The message of Jesus, Mary and Joseph over 2,000 years ago can resonate with so many different groups today. They were poor, marginalised refugees in complicated marital circumstances. After the Annunciation, Mary can closely identify with many in the position of having an unwanted pregnancy. Joseph and Mary were not married when Jesus was conceived and initially Joseph was sceptical of Mary’s fidelity. As Jesus had no natural earthly father, he can also relate to single parent families, single mothers and those adopted who have foster fathers. St Athanasius said, “He became man so that we might be made God; and he manifested himself in the flesh, so that we might grasp the idea of the unseen father; and he endured the insolence of men, so that we might receive the inheritance of immortality.”
Mary was obedient to God’s will, regardless of the circumstances. Joseph eventually had a dream and came to accept the extraordinary situation. Joseph had a powerful role to play in protecting Mary and the baby as a father. He is a powerful role model for men who are responsible for pregnancies. Everyone should learn to open their heart towards supporting women in crisis as a result of unplanned pregnancies. The only Son of God entered human history through the family, so we should welcome every child who is conceived and is welcomed into the world, for what we do to the smallest and weakest of our society, we also do to God.
We do not know a great deal about Joseph. We are told that he is a righteous man, and we must be aware that he is the representative of God the father, as every father is. He would have told Jesus how to be a man, how to work and how to pray. Joseph taught Jesus by his own example, he learnt about the beauty of faith and the love of God and his law. Joseph is a wonderful role model of what it means to be a father, as a patron of the universal Church we should pray to him for strong and virtuous fathers in society. Blessed Pope John Paul II once said, “God in his deepest mystery is not a solitude, but a family, since He has in himself fatherhood, sonship and the essence of the family, which is love.”
The majority of Jesus’ life is in the hidden years with the Holy Family. The hidden life is left to our imagination. Blessed Charles de Foucauld dedicated his life to the hidden years of the Holy Family. The Holy Family is the model and exemplar for all Christian families. Jesus lived a life on earth that imitated the Trinity.
Today it is so important to revive an authentic witness of masculinity, for the sake of the family. John Eldredge in the book Wild at heart attempts to rediscover the undomesticated heart of man. Each man needs to rediscover his adventure, passion and place in a world that is opposed to true masculinity. Risks are necessary to avoid being emasculated. Each man must reveal and heal his wound. Above everything, men must avoid the ‘pleasant, passive and nice’ version of manhood that many Churches present.
When I think about acquaintances, it’s clear to see that the quality of relationships between men leave something to be desired. Until a man knows he is a man, he will be trying to prove that he is one. Some men then try to prove themselves, while others just feel inadequate. Very often, men will compare themselves to others, concerned over whether they are ‘enough.’ Self-acceptance is essential in developing a strong sense of self-esteem.
Women are deeply affirmed by authentic masculinity. It is no wonder that Mary plays such an important role in salvation history – as without her faithfulness the circumstances of our salvation would not have been possible. Jesus appeared to be like a troublesome teenager at one stage – going off without parental consent or knowledge to discuss matters in the temple. Although he did not sin, the Holy Family can also identify with potential difficulties and disturbances of turbulent teenage years.
Mary can also identify with those who find it difficult to conceive. Joseph and Mary lived both the married life and also a celibate vocation simultaneously, perhaps as a display of both the married vocation and the celibate or religious vocation. In this they can relate to those who have problems conceiving children, as they did not have any children resulting from their marriage vows.
Leo XIII promoted the feast of the Holy Family in the hope that it would give Christian families some of the faithful love and devoted attachment that typify the family of Nazareth. This Advent and Christmas, pray to the Holy Family to tap into the hidden years of joy, peace, fun and spontaneity they witnessed in the privacy of their own home.