As Vincentians, we continually seek to grow in holiness and we know that the Church points to the Holy Family as an example for our lives. However, the mere thought of matching the family of Mary, Joseph and Jesus in holiness seems not only unattainable, but upon examination of our own families, even foolish. Most of our families more closely resemble the Griswalds or the Bundys or the Taylors from Friday Night Lights than we do idyllic families like the Brady Bunch or the Cleavers of Leave it to Beaver fame. By the way, have you ever noticed that most of our modern-day TV families are to varying degrees dysfunctional? I suspect that TV mirrors the reality that all of our families struggle with. Many of our families are dealing with economic hardship, splintered relationships, serious illnesses or even multiple forms of abuse and emotional neglect—none of which leaves us thinking of ourselves as particularly blessed or holy.
The reality is, hardship, or the lack thereof, is not what constitutes holiness. For that matter, Mary and Joseph were in no way sheltered from adversity. I’m sure that Joseph’s contemplation of divorce had lasting emotional consequences on the couple. I imagine that the meager circumstances of Jesus’ birth were at least unsettling. No parent would choose a manger—a food trough—for their child’s first bed. Perhaps the lowly offering of pigeons for sacrifice at the temple was embarrassing for Mary and Joseph. All of this before they are forced into exile in Egypt, wondering, no doubt, if or when it would be safe for them to return home. The Holy Family was not immune to problems or heartache, but they were able to remain faithful to God and to each other.
The Holy Family is not holy by virtue of some uniquely special blessing. Sure, Mary and Joseph were visited by angels, but they also possessed free will and had to choose to be in relationship with God. I really don’t believe that they were inherently more capable of being faithful and hopeful than we are. In fact, we have the additional benefit of the graces received from our participation in the sacraments. Mary, Joseph and Jesus became a holy family because they sought to constantly grow closer to God through obedience to his mandates and through the way they prayed. They prayed with faith, trusting that their prayers would be answered. And they prayed with hope, with a desire for the Lord’s answer—whatever that answer might be. In looking at the Holy Family, we see a prayerful family who overcame obstacles through a shared a dedication to and trust in God. Values that we can emulate. Values that will bring us closer to God. Values that will help us grow in holiness.