Sunday within the Octave of the Christmas
by Fr. Francis Xavier Weninger, 1877
"And after they had performed all things according to the law of the Lord, they returned into Galilee, to their city, Nazareth" (Luke 2).
Jesus, Mary and Joseph appear in the temple in order to present the divine Child to the Lord, according to the dictates of the law. The Holy Family in the temple are an example for every Christian family whose members are anxious to labor for their mutual sanctification. Not only, however, there, but also in their flight into Egypt, and after their return to their home at Nazareth, the holy Family is to all others an example and model of union, which holy and sanctifying in itself, brings blessings for time and eternity.
As on the state of the families depends the spiritual and temporal welfare of the entire congregation, I shall point out to you, in a few words, the characteristic traits of the Holy Family. Today, especially, give me your undivided attention. O Mary, pray that all families, especially in this congregation, may so live that men can say of each: Behold a holy family! I speak in the most holy name of Jesus, to the greater glory of God!
The first trait we perceive in the Holy Family is their mutual holy love. Behold how great a love was that of Jesus for Mary, whom He, as Son of God, had chosen from all eternity to call His mother! And how great was also the love of Jesus for Joseph, who was to Him, as man, the representative of His heavenly Father!
On the other hand, who can conceive the ardent love of Mary for Jesus! Never had a mother thus felt for her child. He was so entirely her child. Again, how deep was the love of Joseph for Jesus, and how happily Mary and Joseph lived together in virginal purity!
Blessed the family where this bond of mutual love exists between husband and wife, children and parents! There dwell contentment and happiness! On the other hand, how unhappy the family where, soon after the honey-moon, indifference creeps in, and, not long after, mutual aversion imbitters life!
The second trait, which we observe in the Holy Family, is their mutual esteem. This trait is inseparable from the first. A love not founded on esteem soon loses its hold on the heart.
Who can tell how much Jesus esteemed His blessed Mother and St. Joseph! He knew the sublimity of their virtues, which He, as God, had implanted in their hearts. On the other hand, how great was the mutual esteem of Mary and Joseph, who daily saw each other's good example, and together worshipped in the divine Child their God and their Redeemer!
Happy the family in which the members are animated by this esteem. Love is deeply rooted where the wife can say: "Were I only like my husband, so pious and virtuous! How I admire him!" Or, where the husband is forced to say to himself: "If I were only like my wife; she is truly a saint, if there be saints on earth!" Again, happy the family where the children need no other incitement to honor their parents than their bright example of a virtuous life: where parents have cause to think: "Oh! Had I been in my youth as good and pious as my child!" Content and happiness reign in that family.
But woe, when the wife must say: "My husband is a bad man, a bad Christian. I despise him!" Or when the husband has similar thoughts about his wife; still more wretched, I should think, is the family where the children are forced to admit that their father is a bad man, and their mother no honor to them; where parents have the grief to see their children walk the road to perdition. There can be no contentment, no happiness in that household.
The third characteristic of the Holy Family is their concern and care for one another. How filled with anxious thoughts for the divine Child were the hearts of Mary and Joseph! To serve Jesus and Mary was Joseph's greatest care, day and night; while Jesus took upon Himself manual labors, to assist His foster-father. What an example to us!
Happy the family where father, mother and children are mutually concerned for each other's temporal and spiritual welfare; in such a home reigns sweet peace and joy. On the other hand, how painful and disheartening it is, when the head of the family does not care for his wife and children; when he does not endeavor to earn a decent livelihood, or spends his money in drinking and dissipation; when the mother does not attend to her household duties, and thinks only of dress and display! Does it never happen that the husband, not caring for his wife, leaves her in want; that the wife, indifferent towards her husband, neglects his comfort, and makes home anything but cheerful; that children let their parents suffer for the necessaries of life? In such a household can there be happiness?
The fourth trait of the Holy Family, which we should imitate, is their desire to be a comfort to one another. If Christ said to St. Gertrude: "When men persecute me, I retire into thy heart; there I find peace," can we doubt that He received comfort from the care and devotion of Mary, with whom He lived for thirty years under the same roof, the object of her most watchful attention? And how great must have been the comfort Mary and Joseph felt in being near Jesus! Nothing in this world could have induced them to part with this happiness.
Happy the family where the husband can say: "I have a hard life, but my wife is my comfort;" and where the wife can say: "In all trials and tribulations my husband is my comfort, and we have good children."
But if the man sighs: "My greatest cross is my wife," or when the wife has reason to complain: "My husband embitters my life," or when the children cause their parents hearts to ache, or when the members of the family prefer to be anywhere but at home, peace is banished from the house. In such a family there is no happiness; such a life may be called a hell on earth, and the threats of Christ seem already fulfilled in them here below: "Bind them together into bundles."
The fifth trait with which the Holy Family shines as a model, is their union in the peace of mutual love. How could this have been otherwise in a family where there could not be found an imperfection or sin? Happy the family of which the members bear with each other in holy patience!
But again, in the family where every morning commences with fresh contentions, and where, instead of prayers to call down a blessing, curses and imprecations fill the house, there, if anywhere on earth, must be a foretaste of hell's bitterness.
The sixth trait in the life of the Holy Family, which we ought to imitate, is their mutual edification and encouragement in the service of God. How sanctifying must have been the joint prayers of Jesus, Mary and Joseph! What an example to one another of piety and devotion!
Happy the family where common prayers and spiritual reading is practised; where regularity in the reception of the Sacraments and in attendance at divine service, is a constant source of mutual edification!
But unhappy the family circle where no example kindles the fire of devotion in the hearts of the children; where, on the contrary, every influence at home withdraws them from religious practises and piety, as is but too often the case in these evil days.
Finally, the seventh and the eighth characteristics, Joseph dies in the arms of Jesus and Mary. Mary stands by the cross of her dying Son. Jesus takes Mary and Joseph, body and soul, into heaven. The care of the members of a family for their mutual welfare extends beyond the grave. How sad, when, after death, one of the family is soon forgotten and not aided by prayers and good works!
These are the eight traits of the Holy Family, and they are the eight blessings I wish to every Catholic family, especially in this congregation, as the fruit of the holy Nativity!