My dear people of St. Mary’s:
As we come to the end of the year 2017, we celebrate on this last weekend the Feast of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph. This feast always falls on the Sunday between Christmas and New Year’s Day. It has been celebrated since ancient times by the Coptic Christians in Egypt. This is likely due to the fact that, shortly after the birth of Jesus, the Holy Family fled to Egypt to escape the persecution of King Herod. This feast, therefore, obviously has special relevance for Christians in that region. In the West, however, the Feast of the Holy Family did not develop until the 17th Century. It was formally instituted by Pope Benedict XV in the year 1921, but at that time it was celebrated on the Sunday following the Feast of the Epiphany (January 6th). In 1969, with the changes in the Church’s liturgical calendar, the feast was moved to the Sunday following the Nativity, placing it now within the Christmas season.
This feast reminds us that when God chose to come among us, He chose to come by way of the human family. In the Book of Genesis, God creates Man, and then creates Woman. In so doing, God creates something more than merely two individuals, He creates a third thing: Marriage. By giving the man to the woman, and the woman to the man, God has created the institution of marriage. This means that marriage is something that is at once both supernatural and divine. It is a gift that God has created for, and has given to, all humanity. This is the reason that human beings may not choose to redefine or alter something that has been created and defined by God as part of His plan for us.
But the creation and gift of marriage also brings about something else: The Family. The man and the woman, even before they have their first child, are already a family of persons. They are more than they were. God has created them both for Him, and for each other. Their marriage is their vocation, their special calling. Once they have been given this calling, they will never really know who they are, unless they live out the vocation God has fashioned for them. The birth of children through this shared vocation of marriage then becomes a visible sign, not only of the love they have for each other, but also of the love that God has for them.
So, the Feast of the Holy Family reminds us that both Marriage and the Family have been specially created by God and have been intentionally given to us. But why?
Part of the answer to that question lies in what Jesus revealed to us about God during the course of His public ministry. Jesus revealed that He is the Son; that He has a Father in Heaven; and that the Father and Son would send the Holy Spirit down upon the Church. In revealing to us the Trinity, Jesus revealed something else of great importance: that God is, in Himself, a Family of Persons, united together by Love. And so, we begin to see the importance of both Marriage and the Family as part of God’s plan for us and our salvation. Since Marriage creates a family of persons united together by love, this means that God intends our human families to be living icons of His Divine Family, the Holy Trinity. God reveals Himself to us through the Family, and He intends that we come to know Him through the Family as well.
The great Spanish painter Bartolomé Esteban Murillo executed a painting rather rare in its theme: The Heavenly and Earthly Trinities. As you can see at right, it depicts our Lady and St. Joseph, a married couple, each holding the hand of their Son, Jesus. What makes that earthly family Holy, is that Christ is in its midst, uniting them together by Love. But the figure of the child Jesus is also part of the other Trinity, the Heavenly Trinity. This is depicted by the traditional images of the bearded Father and the Holy Spirit as a Dove. It is not an error that the painting of two trinities depicts only five, and not six persons. The artist understood that it is the Person of Christ Who is both at the center of, and unites the two. This is the beauty and the truth of the feast we celebrate this weekend.