“Rise, take the child and his mother, flee to Egypt, and stay there until I tell you.”… He stayed there until the death of Herod, that what the Lord had said through the prophet might be fulfilled, "Out of Egypt I called my son."
When Herod had died, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt and said, “Rise, take the child and his mother and go to the land of Israel, for those who sought the child’s life are dead.” … He went and dwelt in a town called Nazareth, so that what had been spoken through the prophets might be fulfilled, "He shall be called a Nazorean.” (MT 2:13-15, 19-23)
Do you ever find yourself struggling over a life decision that will affect your future, and perhaps that of your family? We all face these crossroads-type decisions at least a few times in life in relation to big issues: marriage, career, moving, health, education, etc. What do we rely on when making these decisions that will affect our future and that of other loved ones? Where do we find strength, courage, wisdom and faith to trust that our decisions will work out? Do we turn to God for guidance in prayer?
The gospel reading for the Feast of the Holy Family of Jesus reminds us of our utter reliance on God and His Divine Providence. Joseph had earlier been told by the angel not to divorce Mary and that her Son was conceived by the Holy Spirit. This gospel, from the Fourth Sunday of Advent, also tells us that “all this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet [see IS 7:14] Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son…” (MT 1:18-24).
We sometimes wish we could have the clarity that a surface reading of these Gospel passages seems to relate: when Joseph was faced with big decisions, he slept on it, and the answer was given to him by an angel of the Lord. No agonizing or making lists of pros and cons, no weighing the impact on family stability, finances and future. He had someone to point him in the right direction. Wouldn’t it be nice to have a trusted advisor like that?
We think that the deeper meaning in this string of Old Testament and Gospel readings is the abiding and constant reliance on God demonstrated by Mary and Joseph in forming their family, first of all, then in seeking out and saying yes to God’s will as they were able to understand it throughout their lives. Mary’s Fiat, Joseph’s decision to marry Mary despite the apparent problems, his anxiety over finding a place for Mary to give birth, being hunted by Herod’s soldiers and having to leave everything they knew and everyone they loved; and all this while caring for a newborn infant you’ve been told is God’s own son. We would have felt an overwhelming sense of pressure and responsibility in such situations, wouldn’t we?
Yet they were able to place all their trust in God, and were guided ultimately to Heaven. The Bible doesn’t tell us they avoided suffering or anxiety by relying on God. But in doing His will, we can see that their obedience helped to repair that original sin of disobedience in the Garden of Eden. This work of redemption was perfected by our Lord in his Passion, Crucifixion, Resurrection and Ascension, of course, but we can see how God invited His beloved creation to participate in restoring the relationship damaged by original sin. Mary and Joseph were both given a choice, and in saying yes to God, they earned their place in Heaven and our special devotion to them as models to be imitated.
The Bible readings cited above tell us that all these things took place so that scripture might be fulfilled, but we doubt that Mary and Joseph would have had that kind of a view of what was going on in their lives. They were likely too busy living them to fully understand their place in the larger history of salvation. We can learn from this that we, too, do not need to fully understand every aspect of God’s plan for us in order to make a choice and opt to rely on God. In fact, it is in choosing despite — or beyond — what our intellects can fathom that we demonstrate our reliance on God and His Divine Providence.
Jim’s dad once counseled him that there are some decisions that are too important to make with the head alone. Reliance on God asks us to step beyond what we can know with human certainty and have faith in God’s promise of Heaven to us. Our Divine Master told the apostles that he was preparing a place for them, and by extension, for those of us who follow in faith and perseverance through the narrow gate. By turning to God in prayer when faced with difficult choices we practice that reliance on God that will help trace our path to eternity in Heaven.
Blessed James Alberione wrote that “God wished to restore all things in Jesus Christ and He decreed that Jesus should begin his work presenting to all families a perfect model in the Holy Family of Nazareth…and so the work of restoration began from the family.” (Statute of the Holy Family Institute, ch. 1) As we are reminded on this Feast of the Holy Family that our work is to consolidate that restoration first in our own families and then amplify it out into the world, let us take heart in the examples of the Holy Spouses Mary and Joseph and in their reliance on God above all.
We wish you all a blessed Christmas season and a spiritually fruitful 2017.
Jim and Luisa McMillan are perpetually professed members of the Holy Family Institute, which they entered in Colombia in 2000. They reside in Colorado, where they work as translators and interpreters. They have 3 daughters ranging in age from 15 to 32 and one granddaughter.