Holy Family

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Illustration by Frank Kacmarcik, OblSB, Saint John's Abbey, Collegeville, Minnesota. Used with permission.

The feast of the Holy Family, most often celebrated on the Sunday after Christmas, encourages us to imagine the setting in which Jesus spent his childhood years learning a trade from his father, Joseph, learning the sacred history of his people, learning how to pray and how to worship God. The Gospels record only one episode from those early years—when Jesus, at the age of twelve, accompanied his parents to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover. There he caused a panic by lingering behind in the Temple: “Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” he told his anguished par-ents. It was a foreshadowing of his eventual departure from the bosom of this holy family to embark on his Father’s busi-ness. But all that lay ahead. For now, he returned with his parents to Nazareth “and was obedient to them” (Luke 2:51). 

Children inevitably ask about their origins. When did Mary and Joseph feel Jesus was ready to learn the mysterious circumstances of his birth, of the shepherds and wise men, of the children of Bethlehem who were slaughtered in his place, and their flight into Egypt? Jesus did not speak of these things with his disciples. But he would speak of a new family, constituted not by bloodlines but by shared discipleship: “Whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.” So this original holy family anticipated a greater Holy Family to come. 

“The human family, in a certain sense, is an icon of the Trinity because of its interpersonal love and the fruitfulness of this love.”—Pope Benedict XVI on the feast of the Holy Family 

© Liturgical Press.

Robert Ellsberg

Robert Ellsberg is the publisher and editor-in-chief of Orbis Books and the author of several award-winning books, including All Saints: Daily Reflections on Saints, Prophets, and Witnesses for Our Time; Blessed Among All Women; and The Saints' Guide to Happiness.

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