Date: December 26, 2020
By: Leah L.
Painting: "The Virgin and Joseph with the Young Jesus"
By: Johann Jakob Frey the Elder
Today we are surrounded by a cacophony of communication clamor. We live in the age of communication, but what is being communicated to us? Is anything of real importance actually being communicated to us? Inversely, do we ourselves really communicate anything of importance to the others? The birth of our Lord happened over 2,000 years ago. It was in this fullness of time, in a cave, in silence, that one of the most important things communicated was accomplished. Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI has said: “Silence is the language of God.” If we turn to scientific research they agree.
It is fascinating to find that 70 to 93 percent of all communication is transmitted non-verbally, via body language. The majority of what we say to each other is physical. By our very body position, facial expression, by the way we stand, where we stand…communicates more than words. That is amazing! This is universal, its global! ALL human beings communicate this way. If you go to certain countries, you can know when you enter a room by deference of how people are seated who is the most important person in the room, or in Japan or China, you know by their bow how important somebody is in the family or place in society. When we greet each other our bodies say something by how we shake hands, hug, or smile. Interestingly, in the Christmas season, in every Church you go to, there will be an image of the Holy Family: a crèche or nativity scene.
Pause and ponder what the image of this scene is silently communicating. “At Christmas our thoughts turn to the different events and circumstances surrounding the birth of the Son of God. As we contemplate the stable in Bethlehem or the home of the Holy Family in Nazareth, Mary, Joseph, and the Child Jesus occupy a special place in our hearts. What does the simple, admirable life of the holy family tell us? What can we learn from it?” (St. Josemaria homily: Marriage: A Christian Vocation)
Mary says very little in the Gospel accounts, Joseph says nothing at all, and Jesus’ actions speak more loudly than his words. In fact, Jesus said very little when we look at the thirty years he was silent while on earth compared to Jesus' three years of public life. Only 9% of Jesus’ life was spent in the eye & ears of the public, all the rest, a profound silence.
Gazing upon the nativity scene, we first notice the positioning of Joseph, Mary, and Jesus. Mary is usually kneeling in prayer, in contemplation: “pondering everything in her heart". Joseph is often holding a shepherd’s staff or a walking stick and lantern, standing in service of the Holy Family; St. Joseph, the silent, the worker. He never says a word; he just does, just gives, provides, obeys, acts. In the very centre of the scene is ALWAYS the child Jesus. Our Lord and God: humble, accessible, inviting, loving…no words are needed.
The first lesson from the Holy Family is silence. It is already a New Year (Deo Gratias, Thank God) according to the church calendar, so Happy New Year! What a difference there is between the church's new year and the world's! A great resolution for this new year is to carve out daily moments of silence for yourselves and your family (put away the devices that distract and destroy true communication). Psalm 46:10 says, “Be still and know that I am God.” “God was not in the hurricane, nor the earthquake, nor in the fire, but in the whisper of a gentle breeze (1 Kings 19).” Jesus himself invites us and exemplifies the importance of silent contemplative prayer throughout the Gospels. I have made a list of books that can help us in achieving this resolution at the end of this article.
Let us now go back to the nativity scene, what else can be garnered from it. Joseph, Mary, and Jesus are not positioned with backs faced toward the opening of the cave or stable. They are positioned outwardly: welcoming all who want to enter, to experience, learn and receive the mystery of the Gift and then to go & take it; carry it & give the Gift into the world. The Holy Family is showing us what it means to be a Holy Family. We have of course heard many times what family should be: the nucleus, the foundation of society, as Saint John Paul II puts it: “The first seminary”, the seminal experience of God, the place where we learn service, the place where we learn love, the first place we encounter God…
In one of the first readings of the Mass that can be chosen on the Feast of the Holy Family is the story of Hannah. In it we can learn further what it means to be a Holy Family. Hannah was not able to bear a child and she beseeched God in the temple continuously to grant her children. God does finally give her the gift of a child: Samuel. How does Hannah give thanks and glorify God in the gift? Hannah went to the temple (prayed), dedicated Samuel to God, and after hoping for this child left Samuel at the temple (sacrificed) to serve God “all the days of his life (1 Samuel 1:11).” Hannah is an archetype of our Blessed Mother, Mary. Hannah has complete trust in God and realizes that the child is a gift from God. She gives him back to God and Samuel goes on to be one of the greats.
We see in the Gospel scene of The Finding of Jesus in the Temple, Mary and Joseph searching anxiously for Jesus. We can only imagine what losing Jesus felt like for them. We perhaps have had that heart stopping moment of being in a store, you look around and your little one is not there by your side. This moment for Mary was tremendous as Mary was conceived without sin and never sinned. In this moment Mary felt what it was like to sin; God let this happen to Mary so she would know the deadly depth of sin. Mary felt and knew the profound meaning of what it is when we sin; we lose Jesus.
Joseph and Mary didn’t just loose their child, they lost the Son of God, the second person of the Blessed Trinity😯. Jesus would have been around 12 years old and in those days of travelling in a caravan, Jesus would either have been in the group of children his age, or with Mary in the group of women found in the middle of the caravan, or with Joseph at the front or tail end of the caravan where the men were positioned to protect the children and women. Therefore, at the end of the first day's journey of travelling home to Nazareth, Mary and Joseph would have met up, perhaps for the nighttime meal and discovered Jesus was not with one or the other. They first searched through the caravan and discover Jesus is not there and they then travel another day to get back to Jerusalem to begin searching for him there. It is another two days when they finally find him in the temple scene of which we are familiar from the Gospels (Luke 2:41-51). Mary and Joseph find Jesus and He says: “Why were you looking for me? Did you not know I must be in my Father's house?” This seems like the reply of a smart mouthed twelve year old! But it wasn't. Jesus is here indicating to them, to us, the purpose of family.
The Holy Family lived a life dedicated to God and knew everything is a gift from God (joys and sorrows both). This is why we celebrate Christmas the way we do: by the exchanging of gifts. There are really only two major times in a year that we get presents (aside from anniversaries, Valentine’s …) our birthdays (because life is a gift), and at Christmas we exchange gifts as a reminder that the Christ child is a gift. The Gift! It is a lesson of receiving the Gift. In response we go out from the stable of the nativity into the world to make known this immense Gift of the Christ Child to those who in our ever increasingly fear-filled and hopeless world await in long and painful pining.
Maybe we have not done the very best we can to communicate the Gift as we should have in the past, but that doesn’t matter: the now is at hand; the gift of the present moment is always inviting us to begin again. We may already have older kids who have left the faith, are struggling with addictions, your marriage may be struggling and broken…it is never too late to accept Jesus’ invitation to “come and see" and visit as often as needed the Holy Family in the stable, in Nazareth and the different scenes of the Joyful Mysteries of the rosary which gives us glimpses of their life and teaches us many important lessons. The time in which your family lives and the challenges you experience may be different, but they are just as real. What is important is how each of us…how each of our families respond to them, and whether we remain steadfast in the love and light of Christ and in doing so, grow in faith.
The relevancy of the Holy Family remains though seemingly divorced by its simplicity and devotion compared to our “advanced" “modern" Christian life. Perhaps the problem is we have created problems of complexity that are either nonexistent or unnecessary. Perhaps the problems we perceive should be, can be, and are more simple than we comprehend in their solutions.
Every family is called to work with what has been given to them, the challenges and the joys. St. Joseph was called to accept the fact that his wife was pregnant. Mary was called to accept her role as the Mother of God. Jesus showed humanity the importance of families by being born into a family. Indeed, the Second Vatican Council called the family ‘the first and vital cell of society.’ We are called to be in the world, not of the world. If we hold up the Holy Family as the example for our families, not only will we learn how to live holy lives, but we will begin to change the culture in which we live.
Our family is the sanctuary we should seek in the rush, bustle, joys, challenges, and sorrows of our daily lives. In studying the lessons of the Holy Family, we come to know the virtues that strengthen us as individuals, as family members, and as citizens of the world, including the virtues of loyalty, obedience, faithfulness and unconditional love.
The point of family (especially families of faith), holy families is not to be self-referential and turned in on itself. We must respond especially in this moment of history where sin abounds with faith, united in unceasing prayer, drowning evil with an abundance of goodness. And this goodness must begin with each one of us individually and within our families. I would invite you to take time individually and collectively as families to silently pause and ponder the lessons from the Holy Family this Christmas season. The answer to our problems can always be found in the Gift of Christmas: the Christ Child, Jesus, Whose name is above every other name.
I end with the imperative words of Saint John Paul the Great: “Families be who you are!.. As the family goes, so goes the nation and so goes the world in which we live.” From God Himself and His words examine if the Gift of Love that you have been given is reflected in your lives. “Therefore as the elect of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bearing one another and forgiving one another, if you have a grievance toward anyone: even as Christ forgave you, so also should you do. And above all these things put on love which is the bond of perfectness (Colossians 3:12-14)."
Book Recommendations & Resources
A Mind at Peace Christopher Blum and Joshua Hochschild
Covenanted Happiness Cormac Burke
Familiaris Consortio Pope John Paul II
Letter to Families Pope John Paul II
Prayer for Beginners Peter Kreeft
Prayer Primer Igniting a Fire Within Thomas Dubay
Time for God: A Guide to Mental Prayer Fr. Jacques Philippe
The Power of Silence Cardinal Sarah
Three to Get Married Fulton Sheen
Treatise on Prayer and Meditation St. Peter Alacantra
When God is Silent Luis M. Martinez
When Women Pray Kathleen Beckman
30 days series with a spiritual great Ave Maria Press
Read the books individually, as a couple, as a family or a group…Spread the Gift…1.2 billion Catholics, 7.6+ billion in the world…lots of work to be done.
“This is how all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
Merry Christmas! May the peace & love of Christ reign in your families and spill out into the world