Recently my wife and I welcomed our first child into the world, a daughter named Lily Marie. Her addition to our family has been more powerful and joy-filled than we could have ever imagined, though this is not to ignore the exhaustion that comes with a newborn! Here’s a picture of her:
By naming her Lily Marie we wanted to honor two Saints who have been and continue to be significant intercessors and models of holiness for both my wife and I: St. Joseph and Mary, Mother of God.
By naming her “Lily” we dedicated her to St. Joseph’s intercession, who is often holding white lilies, which symbolize his purity and chastity in marriage to Mary. And, by giving her the middle name “Marie”, we sought to reverence the Blessed Mother (of which the French derivation is significant for my Cajun French roots). However, beyond loving and honoring St. Joseph and the Blessed Mother as individual Saints, we sought to dedicate our first child and our newly founded family to the Holy Family, whose feast we celebrate today as a universal Church.
The fact that Jesus Christ was born into a family is quite significant. Rather than merely descending from above as an alien overlord in the form of a fully-formed human being, he chose to become small — so small that he spent the first nine months in Mary’s womb and had a manger as his first throne. However, his smallness does not stop there. He then joyfully embraced the life of the family by being raised by his true mother and step-father. Because Christ is true God and true man & was like us in all ways but sin, we can really say that Mary and Joseph taught Jesus and that he, in turn, learned from them, as he “increased in wisdom and in stature, and in favor with God and man” (Lk 2:52; also cf. CCC #472). The Holy Family was a true family similar in many ways to all other families with obvious and notable exceptions.
The family, Pope Benedict XVI said in his 2009 Angelus on the Feast of the Holy Family, is an icon of God:
The first witnesses of Christ’s birth, the shepherds, found themselves not only before the Infant Jesus but also a small family: mother, father and newborn son. God had chosen to reveal himself by being born into a human family and the human family thus became an icon of God! God is the Trinity, he is a communion of love; so is the family despite all the differences that exist between the Mystery of God and his human creature, an expression that reflects the unfathomable Mystery of God as Love.
This is so — despite the inadequacies of the analogy — because in the family the father and mother give themselves to one another in a total and free gift of self, which in turn procreates a new life that further unites them together in a profound mystery of life and love. In the mystery of family life, love takes on a new dimension and depth by sharing all that one has and all that one is, which witnesses to the transcendent love of the Trinity and between Christ and his Bride, the Church. In the Holy Family, Christ goes from communion to communion, all the while remaining with the Father and the Holy Spirit, thereby sanctifying and redeeming family life.
This love is not easy though, as my wife and I are learning first-hand. The sleepless nights, the interrupted and suspended schedules, and the sheer humility required to constantly put another before oneself takes serious self-purification, which is always easier in theory than in practice. However, we take great solace in looking to the Holy Family as our inspiration and guides.
When we look to them we come to remember that the gift of ourselves is the most precious thing that we can give to our daughter. Pope Benedict said in his 2010 Holy Family Angelus that
How important it is, therefore, that every child coming into the world be welcomed by the warmth of a family! External comforts do not matter: Jesus was born in a stable and had a manger as his first cradle, but the love of Mary and of Joseph made him feel the tenderness and beauty of being loved. Children need this: the love of their father and mother. It is this that gives them security and, as they grow, enables them to discover the meaning of life.
We inevitably feel the pressure to give our daughter all of the best things, as we are constantly reminded of when we peruse the internet, watch TV, or witness in other families, but Mary and Joseph, who could only give Christ their poverty (consider: they could only afford to offer two turtledoves at the Temple rather than the customary lamb), remind us that our love for God, her, and one another is the most secure foundation and home within which she can grow.
As a husband and father, St. Joseph teaches me to cultivate the interior disposition necessary to listen to the voice of God so that I may lead our family wherever it is that he calls us, just as St. Joseph heard and promptly responded to the command of the angel to flea Bethlehem for Egypt. St. Joseph also teaches me what it means to be a silent leader and hard worker who need not say many things so as to say much. His silence in the Scriptures is a much louder testimony to the true nature of masculine virtue than any words that could have been recorded on his account. St. Joseph was a guardian and provider for his family and in his humble disposition he is deemed as “St. Joseph, Terror of Demons.”
Mary, on the other hand, whom my wife imitates more than she knows, teaches our family what it means to be totally available to God and, thus, to our family. By waiting upon God’s word and then responding to his call, the Blessed Mother teaches my wife (and I) that the only way to truly care for our family is by devoting herself totally to the one God rather than allowing herself to be carried away by the stress of the many things that must get done. In so doing my lovely wife still sees to the many things necessary for transforming our house into a home, but she imitates Mary by placing her priority in the right place, which then penetrates all of her daily tasks and duties.
Finally, our two-week-old daughter imitates Christ by simply existing. Through her endless cycle of sleeping and feeding, she perfectly imitates Christ in her baby-ness who was a baby just like her. Through her presence in our family life, she presents us with the chance to love Christ by caring for such a small and innocent life. In time she will re-teach us what it means to be child-like before the Father so that we may one day enter into his Kingdom together as a family (God-willing).
It is on liturgical feasts such as these that I become grateful once again for my Catholic faith, which is so real and tangible so as to orient our attention to the sanctity of family life. Our God is not so grandiose and powerful that the small and messy realities of family life are too inconsequential for him; rather, God’s greatness and glory manifests itself by being present to even the smallest and most chaotic of human realities such as family life. On the Feast of the Holy Family of Nazareth, let us all remember to pray for our families, dysfunctional though they may be. It is our families, after all, that we did not choose, but, rather, were chosen for us by the action of God. May we all learn from and imitate the Holy Family in our daily struggles who presents to us an icon of the Holy Trinity and are the perfect model of family life and love.
O Holy Family of Nazareth, pray for us!