The Holy Family is a mysterious reality that we tend to relegate to nativity sets that don't move. In many ways, then, our image of Mary, Joseph and Baby Jesus is one of folded hands, frozen faces and perfect stillness. This isn't a bad place to begin. I was struck the other day by my parish's nativity set and the incredible humility of Mary and Joseph expressed through their facial expressions and the way in which they hold their hands. It communicates a reverence for the mystery present. We are called to cultivate a sense of reverence for the mystery of God's love in our own lives, and I can only imagine this sense was heightened considerably for Mary and Joseph. (John Paul II wrote in "Letter to Families" -- "In the life of husband and wife together, fatherhood and motherhood represent such a sublime 'novelty' and richness as can only be approached 'on one's knees'" (#7).
Yet, when we assume that Mary and Joseph glided through life as immovable statues, with eyes constantly glued to their Son, and hands always folded, it becomes a bit difficult to see how we could ever aspire to enter into the mystery of the Holy Family.
Do we imagine that these three people ate together? Took walks together? That Joseph taught Jesus how to be a carpenter, while Mary watched and smiled from the corner? That Jesus delighted His parents with His ability to memorize the Hebrew Scriptures? That Joseph awoke early to work for His little family? That Mary sewed Jesus' clothes, measuring Him and loving Him even in such an ordinary work?
What did they talk about? (It's easy to think they just sat in silence day-in and day-out.) For how long did Mary and Jesus cry when Joseph died? What did Joseph say to them as he lay dying? What did they say to him? Did they miss him?
Do we think about how Joseph protected his precious Son and wife? Do we think about Jesus and Mary submitting themselves to Joseph's care? Receiving Joseph's gift of self in humility and gratitude?
Do we think about Mary's constant "fiat" to serving her God in the most unique and unrepeatable way possible? Do we imagine the love of Mary and Joseph for one another, or do we only imagine they loved Jesus without caring for one another?
Do we consider how Jesus united His mother and father? Do we consider how Jesus served them, and allowed them to serve Him?
Do we ever wonder about the trust, commitment, surrender, self-emptying and faith that was required to love the way God called Joseph and Mary to love? Do we only focus on the peace and ease of it all? Was it difficult to love? Were there feelings of being incapable? How did they constantly rely on the Lord for their strength to love fully? Was it because He dwelt among them as their Son?
How can we enter into the mystery of the Holy Family? How can we receive the model of their love? Is it possible to reflect the goodness of the Holy Family when our families are full of people who aren't sinless?
Did Joseph and Mary have to learn to love or were they just born with this superhuman ability to love perfectly? It's easy to forget that they were human. They were not love incarnate; they were entrusted with love incarnate. There is a difference.
So, let's pray: Mary and Joseph, intercede for us as we learn the truth about the gift of self. You were given to each other. You were given to your Son. Your Son was given to you. Through the gift of love in your Holy Family, you cultivated a space for Love to be born into the world. Pray for us as we strive to love the way your Son calls us to. Pray for us to receive the graces He gives us. Thank you for your "yes" to God's plan -- not simply for your own lives but for the entire world. Thank you for the many times you renewed that "yes" in the face of fear, confusion or hardship. Please pray that we might imitate the generous and selfless love that was present in your Holy Family. Amen.