As we begin to celebrate Christmas this year, I’m reminded of the famous lines from Dr. Seuss’ original “How the Grinch Stole Christmas”:
“And the Grinch, with his Grinch-feet ice cold in the snow, stood puzzling and puzzling, how could it be so? It came without ribbons. It came without tags. It came without packages, boxes or bags. And he puzzled and puzzled ‘till his puzzler was sore. Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn’t before. What if Christmas, he thought, doesn’t come from a store. What if Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more.”
Regardless of everything that has happened this year, Christ comes just the same into our messy world to shine light in the darkness.
That is something always worth celebrating!
But as much as I love Christmas, there is another day I would like to highlight. The celebration of Christmas simply begins on December 25. A few days later, on the first Sunday after Christmas, is the Feast of the Holy Family (this year celebrated on December 27).
This day can go unnoticed amidst the time between Christmas and New Year’s. Yet, it is a powerful and wonderful gift in the Liturgical year to celebrate something we perhaps have gained a better appreciation for during this year: family.
This is the beauty of the Holy Family: that God became Incarnate in the womb of an unknown virgin, betrothed to a common laborer, in a seemingly forgotten town of Nazareth. John’s Gospel points to this reality; when Philip tells Nathanael that they have found the Lord, and shares that Jesus is from Nazareth, he scoffs saying, “Can anything good come from Nazareth?” (Jn 1:46).
Sometimes, especially around holidays, we can be reminded of how messy family can be. At times, we can be tempted to repeat Nathanael’s line and simply replace “Nazareth” with another place, or even person, of our choosing.
But the feast of the Holy Family reminds us that regardless of the contours, joys, or (passive-aggressive) struggles our families face, it is in part through the family that the Lord comes and makes us holy. After all, that God chose to become Incarnate and grow as part of a family reveals both the Sanctification of family life and the importance it holds in having a lived faith.
Recently, the National Review posted an article entitled, “Why American Children Stopped Believing in God” (2020). In it, author Cameron Hilditch points to the work of Lyman Stone, who “tracked the history of religious belief, behavior, and association in the United States since the founding.” Stone finds that religiosity is “usually determined very early in life.” “All the data suggests,” Hilditch writes, “that, by and large, kids brought up in religious households stay religious and kids who aren’t, don’t. Consequently, childhood religiosity has been, and remains, the most important indicator of America’s religious trajectory.”
This part of his findings, at least, correlate with similar findings from the Barna study summarized in “Households of Faith” (2019), and even to those of St. Mary’s Press and CARA in “Going, Going, Gone” (2018).
In short, the family has, and always will always play an essential role in the formation of people and, by extension, society. As St. John Paul II famously shared: “As the family goes, so goes the nation and so goes the whole world in which we live” (Homily in Perth, Australia, 1986).
As we continue to navigate our current day-to-day lives, I invite you to simply try each day to do what the Holy Family models for us. Help each other — your children, your grandchildren, or even just your friends — come to know Jesus the Christ.
Don’t underestimate the power of witness; of sharing your experience of God, Church and the faith. Even if you don’t feel like you have it all together yourself, share what you do have. God uses all of it for His glory: your family’s play time, chores, meals, disagreements, laughter, prayers and tears. I try (emphasis on try) to remind myself of this whenever I get frustrated with my son, or feel too tired or distracted to pray with him. How would the Holy Family handle this? How can I share the faith in this moment, regardless of how mundane it is?
Don’t be afraid to be real, like the poor family from Nazareth, discounted for who they were and where they were from. Regardless of what they did, or did not have, they were not afraid to be the home where God and humanity met, and Jesus grew in silent splendor.
I wonder how many times Joseph and Mary watched Jesus, when He played or slept or ate, and thought of who He would become or if they were doing a good job as parents. I’d like to think they asked questions that are not too dissimilar than ones we ask as parents today.
But what made all the difference for them was that they trusted in and surrendered their lives to God.
They made their home a welcomed dwelling for the Holy Spirit. Yes, they had God Incarnate in their midst. But we also receive Christ in a very real way at every Mass and encounter Him in every Sacrament. We, too, can make our homes and families a welcome dwelling for the Holy Spirit.
And, especially during this recently announced Year of St. Joseph, let us pray through the intercession of St. Joseph that we be given the same silent courage he had to lead our families closer to holiness.
Take a moment, right now, gather whoever in your family is near you as you read this, and let’s pray for our families with the prayer Pope Francis has given us for this year:
Hail, Guardian of the Redeemer,
Spouse of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
To you God entrusted His only Son;
in you Mary placed her trust;
with you Christ became man.
Blessed Joseph, to us too,
show yourself a father
and guide us in the path of life.
Obtain for us grace, mercy, and courage,
and defend us from every evil.
May the Lord bless you and your family this Christmas season and as we begin a New Year!
Anchor columnist David Carvalho is the senior director for Faith Formation, Youth, Young Adult and Family Life Ministries for the Diocese of Fall River. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org.