There is sown the call to share in both Christ’s holiness and his mission. Ironically, tending to these seedlings causes the parent/gardeners to grow as well. So family, in God’s plan, is a community where everyone grows and becomes more fruitful.

The bottom line is this – we don’t become holy despite the busyness of family life, but in and through it.

Editor’s Note: Reflection on the Mass readings for the Feast of the Holy Family (Year C) – Sirach 3:2-6, 12-14; Psalms 128:1-2, 3, 4-5; Colossians 3:12-21; Luke 2:41-52. This series for reflections on the coming Sunday Readings usually appears each Wednesday.


Dr. Marcellino D’Ambrosio writes from Texas. For his resources on parenting and family life or information on his pilgrimages to Rome and the Holy Land, visit www.crossroadsinitiative.com or call 1.800.803.0118. This article originally appeared in Our Sunday Visitor and is reproduced here by permission of the author.


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About the Author

Dr. Marcellino D’Ambrosio writes from Texas. For his resources on parenting and family life or information on his pilgrimages to Rome and the Holy Land, visit www.crossroadsinitiative.com or call 1.800.803.0118.

Raised in Italian/Irish neighborhood in Providence, RI, Marcellino D’Ambrosio never thought about being anything else but Catholic. But like other Catholic teens, his faith was the last place he looked for fulfillment. Following in the footsteps of his parents, both professional performers in their single years, Marcellino set his sights on stardom, playing bass guitar in several popular rock bands by the time he was 16. At that time he encountered a group of Catholics whose Christian life was an exciting adventure, an adventure worth living for. So he laid his bass guitar aside and embarked on a road that led to a Ph.D. in historical theology from the Catholic University of America. His doctoral dissertation, written under the direction of the renowned Jesuit theologian, Avery Cardinal Dulles, focused on one of the theological lights of the Second Vatican Council, Henri Cardinal de Lubac, and his recovery of biblical interpretation of the early Church fathers.

His writing has been published in the international journal Communio, Abingdon’s Dictionary of Biblical Interpretation, the Tablet, Catholic Digest, Our Sunday Visitor, and Catholic News Service’s syndicated column "Faith Alive." His popular book, Exploring the Catholic Church and video course by the same name (known as Touching Jesus through the Church in the USA) have been used in hundreds of parishes all throughout the English speaking world. The Guide to the Passion: 100 Questions about the Passion of the Christ, of which he is co-author and co-editor, may prove to be the fastest-selling Catholic book of all time with over a million copies sold in less than three months.

Dr. D’Ambrosio, the father of five and a business owner, brings to his teaching a practical, down-to-earth perspective that makes his words easy to understand and put into practice. Audio and video recordings of his popular teaching are internationally distributed. He often appears on the international Eternal Word Television Network is regularly heard on the nationally syndicated radio show "Catholic Answers Live." Dr. D'Ambrosio has been a guest on Geraldo Rivera, At Large on FoxNews Channel, the Bill O'Reilly radio show and Radio America's news program Dateline: Washington.

In 2001 Dr. D’Ambrosio left his position at the University of Dallas to develop the work of Crossroads Productions, the apostolate of Catholic renewal and evangelization that he co-founded twenty years ago, and to more directly oversee the growth of Wellness Opportunities Group a company dedicated to helping people improve the quality of their lives physically, mentally, and financially. He, his wife Susan, and their five children, reside just outside of San Antonio, TX.

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