This December, Look to the Holy Family

By Chris Sparks

December is definitely a month meant for family.

There’s the obvious: in an ordinary year, gathering for the holidays; trying to make Christmas special for the kids; trying to remember everyone on your Christmas shopping list; and so forth.

But there’s also the Church’s liturgical focus on family, and especially the Holy Family throughout the month of December.

For instance, we mark Our Lady’s Immaculate Conception on Dec. 8. We celebrate the Lord’s mercy to her parents, Sts. Anne and Joachim, who had been longing for a child. We honor Mary for her unique sanctity, given to her by God from the moment of her conception, but also nurtured and maintained by Our Lady’s cooperation with grace throughout her lifetime. And of course, this year, the Holy Father declared a Year of St. Joseph, beginning on Dec. 8, 2020, and running through Dec. 8, 2021.

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Thanks to Our Lady’s maternal care for her children, we also commemorate the Aztec visionary, St. Juan Diego, on Dec. 9, and Our Lady of Guadalupe on Dec. 12. She first appeared to St. Juan Diego on Dec. 8, the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception. What’s more, the miraculous image she left on his tilma (a cactus-fiber poncho or cloak) depicts her as the pregnant Woman of the Apocalypse. She is represented as Daughter Zion, Mother of God, and Mother of the Church. We are currently in a Jubilee marking the 125th anniversary of the coronation of Our Lady of Guadalupe.

All these liturgical celebrations of the Holy Family come before we even get to Christmas. They all come in the context of Advent, of the season of penance and waiting. In Advent, we look back to those who awaited the first coming of Christ, of whom Mary and Joseph were the last and the greatest. We look to the present to discern the coming of Christ in the Church and her Sacraments, in the Word of God in Scripture, and in the poor and our neighbor, whomever they may be. And we look forward to the Second Coming of Christ, the final coming, the end of the present world and the inauguration of the world to come. We look forward to the wedding of Heaven and earth, of Bride and Bridegroom, in a marriage without end. We look forward to the reunion of the whole household of God, of the Church, of the entire Holy Family — Jesus and all His brothers and sisters, all those joined to Him through faith, grace, Sacraments, and love, being united with Him and His family, world without end, amen.

And then there’s Christmas, of course, a foreshadowing of the joy and terror of the Second Coming, for there was both light and shadow playing about that stable in first century Bethlehem. The magi and the shepherds came to Jesus, and found the God whom they sought. Herod sent out his troops to slaughter, to destroy the king whom he feared, and failed to find. So too it will be at the end of the world. The wise and the lowly will ultimately find Jesus, whom they seek, in spite of Antichrist, the last and greatest in a long line of people like Herod. And the Holy Family, the Church, though forced to flee, persecuted, strangers in a strange land, will still be under the watchful care of God. We will have the prayers of Our Lady and the strong arm of St. Joseph, and the treasure of the Child Jesus, with us to the end.

Though it’s often overshadowed by what comes before, the Feast of the Holy Family also comes this month, on December 29. In a sense, this is a capstone of everything that came before, and an entry into an ordinary life. After all, we get a recounting in the Gospels of the circumstances surrounding Christ’s birth. We don’t hear anything about His life as a child till the finding in the Temple, and then utter silence between the ages of 12 and approximately 30. So it’s appropriate that the Feast of the Holy Family sort of passes in the haze of holiday cheer and the run up to the New Year. The Feast of the Holy Family is a celebration of the ordinary life of extraordinary people, of the three most holy human beings to ever walk the earth. It marks the source and summit of our Catholic faith, and the earthly icon of the Trinity in Heaven. In Jesus, we see God the Son, the face of the Father’s mercy, who lives in the Spirit. In Mary, we encounter the “quasi-incarnation” of the Holy Spirit, according to St. Maximilian Kolbe, a woman so completely wedded to the love of God that she is called the Spouse of the Spirit. And in St. Joseph, we see the “shadow” of the Father, as Pope Francis said in his apostolic letter announcing the Year of St. Joseph. We see the man to whom God the Father entrusted His Son, and who received the role of father from the Father in a direct way, unique in human history.

The month of December bathes us in family, and the Holy Family. It summons us to a sort of Sabbath at the end of the year, a time of rest and refreshment, a time of celebration and feasting. Even as the days get short and the night is at its longest, we mark that Christ, the Light of the World came to us. “[T]he light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (Jn 1:5). We celebrate the Incarnation, the miracle of God that opens up to us membership in the family of God.

One of St. Faustina’s visions beautifully brings all this to life:

I saw Our Lady with the Infant Jesus, and the Holy Old Man [St. Joseph] standing behind them. The most holy Mother said to me, "Take My Dearest Treasure," and She handed me the Infant Jesus. When I took the Infant Jesus in my arms, the Mother of God and Saint Joseph disappeared. I was left alone with the Infant Jesus. I said to Him, “I know that You are my Lord and Creator even though You are so tiny.” Jesus stretched His little arms out to me and looked at me with a smile. My spirit was filled with incomparable joy. Then, suddenly, Jesus disappeared, and it was time for Holy Communion. I went with the other sisters to the Holy Table, my soul deeply moved. After Holy Communion, I heard these words in my soul: "I am in your heart, I whom you had in your arms" (Diary of Saint Maria Faustina Kowalska, 608-609).

We are made members of God’s family through the Sacraments. We are united to the Holy Family with bonds of love and fidelity. Holy Mother Church entrusts the Eucharistic Lord to us as Our Lady entrusted Jesus to St. Faustina. We discern God Almighty in the consecrated Host, even though it’s so tiny. And God abides in our heart after we worthily receive Communion, just as He once consented to be born in Bethlehem, which translates to “House of Bread,” and be placed in the manger, the feeding trough, where the grain is put. The Bread from Heaven, Jesus Himself, comes to us again and again at every Mass. Every Mass is a new Advent, a re-presentation of His Passion and the beginnings of His Second Coming.

So let us do our best to participate in the Church’s liturgical celebrations this December, marking them with prayer and, if we can safely attend, with Mass, or with a livestream Mass. You’re always welcome to the Marian Fathers’ liturgies by livestream! Pray the Rosary daily for peace in the world, asking Our Lady for her intercession for your family and for all families. Make your consecration to St. Joseph and ask the Universal Patron of the Church to intercede for the Mystical Body of Christ, drawing us all into Catholic unity, holiness, and the New Evangelization. And always turn to Jesus, the Divine Mercy Incarnate, for His help and grace.

Jesus, I trust in You! Pray for me that I may practice what I preach. I’ll pray for you.

Chris Sparks serves as senior book editor for the Marian Fathers. He is the author of the Marian Press book How Can You Still Be Catholic? 50 Answers to a Good Question.

Photo by Batang Latagaw on Unsplash

 

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