Feast of the Holy Family, 2019

One of my favorite windows in here is this one facing forward that most of you can’t see from where you’re sitting. It’s an image of the Holy Family. Most Holy Family images are sort of like posed photos, Mary holding Jesus and Joseph behind them with his arms around them or something like that. I love those! But this one’s a little different, more like a candid moment; just the three of them caught at an ordinary moment at home in Nazareth.

They are each shown involved in their own activity. Joseph is at his workbench holding an ax or splitter, Mary has some kind of weaving, and Jesus is maybe ten or twelve years old. Some images show Jesus helping Joseph with his work, which I’m sure happened a lot and makes a beautiful scene, but in this window He’s studying a book. The book is itself anachronistic, but the artist’s point is to show Him studying and spending time with the Scriptures that He would be constantly quoting later in life.

So they’re occupied with their own things, but the artist emphasizes relationship over occupation. All three of them are shown holding their work but in sort of a moment of rest. Joseph is leaning on his tool, Mary has set her weaving on her lap, and Jesus is looking up from His reading. It’s like they’re all busy but are taking a little break. Mary and Joseph are looking at Jesus.

All of this plays into the atmosphere I love so much in this image. It shows that there is work to be done, occupations to be tended to, just the most regular ordinary activities that fill most of our time. But the family does these things together. Even if they aren’t physically together, the work and activity are still related to the family life. Relationships come first.

There’s also a message about the holiness of the ordinary. Our goal as Christians is to sanctify all our activities, and all of our inactivity too! It’s frustrating and it never works to try to fit God in as a piece of your life, because no matter how much time you carve out, no piece is big enough for God. The project isn’t to offer God a bigger piece, but to offer God the whole thing: the work and the chores and the rest and the play. Prayer is essential, and we are spiritually crippled without it! It just isn’t the only part of the day that counts as a holy offering to God.

As if to make sure we could never be confused about the holiness of these ordinary moments, the Word became flesh and dwelt among us doing almost nothing we know about for ninety percent of His life. Three years or so of public ministry culminating in His death and resurrection and ascension, following thirty years of… what? This! This window right here! God had thirty-three years to dwell among us in the flesh and He spent ninety percent of it living a life that is as “ordinary” as yours. And He spent it in a family.

There is no greater school of virtue for us. There is no place we learn more deeply to get over ourselves and to give ourselves to others. You might think you’re good at loving people but you don’t really know until you have to share a bathroom. And negotiate schedules. And deal with the faults, big and small, that they can hide from the rest of the world but not from the family. Family is where we learn to love, not in some lofty philosophical way, not with shallow social media interaction, but to actually love actual people.

Colossians 3 is as good an instruction manual as you’ll find. “Put on… 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.” Those aren’t just pretty words. They’re the only way we can live together.

The life of the family home, the life pictured in this window and lived in the homes of our parish in so many diverse ways, is holy. Jesus proved it so by being born into a family and living a family life. He made it so by establishing the family when first creating us at the foundation of the world. The Church acknowledges and honors it by this Feast of the Holy Family. We can offer our family lives to God, whatever form they take, and find the holiness in the most ordinary moments. Paul sums it all up in Colossians 3:17 — “whatever you do, in word or in deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus.”


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