Readings (Year B)
Reflection: Heed God’s will
As a cradle Catholic, I recall the holy family was held up as a model for emulation, even though the qualifier “holy” seemed to render it an unattainable ideal. What qualified Jesus, Mary, and Joseph as holy? Each one possessed a unique identity, but together they experienced God’s eruption into their lives.
From the gospel narratives, God’s eruption into their lives was disruptive. It required an unqualified and absolute acceptance. Mary responded with complete availability, serenity, and trust. She said, “Yes,” not knowing what the future held. By trusting in God’s promise, she became, in the words of Pope Francis, the forebear of “all those unknown or forgotten women who, each in her own way, sustained and transformed families and communities by the power of their witness” (Gaudete et Exsultate).
Joseph embraced God’s will as “the father in the shadows”—as Francis describes him in Patris Corde—who exemplifies the love, courage, creativity, tenderness, acceptance, and hard work of a beloved father for his family. Likewise, Jesus’ response to God was firm, albeit progressing through moments of temptation to completely abandon God’s will.
Opening their hearts to God interrupted and changed the course of their lives radically. Mary became a contemplative at heart. Joseph became deeply attuned to the silence within. And Jesus incarnated the presence of the compassionate God-with-us.
Yet heeding God’s will wasn’t an easy path for the holy family. Mary and Joseph gradually embraced their understanding of their roles as parents. There were moments of anxiety, like when they lost Jesus among the crowd; there were times of perceived rejection, when Jesus seemingly relativized their role in his mission, and even outright rebellion: “Didn’t you know that I have to be about my father’s business?” Eventually, Mary would witness the horrific murder of her son. Those moments revealed the conviction of Mary and Joseph that theirs was a journey of faith, hope, and love.
Like many parents, they remained committed to their parenting vocation, celebrating its joys and hopes, embracing its pain and anxiety. Their example of holiness isn’t ethereal; it is borne of their interior freedom and radical commitment to their roles as parents even in the face of difficulties and challenges. They didn’t have all the answers. In fact, in raising Jesus they learned what it meant to be a family—not a perfect or holy family, but a family of mutual love, care, and sacrifice. As Francis reminds us, holiness is manifest “in those parents who raise their children with immense love” (Gaudete et Exsultate).
The feast of the Holy Family offers an opportunity to reflect on our call to holiness. Holiness is a path for each person to discover, not a portrait to be copied and imitated sheepishly: “The important thing is that each believer discern his or her own path, that they bring out the very best of themselves, the most personal gifts that God has placed in their hearts” (Gaudete et Exsultate).
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