How was the Year of St. Joseph for you? We concluded that observance on December 8, but Joseph again enters the spotlight with the Christmas stories. When he is in turmoil over Mary’s inexplicable pregnancy, Joseph is visited by an angel in a dream. It happens again with the order to flee to Egypt to protect this Child from Herod, and again to return to Israel.
As we look at the experiences of families today, it might seem like the peaceful and serene family life we picture of the Holy Family is indeed but a dream. Today’s world can make the model of Jesus and Mary and Joseph seem remote, quaint, perhaps still an admirable ideal but no longer possible. But the same key to their family life is still here: the grace of God in human form in the person of Jesus.
In his Gospel, Matthew wants us to think of another dreamer also named Joseph, found in the book of Genesis. That Joseph was one of the twelve sons of Jacob, the favorite of his father but sold into slavery in Egypt by jealous brothers – family troubles are clearly nothing new. Yet God uses the misfortunes of this Old Testament Joseph to save his family from famine and to set the stage, some years later, for Moses and the Exodus. God also used the life of this later Joseph, of Nazareth, for a greater purpose. Joseph’s labors in the carpenter’s shop fed his small family, but his care for Jesus also made possible the greater gift of the Eucharist, the Bread of Life, to feed His people. His guardianship of Jesus meant that, years later, Christ could be the New Moses, leading the Exodus from the slavery of sin and death to new life.
Joseph’s obedience to God’s voice in his dreams, like our own Yes to God, does not prevent adversity and suffering. Jesus came into a human family for the same reason He bore the Cross: not to make family life easy and without pain, but to fill it with the presence of God, hope, meaning. The Holy Family knew much sorrow and conflict: from the tension between Joseph and Mary at her pregnancy to the forced exile as refugees in Egypt; from the cold fear of a missing child in Jerusalem to the long years of obscurity and labor in the shop, with the slivers and cuts that come from wood and tools; from Mary’s widowhood and Jesus’ leaving home to the supreme sorrow of the Passion. The life of this family of Nazareth was far from serene and idyllic; indeed, it was as filled with drama and suffering as any of our families and more than most. But what makes them the “Holy Family” was the fact that at the heart and core of their common life was love – love in Person in Jesus Christ. The whole reason for that family to exist was so that the love of God could be made personally present in our world, and thus make holy every moment of our human condition. As disciples, we make a place for Jesus in our families as well. Teaching children to pray and read Scripture, learning the faith together, including visible reminders like the Crucifix, the Bible, an image of the Sacred Heart – these are daily routines that can make even our struggles a path to love and joy. We never alone in our journey of faith, even if faith might seem like a dream at difficult moments.
As we think of our own families today, it is good to remember families around the world – families where war, or sickness, or persecution, or slavery, have separated family members from one another.
Many live in refugee camps, or on the streets, alone and hungry and frightened. Other families know the sorrow of conflict and division, separation due to military service or other responsibilities, the loss of a loved one. We pray for them, our brothers and sisters in the family of the Church, and do what we can to help them.
Day by day – sometimes boring and routine, sometimes all too demanding, you bring to life a communion of respect and service, care and compassion, belonging and love. Sometimes the family we dream of and the family we live in might seem worlds apart. But love can bridge that gap, just as it did for Joseph the Dreamer, love personally present in Jesus Christ. May He always find a home in our homes, and in our hearts.