The Holy Family inspires trust, courage, and obedience on the path to holiness. Each of our families can be a holy family, thanks to their example.
by Dobie Moser
Married couples often look back at their wedding day and the beginning of their families with a wide range of emotions and memories. As a married man myself, I remember the power of love growing in our hearts.
Could it be any greater, or bring more joy? Yes.
The Christian community joined with family and friends to offer encouragement and support for our new lives together.
Would we really need them after all? Yes.
The sacramental vows pledged to one another, spoken in Catholic churches all over the world: “I promise to be true to you in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health. I will love you and honor you all the days of my life. …”
Would all those times come in our marriage and family? Yes.
One common trait of newly married couples is that they don’t know what they don’t know. When we start out, we are unaware of what awaits us around life’s corners. This opens the door to a lifelong adventure of discovery, both of ourselves and our spouses—and when they arrive on the scene, our children.
With the best of intentions, we deeply desire to love one another, only to be humbled along the way when we discover that we do not fully know how to love another person. We learn that the problem with love is that there are so many bad forms of it, and we realize that we too are guilty of not loving well more often than we would like to admit. This essential life lesson leads us to search and hunger for an authentic love that guides and teaches us how to love. Only in Jesus Christ and through the Christian community can we discover and share that authentic love.
The Holy Family
While sentimental pictures of Joseph, Mary, and Jesus are heartwarming, such pictures belie the surprises, adventure, hardship, and humility that the Holy Family experienced. When Joseph learned that Mary was with child, his immediate reaction was to craft a quick exit plan. Building on that surprise, Joseph was then visited in a dream by an angel who spoke these words: “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary your wife into your home. For it is through the holy Spirit that this child has been conceived in her. She will bear a son and you are to name him Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:20-21).
The adventures of the Holy Family continued with road trips, Jesus getting lost in the temple, and the wedding feast of Cana. These experiences and many more paint a picture of a Holy Family who, like us, didn’t know what they were getting into and had no idea what awaited their family.
Years later, when Jesus went to the cross at Calvary, one wonders what might have been in Mary’s heart? Could salvation be accomplished in any other way than by the suffering and death of her only son? Losing a child is a heartbreak that no parent would choose to endure if there were any other options.
Holy Family Wannabes
Like Joseph, Mary, and Jesus, our attempts to live as a holy family are fraught with surprises, adventures, and being humbled in ways we never imagined. When we think of being a holy family, we quickly go to that list in our heads that indicates how unqualified we feel. Most of us do not have angels speaking to us in our dreams and delivering specific messages the way Joseph did. Yet Joseph’s role and his response offer helpful markers that can speak to our struggles to live as holy families now.
Joseph was a man of prayer who accepted God’s answers with obedience, trust, and humility. Note that this did not always mean that Joseph understood when events took his family to unexpected and at times dark places. He had the courage to trust God and take the next step, wherever it might lead.
Joseph humbly accepted God’s will and obeyed by following wherever it led. Joseph’s humility and trust in God placed him fully in God’s hands while not fully knowing what that would mean for him and for his family.
As Christians struggling to live as holy families, we too must humbly pray to God and try to be obedient to wherever God leads, all the while trusting that God’s love and mercy is the source of our life and our salvation.
Perhaps most difficult in our quest to live as holy families is seeing our brokenness, vulnerability, and suffering as necessary in order to discover how to love, how to live, and how to follow the path of Jesus. Many parents find themselves dealing with situations and sufferings in life that they never imagined would be part of their story and experience.
In the Broadway musical Hamilton, Alexander and Eliza Hamilton lose their firstborn son, Phillip, when he is killed in a duel at the age of 19. In the song, “It’s Quiet Uptown,” they lament their loss with these words:
There are moments that the words don’t reach.
There is suffering too terrible to name.
You hold your child as tight as you can, and push away the unimaginable.
The moments when you’re in so deep, it feels easier to just swim down.
The Hamiltons move uptown, and learn to live with the unimaginable.
Our holy families might experience physical illness, addictions, work or financial issues, infertility, poverty, the suffering of family members, mental illness, depression—suffering comes in all shapes and sizes. As Christians, we prayerfully trust and hope that our suffering will be redemptive, meaningful, and life-giving, even though it rarely feels that way when we are in the throes of it.
Yet, like Joseph and Mary, we are challenged to go places we never expected and do things we might never have chosen to do, trusting and obeying that God is in control in ways that we are not. When we embrace the crosses of our life experience, the unimaginable becomes the redeemable, giving our lives meaning and showing us the mystery of God’s love. We then can become more compassionate Christians who walk with others as they endure suffering on their own path of holiness.
Your family is a holy family, because God’s love and presence shines through you and each of your family members.
Dobie Moser, DMin, directs Youth and Young Adult Ministry and CYO for Catholic Charities in the Diocese of Cleveland. An author, trainer, and holy family wannabe with his wife, Lisa, and their seven children, Dobie serves on the team for StrongCatholicFamilies.org.