Legend states that when the Holy Family hurried into the Sinai Peninsula after fleeing from Bethlehem, they were pursued by some of King Herod’s men. As the soldiers drew near, Joseph and Mary spotted a cave, and quickly hid there with the infant Jesus and their donkey. Then, by divine decree, spiders came and wove a web over the cave’s entrance. When the king’s men approached, they saw the web and naturally concluded the cave was empty; they gave up their search, and the Holy Family was able to continue on safely to Egypt. Whether or not this event actually occurred is uncertain, but something like this did take place on a Pacific island during World War II. During the invasion of Saipan, a young U.S. Marine became separated from his unit in the jungle. Hearing some Japanese soldiers approaching, he scrambled up a ridge and crawled into one of several small caves to hide. The Marine knew it was only a matter of time before the Japanese discovered him; he’d be able to shoot some of them, but the rest would inevitably toss in a grenade, killing him. In his desperation, he prayed, “Lord, if it be Your will, please protect me—but whatever Your will, I love and trust You. Amen.”
The terrified young American heard the Japanese begin searching the other caves; then he noticed a spider busily stretching a thin strand of silk across his cave’s entrance, which it connected to other silk strands. Seeing the humor in the situation, he thought wryly, “Lord, I need a brick wall, and You send me a spider web.” A moment later, he saw the shadows of the Japanese soldiers outside his cave, and resigned himself to his imminent death. To his great relief, however, the enemy squad observed the just-completed spider web glistening in the sun, and—assuming the cave was empty—moved on. The Marine slowly exhaled, and shuddered in relief. “Lord, forgive me,” he prayed; “I had forgotten that in You a spider’s web is stronger than a brick wall” (Charles W. Sasser, God In the Foxhole, p. 274). It is indeed true that God can work miracles to protect His children; many times these occur not in a spectacular manner, but through the subtle and even gentle unfolding of His plan. In particular, simple, everyday miracles of grace can take place within our families—and these are a reminder that we are called to live as brothers and sisters to one another, and as children of our Heavenly Father.
God could have sent several legions of angels to encircle Bethlehem and, by visibly drawing their flaming swords, cause Herod’s soldiers to flee in terror; alternately, He could have called down to Joseph and Mary in a booming voice from Heaven, telling them what they needed to do. However, the Lord didn’t do this; He simply had an angel appear to Joseph in a dream. This was a very low-key means of communicating an extremely important message. Notice the message wasn’t given to Mary, who was even holier and more spiritual than her husband, or to Mary and Joseph together. No, the warning was given only to Joseph, for he alone was the head of the Holy Family. We can see this as God’s way of affirming the importance of family life, in which each member has a role to play, along with something important to contribute. As the Book of Sirach says, “God sets a father in honor over his children, and a mother’s authority He confirms. . . .” The human institution of the family is actually a divine invention, and the Lord intends that fathers, mothers, and children all help each other grow in holiness and thereby prepare themselves for eternal life. St. Paul’s Letter to the Colossians gives some specific instructions in this regard; we’re told we must practice within our homes the virtues of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, while loving our family members and forgiving each other’s transgressions. In this way we will grow in holiness and peace, while at the same time becoming more capable of recognizing and relying upon God’s guidance, help, and protection.
These are difficult times for committed Christians—and the state of today’s society strongly suggests that the challenges to our faith will only increase. Lukewarm, marginal Catholics will likely be swept away; only those firmly rooted in their faith can hope to withstand the coming storms—and families play a vital role in this regard. In the midst of an increasingly anti-Christian world, it’s more important than ever that our homes be a spiritual refuge and oasis, and that family members be a source of strength, support, and encouragement for one another. Parents in particular must prepare their children to withstand the false and spiritually-destructive values of this world, teaching them the meaning and cost of discipleship, helping them learn to make good decisions, and demonstrating the timeliness and overriding importance of a living faith in Jesus Christ. Husbands and wives must be a constant source of spiritual strength and reinforcement for each other, for in this way they fulfill their most important religious duty: namely helping each other, and their children, reach Heaven. Grandparents, other relatives, and family friends, along with neighbors and parishioners, are also commissioned by God to help strengthen and support the family through their fellowship, example, and prayers—for in this way each individual Catholic, and each Christian and Catholic family, can be used by the Holy Spirit to build up Christ’s Church and renew the face of our world.
It seems that many times, when we want God to build a brick wall to protect us, He uses a mere spider web instead—but, if we’re paying attention, we discover that this sort of simple solution was in fact just what we needed. Yes, God can perform powerful and amazing signs and wonders when He chooses, but most of the time He prefers to operate through the routine events and humble coincidences of daily life. Rather than working spectacular miracles or surrounding us with visible legions of angels, He gives us, and seeks to be present in, our families—so that each of us can be everyday, living reminders of His mercy and love. If we try, in some simple but sincere way, to imitate the patience, kindness, and respect Jesus, Mary, and Joseph had for each other, we can be sure God’s grace will be powerfully at work in homes—protecting us from harm, filling us with His peace, and preparing us for that eternal joy reserved for the members of His family.