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Learning in the School of Nazareth: Feast of the Holy Family
By Deacon Keith Fournier
December 27th, 2009
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)
From antiquity the Christian family has rightly been called a domestic church. In our family we can learn the way of selfless love in the School of Nazareth.CHESAPEAKE, Va. (Catholic Online) - The Epistle reading for our Sunday Liturgy on this Feast of the Holy Family includes these words from the Apostle Paul: “Brothers and sisters: Put on, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, bearing with one another and forgiving one another, if one has a grievance against another; as the Lord has forgiven you, so must you also do. And over all these put on love, that is, the bond of perfection.” (Colossians 3)
During the Octave (eight days) of Christmas we celebrate the Feast of the Holy Family. The significance of the Feast unfolds when we come to understand the deeper truths it reveals, about Jesus, Mary, Joseph, each one of us and our own families. Through our Baptism, we are invited to live our lives in Christ by living them in the Church - which is the Risen Body of Christ. The Church is the place where we learn, as the Apostle Paul reminded the Colossian Christians, to “put on love, that is, the bond of perfection”.
The Christian family is the first cell of the whole Church. It is the place where we begin the journey toward holiness and become more fully human. The Incarnate Word, Jesus Christ, became one of us. He was born into a human family. That was neither accidental nor incidental. There, in what Pope Paul VI called the “School of Nazareth”, we learn the way of love. The late Pope’s reflection called “the Example of Nazareth” is in the Office of Readings for the Liturgy of the Hours (the breviary) for today’s’ feast.
Every moment of his time among us Jesus was saving the world, re-creating it from within. To use a word from the early Church Father and Bishop St. Ireneaus, he was "recapitulating" the entire human experience. There, in the holy habitation of Nazareth, He forever transformed family life. Now, He teaches us how to live in His presence, if we enroll in the “School of Nazareth”.
From antiquity the Christian family has rightly been called a "domestic church." In our life within the Christian family Jesus Christ is truly present. However, we need the eyes to see Him at work, the ears to hear His instruction and the hearts to make a place for Him to dwell. In our family we can learn the way of selfless love in the School of Nazareth.
Jesus spent 30 of his 33 earthly years in Nazareth. Some spiritual writers have called these the “hidden years”, because there is so little written about them in the Gospel narratives. However, they reveal the holiness of ordinary life and show us how it becomes extraordinary for those baptized into Christ.
Every moment of his time among us Jesus was saving, redeeming, and re-creating the world. From his conception, throughout His saving life, death and Resurrection, the One whom scripture calls the “New Adam” was making all things new. To use a word from the early Church Father and Bishop St. Irenaeaus, he was "recapitulating" the entire human experience in every aspect.
The Fathers of the last great Council of the Church put it this way: “The truth is that only in the mystery of the incarnate Word does the mystery of man take on light. For Adam, the first man, was a figure of Him Who was to come, namely Christ the Lord. Christ, the final Adam, by the revelation of the mystery of the Father and His love, fully reveals man to man himself and makes his supreme calling clear. …He Who is "the image of the invisible God" (Col. 1:15), is Himself the perfect man.
“To the sons of Adam He restores the divine likeness which had been disfigured from the first sin onward. Since human nature as He assumed it was not annulled, by that very fact it has been raised up to a divine dignity in our respect too. For by His incarnation the Son of God has united Himself in some fashion with every man. He worked with human hands, He thought with a human mind, acted by human choice and loved with a human heart. Born of the Virgin Mary, He has truly been made one of us, like us in all things except sin” (GS 22)
In the holy habitation of Nazareth Jesus transformed family life. Already blessed as God’s plan for the whole human race and the first society, the Christian family has been elevated in Christ to a Sacrament, a vehicle of grace and sign of God’s presence. The Church proclaims Christian marriage, and the family founded upon it, is a vocation, a response to the call of the Lord. In the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph, we learn the way of love in the School of Nazareth.
The phrase “domestic church” was one of particular fondness to the great Bishop of Constantinople, John Chrysostom. It was a framework for the teaching of the Second Vatican Council on Christian marriage and family. The Venerable Pope John Paul II developed this teaching in his “Christian family in the Modern World” and his “Letter to the Family”. In these writings he invites every Christian family to “become what you are”, a domestic church.
The Holy Family of Jesus, Joseph and Mary is not only our model, it is the beginning of the new family of the Church. Our Gospel story today tells us of a family trip which is packed with lessons for those enrolled in the School of Nazareth. In and through the ordinary stuff of daily life we find Jesus and in the encounter discover ourselves. In those encounters we change, we “put on love, which is the bond of perfection”.
Pope Paul VI wrote: "Nazareth is a kind of school where we may begin to discover what Christ’s life was like and even to understand his Gospel. …Here we can learn to realize who Christ really is. … Here everything speaks to us, everything has meaning.”
I woke up in church this morning. Not on a cold dark floor surrounded by votive candles and stained glass; but next to my partner in faith, my best friend, my co-pastor, my beloved wife of 33 years, Laurine. Down the hall slept members of the ecclesial community now in our home, our daughter and our grandson. The others are out of the home now but never out of our hearts. They are pursuing their own mission in life and, we pray, growing in a mature understanding of the implications of their baptismal vocation to holiness.
Perhaps the most often quoted use of the term “domestic church” is from the "Golden Mouth" 4th century preacher John Chrysostom in Antioch, the city where they were first called Christians. He reminds us that the church is a relational reality and Jesus promised "when two or three are gathered…" He would be in our midst. However, within the Catholic and Orthodox Church, Christian Marriage is even more, it is a Sacrament, a participation in- and sign of- the Life of the Trinity!
Yet more often we see ourselves living "in the world" and "going to Church." However, our Feast today reveals the deeper truth. Every Christian family is a holy family when the source of holiness is welcomed to take up residence. Because of His presence in our life together, we all woke up in Church this morning.
We live in Church. We were baptized into the Lord and now live in His Risen Body as members. The Christian family is the smallest cell of that Body. The extended church community is a family of families. This understanding is more than piety--it is sound ecclesiology, solid anthropology...it is reality. Family life is where the "rubber hits the road" for most Christians. It is here that the universal call to holiness, in all its real, earthy, humanness and ordinariness is first issued.
Family is where progress in the spiritual life can find its raw material. Whether we respond to grace and develop the eyes to see, ears to hear, and hearts to accept the hidden invitations to love found beneath the surface of that daily "stuff" is wrapped up in the mystery of human freedom. The Greek word translated "emptied" in St. Paul’s letter to the Philippians is "kenosis." "Have this mind among yourselves which was in Christ Jesus, who though He was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself… " (Phil. 2:5)
This word refers to the voluntary pouring out-like water-of oneself in an act of sacrificial love. This "emptying" is the proper response of the love of a Christian for the One who first loved us. It is also the very heart of the vocation of Christian marriage and family.
When the right choices are made in this life of "domestic kenosis", we cooperate with the Lord's invitation to follow Him by exercising our human freedom; we choose to give ourselves away in love to the "other." In so doing, we are gradually transformed into an image, a living icon, of Jesus Christ. This way of holiness is not easy, as anyone who has lived the vocation can attest, but make no mistake; it is a very real path to holiness. It is also a wonderful one.
The challenge lies in the choices we make, daily, hourly, and even moment-by-moment. Two trees still grow in the garden of domestic life. They invite the exercise of our freedom, the core of the Image of God within us. There is the tree in Eden where the first Eve said, "No I will not serve." Then, there is the Tree on Calvary where Mary, the "second Eve" stood with the beloved disciple John and, along with him, again proclaimed her "yes". Through those choices, presented to us from the moment we open our eyes every morning to the time we close them at night, we are invited to learn in the “School of Nazareth” and, in imitation of the Holy Family, become a domestic church.
“Brothers and sisters: Put on, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, bearing with one another and forgiving one another, if one has a grievance against another; as the Lord has forgiven you, so must you also do. And over all these put on love, that is, the bond of perfection.” (Colossians 3)
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