The Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph

December 30, 2016 / By: Seanne Harris

Put on, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, bearing with one another and forgiving one another…

Holy Family

About 10 years ago, my mother gave an icon of the Holy Family as a Christmas gift to each of my siblings and me. When I first unwrapped the present, I chuckled to myself--a classic “mom move!” Going head to head with Restoration Hardware and Pottery Barn, my mother was giving me a not-so-subtle nudge to put a visible sign of Christian faith in our home and reminding me of the importance of family – not just our own human family, but also the divine. Over the years, and especially now that she has passed away, when I look at it this icon I am reminded of my mother and her devotion to our family, her enthusiasm for her faith, and her life work to “pass it on.”

In this icon, the infant Jesus is reaching up lovingly toward his mother and the faces of Mary, Joseph, and Jesus quietly reflect the virtues listed in Paul’s letter to the Colossians in today’s readings: compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. From whom do we first learn these virtues?  Our parents.  Where do we first practice them?  In our families.  Though we may desire and strive to make great changes in our world, this icon of the Holy Family teaches us that great things do start small.

One of my favorite Gospels is the story of Jesus’ miracle at the wedding at Cana.  I can easily imagine the look on Mary’s face—raised eyebrows and a slight cock of the head--when Jesus tells her “My hour has not yet come.”  I know well the look my own mother would have given me if I had told her no! And then, in front of the Son of God, Mary instructs the servants “Do whatever he tells you” and Jesus transforms the water into wine. This first miracle is relatively small and somewhat secular, actually.  But Mary was teaching compassion.  And Jesus was practicing obedience.

If we want to do great things in this world, we need to start small.  Despite our human imperfections, our disparate and sometimes bizarre dispositions, our families are the seedbeds—the first seminaries--of the world.  In families we learn and practice goodness.  And over time, our family circles grow larger-- encompassing our neighbors, our colleagues, our fellow parishioners, our cities, our nations, the world.

Compassion. Kindness. Humility. Gentleness. Patience. Do try these at home! 

Seanne Harris, Program Manager, Terrence J. Murphy Institute for Catholic Thought, Law, and Public Policy