The messiness of family life is not an obstacle, but an invitation to holiness

Feast of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, Dec. 29, 2013

What a joyous time we can have during the Christmas season! The family all gathered around the table with everyone so well dressed. All the food looks sumptuous… everyone is smiling…. Okay, now it is time to get real!! In all likelihood this is not the family life that we know. Even if we worked incessantly to create this perfect Norman Rockwell Christmas, it would likely just be a façade covering over the many problems that family life brings. “Life is messy” as my mother would always say. We shouldn’t glorify the messiness or encourage it, but we do our best to deal with it.

holyfamily This is what the Holy Family did. We can be tempted to look at Jesus’ family as perfect and unattainable. However, a closer look at the Gospel reveals a very complex and muddled situation for the Son of God to be born into. There were many obstacles and challenges for Joseph, Mary and Baby Jesus.

Storm of difficulties

Joseph, an ordinary man, is put at the center of a brewing storm of difficulties, trials, and down-right evil which is descending on this poor little family. It would be a mistake to minimize the troubles which the Holy Family had. Joseph’s search for a suitable birthplace for this special Child left him with no choice, but a smelly stable. The foster-father of Jesus had little time to dwell on his own failure, since he would be sent in haste from one place to another.

Shortly after the Divine Infant’s birth, the angel once again spoke to Joseph in a dream telling him to “Rise, take the child and flee to Egypt…” There in Egypt we can only image what troubles the migrant family must have experienced in a strange land. Joseph had to find some inexpensive lodging and likely do backbreaking work to support his family. Then, after a period of time the foster-father was once again summoned to immediate action: “Rise, take the child and go to Israel…”

Relying on dreams


On the road again, the less than ideal birth of Christ
On the road again, the less than idea birth of Christ

Loading up the family once again they must sneak out in the night trusting in the dreams of Joseph. While on their way, the Lord once again speaks to Joseph in a dream telling him to avoid the ruler Archelaus. This family, called blessed by the Shepherds and the Three Kings, is being tossed about from one place to another. Hardly the appropriate welcome to the birth of the King of Kings. But, God chose to come into our world of messiness and to live in a family afflicted with problems of all sorts. It all would have seemed like nonsense to those experiencing it, but God was in all of the chaos. His prophets had foretold it all. The Holy Family’s winding path leads them right to where God wants them, Nazareth.

One might ask, “Why is all this difficulty assaulting such a good family?” Well, this is the mystery of good and evil. The one who comes to concur death will certainly be opposed by the Prince of Darkness. Yet, evil has no answer to humble service. What is more humble than a simple carpenter and a young virgin walking through strange lands? Joseph and Mary do not seek to do great things. They simply do what they can trusting God’s grace and focusing on His voice.

Family reveals the Trinity


The journey is long.
The journey is long.

All families, to a lesser degree, must struggle with the reality of evil which opposes the domestic life. The family is the most ancient institution of humanity. Union of husband and wife which brings forth children reveals the mystery of the Trinity. This is a powerful sign of the Divine in our world. As Blessed John Paul II says, “As the family goes so goes the nation and so goes the whole world in which we live.” Therefore, the family is the foundation of any healthy civilization. It is in the day-to-day aspects of the family that children first learn virtues or the good habits, which make them good citizens. They learn such essential virtues as “heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience, bearing with one another and forgiving one another…” These indispensable lessons are learned not in a perfect environment, but in the messiness of family life.

Family shines like light

As we look at Jesus’ family, we must not be discouraged by our troubles. Yes, we sin and fall, but the message of the Holy Family is something we all can follow: humility. By focusing on listening to God’s voice and responding to His grace we can do much good through family life. A good Christian family has problems, but they handle it with God’s grace. Individual failings can always be forgiven. No one is excluded. Yet, we must not glorify the messiness or enable sin. It is always a fine line which must be walked, with prudence and love. Walking together as a family we can each grow in holiness, becoming a light to those around us. The family becomes a producer of good and holy people to build up society. Fit citizens for our nation and, most importantly, for Eternal Life.