A priest once told me a story of being invited to the home of a young couple shortly after the birth of their newborn baby. Upon arriving at their home, he was greeted by the proud parents and asked if he would like to hold their baby. And, of course, he said—yes!
Throughout his hour-long visit, he held their tiny infant in his arms while they conversed about their experience as new parents. As he departed, he told me that he thanked them and left their company with a smile that stretched from head-to-toe. Later that week, following Sunday Mass, the couple approached him and thanked him for visiting them, but then apologized: “Father, in our excitement, we forgot to offer you coffee.” To which the priest replied: “At the parish, there is plenty of coffee, but the opportunity to hold your baby in my arms turned out to be the blessing of my day.”
In the Gospel of Luke (2:22-40), Mary and Joseph bring the infant Jesus to the Temple so that he might be consecrated according to the custom of Jewish Law. For Simeon, this visit was the moment that had been promised him (by the Holy Spirit) for a lifetime; that, before his death, he would hold in his arms the promised Messiah of Israel. For Simeon, holding Jesus most assuredly brought both tears and a smile to his face.
This devoted servant of God then speaks what has come to be known as Simeon’s Canticle, which theologians note contains two stanzas: The first is an act of thanksgiving to God; for, with profound joy, he has seen the Messiah. The second is prophetic; and focuses upon the blessings that Jesus will bring to all people as well as preparing Joseph and especially Mary for that which will transpire during the earthly life of their newborn Son.
On this Feast of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, it is interesting that in Sacred Scripture, little information is provided us regarding Jesus’ family life. In the second chapter of Luke’s Gospel, for example, we find: the story of Jesus’ birth, followed by the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple (which we ponder on this feast day), followed by the story of Mary and Joseph “losing” the child Jesus and then “finding” him in the Temple. And then, in Chapter 3, Luke moves on to the preaching of John the Baptist and the beginning of Jesus’ three-year ministry that, eventually, will lead him to Calvary.
In our day, when reflecting upon the the Holy Family, there is a temptation to think of them as smiling figures on Holy Cards that we carry in our purses or wallets. By doing so, we incorrectly imagine them as though they did not face human struggles. But we know this is not true. In Mary’s case, she experienced the death of Joseph. Also, as Simeon prophesied, Mary knew that the future for Jesus and herself would contain the greatest of agonies.
Despite the struggles of the Holy Family, however, we know that there was love. How could there not be? After all, Jesus Himself is— Love. He is the love promised by the prophets that would enter into our midst to love us, show us how to love others, and save us from our sins.
And so, we wonder: Just what constitutes a Holy Family? At baptisms, I enjoy reminding our mothers and fathers and family who are present that they are— blessed. For, in their midst, God has sent them a newborn child that will place them on a journey of SACRIFICIAL LOVE. And it is this sacrificial love that will make them a holy family. It is within this family that they will learn to move outside of themselves—to care for another. It is within this family where moms and dads learn to “do without.”
All of this mirrors—-perfectly—-the sacrificial love present within the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph: The way Mary sacrificed for Jesus and Joseph. The way Joseph sacrificed for Jesus and Mary. And the way Jesus sacrificed for us all!
Sacrificial love, learned in the family, is the love that Jesus gives. Sacrificial love is true love. The more we practice and perfect it, the more we become a holy family.