The Catholic Church dedicates a special devotion for each month of the year. The month of January was dedicated to the Holy Name of Jesus. For this month of February, the Church dedicates it to the Holy Family.
For every Catholic couple and family, it is essential, through prayer, to have recourse to the spiritual support of the Holy Family of Nazareth, as well as to try to imitate them, the theological virtues of each person. In the “trinity” of Saint Joseph, Holy Mary and of their Son Jesus, we find an example of true love of God and a life of holiness. This “trinity” points us to the Divine Trinity, the destiny of every Christian pilgrim in this world.
This month we pray that we be protected, guided and inspired by Saint Joseph, Mary Most Holy and the Child Jesus.
In the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC), we read: “The Christian family is a communion of persons, a sign and image of the communion of the Father and the Son in the Holy Spirit. In the procreation and education of children it reflects the Father’s work of creation. It is called to partake of the prayer and sacrifice of Christ. Daily prayer and the reading of the Word of God strengthen it in charity. The Christian family has an evangelizing and missionary task” (CCC 2205).
Pope John Paul II, on 2nd February 1994, during the International Year of the Family declared by the United Nations Organization, wrote a long letter to families. From his long timeless message, we have taken notes to reflect on and deepen.
“Family: It is a path common to all, yet one which is particular, unique and unrepeatable, just as every individual is unrepeatable; it is a path from which man cannot withdraw.” It was with this beauty of narrative, that the Holy father began his reflection. Here, he leaves us with a fundamental point: the unique and singular trait of each family as that of every life.
The Pope points out that in the light of the New Testament, it is possible to discern how the primordial model of the family is to be sought in God himself, in the Trinitarian mystery of his life. “The divine ‘We’ is the eternal pattern of the human ‘we’, especially of that ‘we’ formed by the man and the woman created in the divine image and likeness.”
The union of man and woman through the sacrament of marriage – he reminds us – is a covenant of persons in love. If married love can be deepened and kept only by Love, that Love which is “poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit which has been given to us” (Romans 5:5).
In the mystery of union extolled in Sacred Scripture, he states that in marriage man and woman are so firmly united as to become – to use the words of the Book of Genesis – “one flesh” (Genesis 2:24). The Pontiff adds that “Male and female in their physical constitution, the two human subjects, even though physically different, share equally in the capacity to live ‘in truth and love’. This capacity, characteristic of the human being as a person, has at the same time both a spiritual and a bodily dimension.”
In this way, it emphasizes that the family which results from this union draws its inner solidity from the covenant between the spouses, which Christ raised to a Sacrament.
In the Catechism of the Catholic Church, we read: “Christ instituted the sacraments of the new law. There are seven: Baptism, Confirmation (or Chrismation), the Eucharist, Penance, the Anointing of the Sick, Holy Orders and Matrimony. The seven sacraments touch all the stages and all the important moments of Christian life: they give birth and increase, healing and mission to the Christian’s life of faith. There is thus a certain resemblance between the stages of natural life and the stages of the spiritual life” (CCC 1210).
Through the communion of persons which occurs in marriage, a man and a woman begin a family.
St John Paul II emphasizes that the words of consent define the common good of the couple and of the family. “First, the common good of the spouses: love, fidelity, honor, the permanence of their union until death – ‘all the days of my life’. The good of both, which is at the same time the good of each, must then become the good of the children. (…) Yet there is no true love without an awareness that God ‘is Love’ – and that man is the only creature on earth which God has called into existence ‘for its own sake.’”
For the Pope, the family constitutes the fundamental cell of society. But it needs Christ – the “vine” from which the “branches” draw nourishment. He is needed so that this cell will not be exposed to the threat of a kind of cultural uprooting which can come both from within and from without. Indeed, John Paul II adds: “although there is on the one hand the ‘civilization of love’, there continues to exist on the other hand the possibility of a destructive ‘anti-civilization’, as so many present trends and situations confirm.”
Love is Demanding
“By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35).
Of the demands of love, the Holy Father points to that love which the Apostle Paul celebrates in the First Letter to the Corinthians – the love which is “patient” and “kind” and “endures all things” (1 Corinthians 13:4-7). It is certainly a demanding love. But in this, he stresses, is precisely the source of its beauty: by the very fact that it is demanding, it builds up the true good of man and allows it to radiate to others. “The good, says Saint Thomas, is by its nature ‘diffusive’. Love is true when it creates the good of persons and of communities; it creates that good and gives it to others.”
In each family’s journey to God, John Paul II recalled that family members need to encounter Christ in the Church through the wonderful Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation.
When crises fall upon families, he stressed how important prayer is with families and for families, in particular for those threatened by division. “We need to pray that married couples will love their vocation, even when the road becomes difficult, or the paths become narrow, uphill and seemingly insuperable; we need to pray that, even then, they will be faithful to their covenant with God,” the Pope added.
In this letter, he wished to profess and to proclaim that conjugal and family life leads us to the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 7:14). It is important that the “communion of persons” in the family should become a preparation for the “communion of Saints.” “This is why the Church both believes and proclaims the love which ‘endures all things’ (1 Corinthians 13:7); with Saint Paul she sees in it ‘the greatest’ virtue of all (1 Corinthians 13:13). The Apostle puts no limits on anyone. Everyone is called to love, including spouses and families. In the Church everyone is called equally to perfect holiness [Matthew 5:48],” the Holy Father stressed.
The Domestic Church
Referring again to the teaching of the Catechism, he states that in our own time, in a world often alien and even hostile to faith, believing families are of primary importance as centers of living, radiant faith. “For this reason the Second Vatican Council, using an ancient expression, calls the family the Ecclesia domestica. It is in the bosom of the family that parents are ‘by word and example… the first heralds of the faith with regard to their children. They should encourage them in the vocation which is proper to each child, fostering with special care any religious vocation.’
“It is here that the father of the family, the mother, children, and all members of the family exercise the priesthood of the baptized in a privileged way ‘by the reception of the sacraments, prayer and thanksgiving, the witness of a holy life, and self-denial and active charity.’ Thus the home is the first school of Christian life and ‘a school for human enrichment.’ Here one learns endurance and the joy of work, fraternal love, generous – even repeated – forgiveness, and above all divine worship in prayer and the offering of one’s life.” (CCC 1656; 1657).
Jesus thus left us a call to live out our faith in the family – whether through blood ties or by the bonds of the Mystical Body of the Lord – “For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them” (Matthew 18:20).
Concluding his message, John Paul II prayed to the Holy Family, icon and model of every human family, to help each individual to walk in the spirit of Nazareth – “May it help each family unit to grow in understanding of its particular mission in society and the Church by hearing the Word of God, by prayer and by a fraternal sharing of life. May Mary, Mother of ‘Fairest Love’, and Joseph, Guardian of the Redeemer, accompany us all with their constant protection.”
Holy Family of Nazareth, pray for us!
Prayer to the Holy Family
Jesus, Mary and Joseph,
in you we contemplate
the splendor of true love;
to you we turn with trust.
Holy Family of Nazareth,
grant that our families too
may be places of communion and prayer, authentic schools of the Gospel
and small domestic churches.
Holy Family of Nazareth,
may families never again experience violence, rejection and division;
may all who have been hurt or scandalized find ready comfort and healing.
Holy Family of Nazareth,
make us once more mindful
of the sacredness and inviolability of the family, and its beauty in God’s plan.
Jesus, Mary and Joseph, Graciously hear our prayer.
(Pope Francis, Amoris Laetitia)
(Image: The Holy Family with a Little Bird. Murillo, Bartolomé Esteban. Ca. 1650. Oil on canvas. Museo Nacional del Prado, Spain.)