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Our Lady, Seat of Wisdom, with the Christ child, in the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Assumption, Baltimore, MD

Our Lady, Seat of Wisdom, with Christ, in the Basilica of the Assumption, Baltimore, MD

For many over the last few days the celebration of Christmas has been an opportunity for families to come together, often after some significant time apart, and, in each other’s company, to rejoice at the divine relationship of God and Man by recognizing the importance of the relationships that we enjoy with each other, whether by blood, or by the supernatural bond which is formed in us by virtue of our baptism into the life of Christ and the Church.

The feast of the Holy Family is a particular reminder of this, continuing this emphasis by presenting us with the example of the Lord’s earthly family, that we might imitate more closely his heavenly family. The Holy Family of Nazareth is given to us in the light of Lord’s nativity as a model of living for us to imitate, and a type of the fullness of life itself, which is the life of the Most Holy and Undivided Trinity; the relationship of God the Father with God the Son, in and through God the Holy Spirit. That relationship, which is of the essence of our life in Christ and our hope of eternal life in him, is one begun in us by our sacramental washing in the waters of the sacred font, in baptism, and seen most particularly in the offering of the Eucharistic sacrifice, the Holy Mass. In baptism we are grafted to Christ, incorporated into his mystical body, the Church, and so necessarily caught up in his divine life and in the eternal offering of his perfect sacrifice of praise to his Eternal Father. By virtue of our death to self, and our subsequent regeneration into new life in Christ, we too are intimately one with him: one with him in this life, we will be one with him in the next if we resist the poison and sickness of sin, which seeks to kill the mutual relationship he has established.

That miracle of God’s grace, of our unity with him and the fullness of his divine life, is shown to us most especially when we come to the Mass. Here we enter into the perpetual and supernatural offering of Christ’s high-priestly prayer in a cultic way, seeing the eternal worship of heaven in our earthly realm. As we prayed throughout the season of Advent, ‘O that thou wouldst rend the heavens and come down’ (Is. 64: 1), so in the Church’s offering of the Eucharistic sacrifice we are presented with the glories of heavenly worship and echo the words of Saint Stephen: ‘Behold, I see the heavens opened’ (Acts 7: 56). In the Mass we see in time and space an eternal reality: the priest standing in the place and person of Christ—he the head and we the members—offering the bread and wine which becomes the Body and Blood of Christ in the same sacrifice of the cross of Calvary, albeit re-presented in an unbloody way. In the Mass, motivated by the Holy Spirit, the Church, the mystical Body of Christ, offers her prayer to the Father and so becomes an icon of the life of the Most Holy Trinity itself.

This is why the gift and example of the Holy Family to us is vital. Our Lady and Saint Joseph, in their care and custody of the Word made Flesh, show us how we might live more closely the divine life which, by sanctification, they now share in the kingdom of heaven. By imitating the virtues they practiced in their earthly lives and seeking their heavenly intercession, we become more closely united with Christ, becoming children and heirs of his heavenly inheritance (cf. Rom. 8: 17). The event of the gospel reading for this feast emphasizes this for us. In fulfilment of the law of Moses, the Holy Family present their new child in the temple for the rites of circumcision. Of course Christ was born without the corruption of original sin, yet by this act he becomes subject to the law, in order to fulfil the law, and so also prefigure in his shedding of blood and offering of flesh the sacrifice that he will undergo in his crucifixion. Already, just a few days old, we see in this child ‘the fall and rise of many’ (Lk. 2: 33).

This theological and spiritual gift is a real and practical encouragement for us. By the example of the Holy Family we are summoned to live more closely united to the life of the Triune God. We are given their example in order that we might imitate Christ, and ourselves become ‘strong, filled with wisdom’ by a deeper and more profound communion with God the Father in the eternal bond into which we have been initiated in baptism (Lk. 2: 40). By following the courage of Saint Joseph, and the gentle but formidable faith of Our Blessed Mother, we too are drawn to a greater obedience to the will of our heavenly Father; making their ‘Yes’ to him our own in all that we say and do, and so conforming ourselves more perfectly to the perfect submission and obedience seen in Christ his Son, who ‘became obedient unto death, even death on a cross’ (Phil. 2: 8).

May the continuation of the Christmas season and this feast of the Holy Family enkindle this virtuous desire in our hearts; may we come to share the humble docility and perfect obedience of the Holy Family, which has at its heart the simple following of Christ and the rejection of our own selfish desires; and may we, at the last, share in the unending joy of Our Lady and Saint Joseph in the eternal presence of our glorified Messiah, caught up forever in the most magnificent outpouring of love, the fullness of God’s presence; that when the time of our earthly purification is complete we too may enjoy the Father’s favour, and offer ourselves in the everlasting sacrifice of prayer and praise of the saints and angels, forever abiding in his eternal glory.