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The Holy Family points the human family to the Heavenly Family

On the Readings for Sunday, Dec. 27, 2020, the Feast of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph

'Rest on the Flight into Egypt' (1597) by Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio
'Rest on the Flight into Egypt' (1597) by Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio

• Sir 3:2-6, 12-14 or Gen 15:1-6; 21:1-3
• Psa 128:1-2, 3, 4-5 or Psa 105:1-2, 3-4, 5-6, 8-9
• Col 3:12-21 or Heb 11:8, 11-12, 17-19
• Lk 2:22-40

The family today, in so many ways, is under scrutiny and even under attack. Some of the questions are about the very nature of this most ancient and central institution: What is a “family”? What is necessary for a family to exist? For what purpose do families exist?

On December 21, 2012, Pope Benedict XVI gave a Christmas address to the Roman Curia which focused on the family. He noted that “there is no denying the crisis that threatens it to its foundations – especially in the western world.” The family is important, he explained, because within the family exists “the authentic setting in which to hand on the blueprint of human existence. This is something we learn by living it with others and suffering it with others.” He then said something that is worth pondering on this Feast of the Holy Family: “So it became clear that the question of the family is not just about a particular social construct, but about man himself – about what he is and what it takes to be authentically human.”

Put another way, the reality of the family is rooted in the truth of man: he is created by God so he can have eternal and life-giving communion with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The very first sentence of the Catechism makes this clear: “God, infinitely perfect and blessed in himself, in a plan of sheer goodness freely created man to make him share in his own blessed life.”

And how is God going about the business of saving us? “He calls together all men, scattered and divided by sin, into the unity of his family, the Church.” This is why the Son, the second Person of the Trinity, became man. This is why the Holy Spirit, through the sacraments, makes us God’s “adopted children and thus heirs of his blessed life” (CCC, 1).

God became a man and a member of a specific family so that all men and women might be able to become members of the supernaturally-constituted family of God, the Church. This means that each Christian family is a reflection of an eternal mystery, for it is “a communion of persons, a sign and image of the communion of the Father and the Son in the Holy Spirit” (CCC, 2205).

This is heady stuff, no doubt. Which is one reason the reality of the Holy Family is so important, for it reveals how true theology is lived out in true charity, in the daily work and rhythm of family life. Thus, the exhortation from Sirach: “Whoever honors his father atones for sins, and preserves himself from them.” And similar words of wisdom from the Apostle Paul: “And whatever you do, in word or in deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” Wives are to acknowledge the proper leadership of their husbands; husbands are to truly love their wives; children are to be obedient and respectful.

This is not about simply following “the rules,” but about giving oneself to others in selfless love, for it was the overflow of God’s selfless love that brought about creation. This means recognizing the dignity and worth of others, while also recognizing our proper relationship with one another.

Benedict noted that today there is a serious crisis when it comes to “the human capacity to make a commitment,” the sort of commitments essential to true family life. The Son committed himself to the work of the Father and was born of Mary the Virgin. Mary committed herself to the word of God, trusting completely in the divine plan. Joseph committed himself to Mary and Jesus, obeying God despite the efforts it required.

And Jesus, on the Cross, cried out, “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit” (Lk 23:46). Christ was willing to die for a lost family, bringing into being a new family, in which we can become authentically human.

(This “Opening the Word” column originally appeared in the December 29, 2013, edition of Our Sunday Visitor newspaper.)

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About Carl E. Olson 1197 Articles
Carl E. Olson is editor of Catholic World Report and Ignatius Insight. He is the author of Did Jesus Really Rise from the Dead?, Will Catholics Be "Left Behind"?, co-editor/contributor to Called To Be the Children of God, co-author of The Da Vinci Hoax (Ignatius), and author of the "Catholicism" and "Priest Prophet King" Study Guides for Bishop Robert Barron/Word on Fire. His recent books on Lent and Advent—Praying the Our Father in Lent (2021) and Prepare the Way of the Lord (2021)—are published by Catholic Truth Society. He is also a contributor to "Our Sunday Visitor" newspaper, "The Catholic Answer" magazine, "The Imaginative Conservative", "The Catholic Herald", "National Catholic Register", "Chronicles", and other publications. Follow him on Twitter @carleolson.


  1. Holy Communion speaks to a community. God created Man in his image. Male and female he created them. Rather than the Gk singular auton he then refers to Them in the Gk plural autous. Rather than Man of and by himself forming a new community, new life instead emerges not from love of self rather for love of a different kind of person, both in form and temperament providing what is complimentary, that is, for a woman. From an exclusive communal, conjugal relationship between the man and the woman. Commitment to the other requires love of the other and all that love reflective of God intimates, exclusive, committed to life. Slanderous to the divine order of human life and love is the deviation from this pattern seen in currently popular and even extolled same sex union, an abomination that is the imminent threat to that commitment between male and female created by God. For example commitment is not justified simply by a pleasant, mutual sharing of support. Rather it [same sex] is abominable because it repudiates the divine order in which love is by its nature communal and life bearing increasing the community, whereas same sex relation is introverted and deadly. This is where there is confusion within our Church at this time in history noticed for one in pontifical approbation of same sex civil union, laxity toward mutual adult male relationship, and why the true order of creation, of family and life exemplified by the loving commitment of the Holy Family must be convincingly witnessed.

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