Lessons from the Holy Family

"The Holy Family (detail)" by Murillo

“The Holy Family (detail)” by Murillo


The Feast of the Holy Family celebrates the holiness and joy of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph of Nazareth. Each year, this celebration occurs on the Sunday following Christmas Day, unless Christmas falls on a Sunday, then it falls on the following Friday—which it does this year! The Church wants us to see the important link between the birth of our Savior and the family.

Pope Francis has said of the Feast of the Holy Family, “…the Liturgy invites us to celebrate the Feast of the Holy Family of Nazareth. Indeed, every nativity scene shows us Jesus together with Our Lady and St. Joseph in the grotto of Bethlehem. God wanted to be born into a human family, he wanted to have a mother and father like us.”

Many of us have taken part over the last month or more in treasured family traditions and customs, particularly during the Thanksgiving holidays, Advent and now the Christmas season. Not only do these rich, family traditions and customs remind us of the beautiful nature of our families, the reality that Our God decided to enter human history in the midst of family—indeed as part of a family—demonstrates for us just how very important the family is.

Each and every one of us, to some degree, is a product of the family in which we were raised.

I grew up in a home through which the love of God radiated and reached each family member. But, like all families, ours had its challenges.

My parents came from very different religious backgrounds. My father was a Baptist and my mother a Catholic. They fell in love and were married in 1940 in the Deep South; at a time and place that harbored much suspicion and misunderstanding between these two faiths. I learned from my parents that God expected them to welcome children as His gifts and to introduce these children to Him and His infinite love within the setting of the family. Imagine the heartache and disappointment my parents experienced—the same heartache some of you have known—when all but two of the children they conceived were lost to miscarriage. When I was only sixteen, my father died and my mother had to shoulder great responsibilities to support and care for the family.

The time in which your family lives and the challenges you experience may be different, but they are just as real. What is important is how each of us… how each of our families respond to them and whether we remain steadfast in the love and light of Christ and in doing so, grow in faith and hand on that faith to our children.

Jesus Set Apart the Family to Be Holy

So then, each year, the Church, in her liturgy, celebrates the Feast of the Holy Family of Joseph, Mary and Jesus to both celebrate their lives and to remind us that our family also is to be holy.

Let’s reflect now on how our God entered into history as man. Everything He did was done for our benefit. Jesus could have arrived in any number of ways, but He came as a vulnerable and humble baby, truly conceived in and born of the Virgin Mary, and raised in a home provided for by Joseph and Mary. Jesus came to make all things new to redeem mankind and His very first act was to renew the human family, to sanctify it, setting it apart for holiness.

The Holy Family of Jesus is the greatest example and model for all human families. The Holy Family, like yours and mine, knew and experienced hardships and tensions.

We hear of one such episode in the today’s Gospel, which is the basis for both the third of the Seven Sorrows of Mary and the fifth of the Joyful Mysteries of the Holy Rosary—the loss and finding of the child Jesus at the Temple.

When we meditate on this passage of Sacred Scripture (cf. Luke 2:41ff), we can relate to the emotions that Mary and Joseph experienced, the anxiety in realizing that they did not know where their child was and the joy in finding him safe and well at the Temple. Going deeper, we can each, perhaps, see in our own life the times when we have left Jesus behind… the anxiety when apart and the joy and peace that comes when we have again found Jesus and placed Him in the center of our family.

Lessons from the Holy Family

There is much we can learn about remaining faithful to God through the experiences of their family life.

From the announcement that the Virgin Mary would bear the child Jesus, to the birth of Our Lord in a stable in Bethlehem when Mary was still young by today’s standards…

From their flight to Egypt to escape the butchery of Herod to the episode of the twelve-year-old Jesus at the Temple…

From the death of Joseph when both Mary and Jesus were still young, to the passion and death of Jesus which pierced the heart of Mary, and all the ordinary events of daily family life in Galilee…

The Holy Family is a family that knew hardship yet remained steadfast in God. It is for our families to imitate their model if we are to know joy and peace in the midst of this life; if we are to attain holiness and salvation for ourselves and for our children.

The Gospel tells us that after Joseph and Mary found Jesus in the temple, He returned with them to Nazareth and remained obedient to them growing in wisdom and age and favor before God and man.

For thirty of His thirty-three years, Jesus lived a humble and obedient life within His family before embarking on His public ministry. In this way, He allowed Himself to be taught experientially by His mother and foster-father, in their words and deeds, in acts both extraordinary and ordinary.

They taught Him the traditional prayers and piety, passed on the cherished customs of His people, showed him the greatest example of love and affection within the family, gave to Him a skill and trade to help support the family.

In His public ministry, Jesus taught with words and examples taken from his early and hidden family life. In the lessons He taught, we discover the great love and courage that St. Joseph must have exhibited for Jesus and His Blessed Mother; the tender love and care that must have been shared between mother and son.

The Family as the Domestic Church

Yes, Jesus sanctified and elevated the family, set apart for noble and holy purpose.

The family is the Domestic Church. It is within the family that our children are first introduced to the faith and where they first encounter the Risen Lord, experience His love and come to believe.

Mothers and fathers, we need to ask ourselves:

Do we teach our children to pray, do we pray with them, both in and outside the home?

Do we show them the love of God by our own love and affection for one another and our concern and care for all those in need through our works of mercy?

Do we teach them about the suffering of Jesus borne for them when they are sick and hurting?

Like Hannah in Chapter 1 of First Samuel, do we dedicate our children to the Lord? Do we diligently prepare them for the sacraments and invoke the angels and saints, especially Mary and Joseph to assist them and us?

And children, you also need to ask yourseves: Do you humbly follow the example of Jesus, who loves you so much, by honoring and obeying your parents as He honored and obeyed His?

Let us pray to Jesus our God, asking the intercession of St. Joseph and Our Blessed Mother, that like these two greatest of God’s saints, we will place Him at the center of our homes. You may want to use the following prayer for families offered by Pope Francis on last year’s Feast of the Holy Family.

Into the deep…

The readings for the Feast of the Holy Family (Year A) are: Sirach 3:2-6, 12-14; Psalms 128:1-2, 3, 4-5; Colossians 3:12-21; Matthew 2:13-15, 19-23.


Prayer of Pope Francis—for Families

Jesus, Mary and Joseph,
in you we contemplate
the splendour of true love,
to you we turn with trust.

Holy Family of Nazareth,
grant that our families too
may be places of communion and prayer,
authentic schools of the Gospel
and small domestic Churches.

Holy Family of Nazareth,
may families never again
experience violence, rejection and division:
may all who have been hurt or scandalized
find ready comfort and healing.

Holy Family of Nazareth,
may the approaching Synod of Bishops
make us once more mindful
of the sacredness and inviolability of the family,
and its beauty in God’s plan.

Jesus, Mary and Joseph,
graciously hear our prayer. Amen.


Into the Deep by Deacon Mike Bickerstaff is a regular feature of the The Integrated Catholic Life™ and usually appears on Sundays.

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About the Author

Deacon Mike Bickerstaff Editor-In-Chief, ICL

Deacon Michael Bickerstaff is the Editor in chief and co-founder of the The Integrated Catholic Life.™ A Catholic Deacon of the Roman Rite for the Archdiocese of Atlanta, Deacon Bickerstaff is assigned to St. Peter Chanel Catholic Church where he is the Director of Adult Education and Evangelization.

He is a co-founder of the successful annual Atlanta Catholic Business Conference; the Chaplain of the Atlanta Chapter of the Woodstock Theological Center’s Business Conference; and Chaplain of the St. Peter Chanel Faith at Work Business Association and co-founder and Chaplain of the Marriages Are Covenants Ministry, both of which serve as models for similar parish-based ministries.

He and his wife have two adult children, one daughter-in-law and three grandchildren.

NB: The views I express on this site are my own. I am not an official spokesman for either my parish or diocese.

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