Holy Family

Today is a unique day in the liturgical calendar.  First of all, today is the second day of the octave of Christmas.  Certain Feasts of the liturgical year are so important that the Church extends them over an eight-day period, known as an octave, so that we might have more time to celebrate and reflect upon the great mystery being celebrated.  Even after the octave has ended, the Christmas season itself extends until the Feast of Epiphany.  The secular world and the stores have already moved on from Christmas, but the Church continues to celebrate and rejoice at the Birth of Our Savior.  We prepared for four weeks of Advent to celebrate this great mystery of our Faith and one day is simply not long enough to contain our joy that our God has become man and dwelt among us.

Ordinarily December 26th is the Feast day of Saint Stephen the first martyr to shed his blood after the death, Resurrection and Ascension of Christ.  It might seem strange at first that the Church would place the feast day of a martyr on the second day of the octave of Christmas.  The Christmas season is a joy-filled time, yet the very day after we begin to celebrate, we are presented in the liturgy with the martyrdom of Saint Stephen, the deacon who was stoned to death for professing his faith in Christ.  Part of the reason that the Church has given us the Feast of Saint Stephen the day after Christmas is to remind us that Our God became man in order to show us the way to God, yet that way is not always easy.  The fact that God became one of us and died to save us demands a response on our behalf.  The only response to the love that God shows us in sending His Son is for us to imitate that great love that Christ demonstrated upon the Cross for us: Christ calls us to take up our cross and follow Him.

I mentioned that ordinarily we celebrate December 26th as the Feast of Saint Stephen . . . this year is an exception because this year the 26th has fallen on a Sunday.  The first Sunday after Christmas is the Feast of the Holy Family; Feasts of the Lord always trump Feast days of the Saints, and so this year we forgo Saint Stephen’s Feast in order to celebrate the Holy Family.

Today’s Feast is an occasion for us to meditate upon the family life that Our Lord experienced as He lived with the Blessed Virgin Mary and Saint Joseph.  Yesterday, we celebrated the fact that Our Lord was born in Bethlehem over two thousand years ago.  Yesterday we meditated upon how Our Lord was laid in a manger and how the shepherds came to adore Him.  Today, we focus on the fact that Our God came to earth and lived in a family.

There was more to Our Lord’s earthly life than what we know about in the Gospels.  The Gospels are by and large silent about what Our Lord’s life was like prior to His public ministry.  We know about the adoration of the magi and the flight to Egypt.  We know that at the age of 12 He remained behind in the Temple and His parents looked for Him for three days.  The next thing that is recorded in the Gospels is His appearance on the bank of the Jordan River several years later.

We do not know for certain what Our Lord did during those hidden years of His life.  We know that Saint Joseph was a carpenter and tradition tells us that Our Lord worked with Saint Joseph in that trade.  Our Lord was only on this earth for thirty-three short years and for thirty of those years He did not teach or publicly heal people: He lived a quiet life with His family.  Through Our Lord’s hidden years with His family in Nazareth He sanctified family life and labor.  Jesus perfectly fulfilled the will of His Heavenly Father while on earth and for thirty years, God’s will for Him entailed the simple routine of life with Mary and Joseph.

Those years of Our Lord’s life that He spent working were not wasted years.  It’s not that Our Lord was sitting around waiting until He reached the age of the thirty to start what He came to do.  Those years that Our Lord spent working as a carpenter was part of God’s plan.  Those years of Our Lord’s life teach just as much as His parables and His miracles.  Through faithfully fulfilling our daily duties, we are fulfilling God’s plan for our lives.  The path to holiness is not about doing extraordinary things; holiness is attained by doing ordinary everyday things in an extraordinary way.  It is by conforming our lives and our wills to God’s will that we grow in sanctity.  Whatever our state in life, whatever our circumstances, we can become holy.  Each and every one of us is called to become a Saint.  We are not all called to be missionaries or martyrs, but we are all called to love God with all of our heart, with all of our mind, with all of our strength; we are called to love God above everything and everyone all the time, everywhere.  God desires that we love Him the way that He loves us: totally, wholly, completely, without holding anything back.  Only when we put God first in our lives will we find our hearts deepest longing.  Let us strive to do all that we do out of love for God and for His greater glory and honor.