Feast of the Holy Family


by John Dalla Costa

The Holy Family takes on special significance this year, as it precedes the Synod of Bishops on the Family, which Pope Francis convened for 2014. Francis described the family as “the first setting in which faith enlightens the human city.” Concerned about the “social and spiritual crisis” impacting families, the Holy Father asked for input from bishops, clergy, religious and the laity.

Early Christians regarded the family as the “domestic church,” because this is where we first experience the generative power of God’s love. As we read in Sirach and Paul, family is also the container in which we learn Beatitude-like spiritual virtues, such as kindness and respect; grieving together; yearning for and learning justice; and relishing healing peace.

This spiritual formation within family is being lost. The Synod’s preparatory document explains that, “many children and young people will never see their parents receive the sacraments.” As well as re-seed formation, the Bishop’s Synod is charged with framing pastoral care for the spiritual needs of “irregular” families, such as those involving divorced members, single parents, same-sex couples, and surrogate mothers. The aim is to help all families discover and live out what Pope John Paul II called the “fundamental and innate vocation of every human being,” which is to “love.”

Holy families are fragile entities because, as we read in today’s Gospel, by their example and priorities they undermine tyrants, injustice and inequality. Joseph was himself in an irregular situation, making Mary his wife despite her pregnancy, and raising Jesus despite not being his natural father. But once again he surrendered to his “vocation to love,” sweeping the family to safety by taking refuge in a foreign land, and later settling in obscure Nazareth.