From the very beginning the family of Nazareth experienced crisis. It was, in fact, on the verge of dying in its conception. We remember that when Joseph knew that Mary was pregnant, he had already decided to let her go. But that was not God’s plan for him, and one sure thing that we know about Joseph is that he was very attuned to God’s word in his life. Often God spoke to Joseph in his dreams, in the middle of the night, when there were no distractions and he could hear clearly.
In today’s gospel we have another difficult moment for this young family. The child was in danger. The corrupt Herod wanted to get rid of him, because he was afraid (needless to say, unnecessarily so) that this child would eventually threaten his kingdom. The angel of God tells Joseph to get up and grab the child and his mother and leave for Egypt. The gospel tells us that Joseph just got up and left, no questions asked. That was Joseph in a nutshell. Very much like his father Abraham when God told him to get up and leave for another land, Abraham just got up and left. Once Joseph understood what was that God wanted, he just did it. We can say that Joseph completely lived for God and for his family. His interests, his ideas, his way of thinking came always last.
The gospels give us other instances when the family of Nazareth experienced “normal” difficulties or moments of tension. Imagine the day when Jesus was lost in the temple. Just imagine the tension between husband and wife when both say that they believed that the other was looking after the child! And then try to imagine what went through the parents’ mind when, still stressed from the whole situation, they hear their son trying to justify himself rather than quietly shut up and say sorry.
Yes, in spite of the fact that the Holy Family was not your normal family, yet they went through exactly the same experiences that our own families go through. By putting God first, they kept going, and helped the child grow to become what God intended him to become, which is, after all, the vocation of every parent.
By their actions, Joseph and Mary give us a great message for our lives. In the second reading of today’s liturgy St Paul gives us more down-to-earth advice about family life. Paul knows quite well that there is no “perfect family”. Even the best of families has its moments of trouble, disagreements, and crises. In his recipe Paul puts in ingredients such as compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. How difficult it is to stay humble when an argument arises. We all want to be proved right! And how impatient we become when things do not go our way! And what about compassion: trying to see things through the eyes of the other person, before we start judging and complaining? And then, as the icing on his cake, Paul throws in forgiveness and love. Notice that Paul does not tell us not to have arguments, not to hurt each other. He knows quite well that, in a human world, this would be impossible. But he does tell us to forgive, not to hold grudges - a very favorite theme of St Paul if we read all his letters. Paul knows that if any relationship is to survive and grow, forgiveness has to be an essential part of its life. A marriage-relationship is no exception. And then, above all, Paul tells us to clothe ourselves with love. We know what Paul understands by love (just read his hymn to love in his 1st letter to the Corinthians, ch. 13). It is a love that expects nothing in return, that seeks the good of the other rather than one’s own.
Let us make sure to put God in our families, like St Joseph did, and let us ask God to help us to put love as He understands it as the basis of all our relationships.