Without eyewitnesses or histories or biographies to inform us, there’s so little that we can know about the family life of Mary and Joseph and their son Jesus. So much of what we believe is from conjecture; we have only a very few incidents taken from their life, and occurring at great intervals, to give us some insight into the character of their relationships.
So we are left to rely on the minimal facts we get from the Scriptures in trying to learn whatever we can about that family we call our model. As I reflect on those documents, I find two most significant traits of their shared life that we would do well to emulate in our own family and community life, whatever form it may take.
First: Notice the very explicit and dominant recognition on the part of all three members of that family that their destiny was ultimately rooted in the love of God. Joseph interprets certain dreams at critical moments in their life as the voice of the Divine Spirit directing them toward safety and survival. Mary, at the outset of the unfolding drama, says, “I am the handmaid of the Lord; let what you have said be done to me.” And even Jesus as a boy of 12 is keenly conscious of another Father, the Creator, whom he recognizes as the leader in all that transpires.
This awareness of an intimately present, loving, acting God was obviously the foundation of everything these three persons thought and said and did. It gave them a single and undisputed direction. It made them peaceful and confident when nothing else could. It enabled them to trust each other. It protected them from the unbalancing effect of the unpredictable. It enlightened them to see beyond the failures of the moment to the victory that was assured. They were a prayerful family, “holy” in the sense that their orientation was always, no matter what was happening, toward the unseen God.
Today’s families, I feel sure, would find that many of their fears and tensions would melt away if they cultivated reliance on the Lord who saves.
From a female friend and collaborator I received an email a few weeks ago. I had expressed to her my doubt about the next step to be taken in a project we were involved in. Her response was, “We’ve done all we know how to do. Enough. Let’s leave it to the Divine Spirit from here on.” And so we did.
The second characteristic of the Holy Family that I see as necessary for us today is their use of silence. In several places in the Scriptures we read of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph keeping silent about some important matter that was of great concern to them. Not silence meant as judgment or rebuke or disinterest; but silence that heals — or silence that surrenders to God the whole troublesome situation at hand, with no further addition of human words and human logic.
In a world that is having a field day in the multiplication and storage of words, it seems more necessary than ever before that families learn the beauty and effectiveness of loving silence. Silence can mean, “I may hurt you with my hasty, ill-chosen words; I offer you my silence instead as a way of healing.” Silence can mean, “Let’s leave our concern in the Lord’s hands and wait for a miracle.” Silence can mean, “May the Spirit of God bring from my heart to yours what my tongue cannot express.”