Sunday after the Epiphany - The Holy Family
Holy Mother Church marks this Sunday as the feast of the Holy Family, a day which we give to meditating upon the mysteries and joys contained within the happy, holy home in Nazareth.
Comparatively little is written in the Gospels concerning those peaceful days, which the Holy Family spent together, which necessitates that we ponder the time through our own meditations.
Where then, is one to start in such a meditation? As ever, the Gospel points to the proper way in which to contemplate the feast well. St. Luke’s Gospel recounts the loss and the discovery of the Child Jesus, presenting the words of the Blessed Virgin: “Son, why hast thou done so to us?”
It is with these words that the Mother of God greets her Son, whom she had lost for three days. With anguish and torments she had searched for her Son, the Son whose birth had been announced by the message of an angel; the Son for whom she had fled with St. Joseph in order to preserve His life from the swords of Herod’s soldiers.
Consider then the anguish of soul which filled her when she was unable to find Him for three whole days, and the joy which she experienced when she discovered Him in the temple. Just as with any family, the mother is the heart of the home, and it is so with Mary, whose love of her Divine Son fills her heart and moves her every action. It was this perfect love which had fuelled her search.
In order to dwell on the Holy Family well, it is thus best to dwell upon the Blessed Virgin who is the doorway to the happy mysteries of that holy house, just as she is the path that leads us to God.
She draws her faithful children into the path of the young King, guiding devout souls from the joys of Christmas, through the sorrows of Lent and eventual glory of Easter. And so in these weeks between Epiphany and the start of Septuagesima, it is an apt time to turn one’s thoughts to the Christ child, contemplating the mysteries which He presents at every event. Dom Gueranger writes thus in his commentary on today’s Gospel: “Thus, O Jesus! didst thou come down from heaven to teach us. The tender age of Childhood, which thou didst take upon thyself is no hindrance to the ardor of thy desire that we should know the one only God who made all things, and thee, his Son, whom he sent to us. When laid in the Crib, thou didst instruct the Shepherds by a mere look; when swathed in thy humble swaddling-clothes, the subjected to the voluntary silence thou hadst imposed on thyself, thou didst reveal to the Magi the light they sought in following the Star.”
In fact, the account of the Magi’s visit to the stable presents a deep mystery for one to bear in mind, in order to better meditate upon the Holy Family. St. Matthew’s Gospel reads: “And entering into the house, they found the child with Mary his mother, and falling down they added him: and opening their treasures, they offered him gifts; gold, frankincense and myrrh.”
What is the significant passage here? It is of course these words: “they found the child with Mary his mother.” Those few simple words are so easy to gloss over, yet they contain almost the entire content of Mariological truths. Mary is always with her Son - her Son is always with His mother. She cannot do otherwise, for her greatest joy is to pour herself out for love of Him, and to teach others to do the same. As discussed on this site on Christmas night, she beckons her children to the manger, so that each might experience the unfathomable depths of love for Christ, which are found in her maternal heart.
This phrase is key to understanding the Holy Family, for Mary’s role is greater and more perfect than any earthly mother’s can be. She is not merely nurturing and caring for her child, but for God Himself, who is to be the salvation of all and the conquerer of sin. As such, she is mother of God, and at the cross she is given as mother of the Church, thus in a special way, enveloping all faithful souls in the mysteries of the Holy Family.
When dwelling upon Our Lady, it is hard to consider just one aspect of her life, since all are connected so profoundly. Consequently, if one wishes to understand the Holy Family, one must turn to Mary at the manger: at the presentation of Our Lord in the temple: at the loss and finding of Christ: in the hidden years of homely beatitude in Nazareth: and ultimately, at the cross. Each of these separate, yet connected instances, presents a different aspect of Mary, the Queen of the Church and Mother of God.
Dom Gueranger then continues in his commentary: “When twelve years old, thou [Christ] explainest to the Doctors of Israel the Scriptures which bear testimony to thee. Thou gradually dispellest the shadows of the Law by thy presence and thy words. In order to fulfill the commands of thy heavenly Father, thou dost not hesitate to occasion sorrow to the heart of thy Mother, by thus going in quest of souls that need enlightening. Thy love of man will pierce that tender Heart of Mary with a still sharper sword, when she shall behold thee hanging on the Cross and expiring in the midst of cruelest pain. Blessed be thou, sweet Jesus, in these first Mysteries of thine Infancy, wherein thou already showest thyself devoted to us, and leaving the company of thy Blessed Mother for that of sinful men, who will one day conspire thy death.”
What wonderful insights the good abbot presents to his readers in these words - noting that Christ’s desire for souls was so great, that He did not hesitate to seek them out, even at the cost of causing sorrow to His mother. How is one to understand this? Did Christ care so little for His mother, that He silently left her side in order to counsel and convert? Could He really love her so very little?
Such thoughts are folly, for the love of Christ for His mother is of a depth that can only be understood in the heavenly felicity. No indeed, the union of souls between Christ and Mary was of such a level, that even though she was full of natural motherly concern to find her Son, she was united with Him in thirst for souls. She is so desirous of drawing souls to Christ, that her natural concern in searching for her Son comes as a sorrow which she joyfully accepts, in order to unite herself to the sufferings of the crucified Christ and draw souls to the Truth.
Thus closes Dom Gueranger’s commentary on the Gospel, leaving his readers with many insights into the love which exists between Mother and Son, between creature and Creator. The mystery of the Holy Family is thus one of deepest, sacrificial love, united by a thirst for souls and a union with God.