Through the seasons of Advent and Christmas we focus much on Jesus and Mary. It was through Mary’s fiat that Jesus came into the world, fulfilling God’s plan to save us from the ravages of sin and death. But the feast of the Holy Family serves to remind us that Mary and Jesus were, with Joseph, part of a family.
Consider the faith of Joseph. In a dream he is told by an angel to rise and take the child and his mother into Egypt, to escape Herod’s wrath. We are told in the Gospel according to Matthew that Joseph rose “while it was still night,” and took his family into Egypt. The faith of Joseph is so strong that he does not question the vision, he simply trusts in God. For her part, Mary is so secure in the fact that God has given her Joseph as her husband and protector, that she does not question Joseph’s insistence that they leave immediately.
The Gospels are silent at this point until Herod’s death allows the Holy Family to return. And so the flight into Egypt and the time the Holy Family spends there, has become the realm of the artists and storytellers.
In 1879 French academic artist, Luc Olivier Merson, completed a remarkable painting, “Rest on the Flight into Egypt.” It depicts Joseph, exhausted, sleeping on the ground before a small campfire. Nearby, Mary and Jesus sleep comfortably in the arms of an Egyptian sphinx. The only light in the scene comes from the Holy Child himself.
It is a picture of serene calmness. Mary and Joseph are fleeing for their lives but at this moment they are at peace. Mary rests secure in the knowledge that Joseph has positioned himself to protect her and the child from any threat, and Joseph has seen to the relative safety of his wife and son before lighting a fire and allowing himself to rest. Mary and Joseph’s faith in each other is as evident and strong as is their faith in God.
Faith begins with family. It is in the family that we learn about God and we learn about ourselves. In the family we learn about our gifts and talents, who we are called to be, and how to use our gifts responsibly.
Family virtues are different from other kinds of virtues and the Church teaches that there is something special to learn from the “Holy Family.” Purity, patience, faith, noble suffering, hope and obedience are all there in the life of the family of Our Lord.
At the core of the family is faith, from the faith of Abraham and Sarah to the faith of Joseph and Mary. God entered into their lives with a miraculous gift. All children are a gift from God. And as we are all someone’s children, we are all gifts from God and ultimately, we belong to Him. God acts upon our families and we must remain open to Him and ready to do His will, in faith.