A perfect family is something that we all wish we had. In February, the Catholic Church honors the one family that we can say is the model of a perfect family: the Holy Family. In Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, we find the family that is the exact blueprint for the way that all families should act and work together in building up the body of Christ in the world. Mary and Joseph’s attentiveness to the word of God and willingness to act upon it without hesitation, and Jesus’s submission and obedience to His parents despite His being God, is a perfect example for how all families should act in obedience to each other and to God. It also shows us the unique roles of a mother and a father in a child’s life during a time in which society seeks to redefine what a family is.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church says that the family is “the natural society in which husband and wife are called to give themselves in love…” (CCC 2207). As a married couple, Mary and Joseph were always attuned to each other’s needs and wants and were ready to be at the service of one another. Even though we don’t have specific details of their family life, we know that Joseph worked as a carpenter in order to provide for the family. He supported Mary and made her comfortable before and after She gave birth to Our Lord, as well as throughout their married life. We don’t have any recorded words of St. Joseph, but his prayers and work fortified his family and provided a strong foundation. Mary lived as a housewife, supporting Joseph in his work and raising Jesus in the home. She was the primary teacher of the Jewish faith to Jesus, Who even though He was God, willed to still be in need of instruction on a human level. She still had to teach Him the proper prayers and customs in their faith. Moral and religious education is another duty of the parents according to the Catechism and this role is so important that “it is almost impossible to find an adequate substitute” for the parents in this role (2221). Joseph too taught Jesus their faith, although his was more of a quiet example while he worked and supported Jesus and Mary. Mary and Joseph’s attentiveness to each other flowed from their attentiveness and obedience to God. Mary’s fiat at the Annunciation (Luke 1:38) and Joseph’s willingness to obey without question the commands of the angel when approached about taking Mary as his wife (Matthew 1:20-21) and taking the family to Egypt (Matthew 2:13) show their fidelity to God and His commands and it gave them the perfect foundation to live their family life.
Jesus’s role in the life of the Holy Family was to be a model of obedience, which shows us His humility since He was God and didn’t have to subject Himself to mortals. After Mary and Joseph found Him in the temple after three days, we are told that He went back to Nazareth with them and “was obedient to them” (Luke 2:51). He also taught Mary and Joseph in this particular instance, telling them “Didn’t you know that I had to be in my Father’s house?” (v. 49). This made Mary ponder “in her heart” what Her Son had said (v. 51). Although obedient to them, He also taught them things that would bring them closer to God, and in turn live the family life better. Family life is in a way intended to be a reflection of the Holy Trinity, and so what better way to learn about growing into and living the perfect family life then from a very member of that Holy Trinity! Jesus was teaching His parents that as long as we stay close to God and follow His will in every scenario without anxiety, we will grow in love and understanding of God which will help us lead better earthly lives.
In today’s world, there is a disheartening lack of understanding about marriage and what it is truly for. It also seems that people are not willing to really sacrifice their own wills and truly give themselves to their spouse, which results in the high number of divorces once the “magic” runs out and an obstacle in the relationship arises. The example of Mary and Joseph shows us that a return to the traditional understanding of marriage rooted in God is needed in order to curb this trend and really create happy spouses and families. Giving of yourself for your spouse and for the raising and education of children is really the best way for those called to this vocation to find themselves and their God given purpose in life. We were made for others and for God, not for ourselves. This carries over into the reason for the traditional idea of a family, which should be a mother and a father with children. Mary and Joseph show us the unique roles that both a mother and a father bring to the family. The mother deals with the primary education and discipline of her children and brings the feminine aspect of nurturing to the parenting of children. The father primarily works to provide for the family while setting an example for the children by his day to day life of prayer and work and reiteration of the family’s rules and disciplines from the mother. The children also learn how to treat members of the opposite sex from watching the way their parents treat each other. The parents are in it for the children and each other, not themselves.
This month, let us increase our devotion to the Holy Family and ask them to intercede for us and for our families, as well as the families of the world so that the understanding for the need of traditional families will increase and that they will grow. Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, pray for us!