• Brian Myers

Jesus was Born in a Family



The Church presents us with several opportunities to reflect on Jesus' family in the octave of Christmas. It begins with a celebration of a childbirth in a family on Christmas and ends with a celebration of a mother of a family on the Solemnity of Mary. In between we have the Feast of the Holy Family which prompts us to recognize that Jesus was born into a family. Pope Francis has offered this observation:

Jesus was born in a family. He could have come in a spectacular way, or as a warrior, an emperor... No, no, he is born in a family, in a family. This is important to perceive in the nativity, this beautiful scene. [1]

The Incarnation is a profound mystery with many opportunities for reflection, so we may not always consider the profundity of Jesus' birth into a family. While we often take notice of Mary and Joseph in the nativity, it may be easy to overlook their presence in the thirty years between Jesus' birth and his public ministry. Pope Francis suggested that some may see these thirty years as a waste but he rejected this notion:

Jesus’ path was in that family... [The Gospel] does not recount miracles or healing or preaching – he did none in that period – or of crowds flocking; in Nazareth everything seemed to happen 'normally', according to the customs of a pious and hardworking Israelite family. They worked, the mother cooked, she did all the housework, ironed shirts, all the things mothers do. The father, a carpenter, worked, taught his son the trade. Thirty years. “But what a waste, Father!” God works in mysterious ways. But what was important there was the family! And this was not a waste! They were great saints: Mary, the most holy woman, immaculate, and Joseph, a most righteous man. The family. [2]

I emphatically agree with the Holy Father that Jesus' family was important and that it is important for us to perceive the presence of the family in the nativity. I further suggest that it would be valuable for us to reflect in our domestic churches on why Jesus' family was important. Jesus was both fully divine and fully human, so I will suggest two reasons the family was important, one reason from the divine perspective and one reason from the human perspective. Of course there are many other reasons as well, but I will focus on these two.

From the divine perspective, the following excerpt from the Catechism of the Catholic Church provides valuable insight:

The Word became flesh to make us "partakers of the divine nature": "For this is why the Word became man, and the Son of God became the Son of man: so that man, by entering into communion with the Word and thus receiving divine sonship, might become a son of God." "For the Son of God became man so that we might become God." "The only-begotten Son of God, wanting to make us sharers in his divinity, assumed our nature, so that he, made man, might make men gods." (460) [3]

God became human to shatter every division that exists between us and him. If it is true that God became man so that we might become God, then I suggest that it was not only necessary for God to become man but also for God to be come son, grandson, cousin, and nephew. It was necessary for God to become part of a family. Had God not been part of a family, he would not have fully experienced life as a human because being part of a family - however imperfect that family may be - is part of the human experience. In the Holy Family, the Son of God experienced all of the joy, frustration, peace, pain, and love that are found within a family. God became human and embraced every aspect of the human experience to give us the opportunity to enter into communion with God. In part, he offered us this invitation by giving us an example of how to accept this invitation.

Imagine for a moment the best possible human being, the human who embraced humanness to the fullest, the human who most perfectly lived out God's design for a human being. Some might think that Jesus is the opposite of this best possible human since Jesus is God, but in actuality Jesus is this best possible human. He showed us by example how to be fully human so we could follow his example. If we follow his example, then we too can partake in the divine nature. If Jesus, the most perfect example of a human being, embraced his family and lived family life to the fullest, then our families should be integral parts of our lives as well. The thirty years Jesus spent with his family were not a waste because the time Jesus spent with his family was time he spent being authentically human. Being part of a family is the best preparation for being fully and authentically human, which brings me to my second point.

From the human perspective, the time Jesus spent with his family was not a waste because it was a time of preparation. In our baptisms, we are each given a vocation. Some are called to marriage, others to priesthood, still others to religious life or consecrated single life. While our specific vocations vary, what all of us have in common is a baptismal calling to love. The object and expression of our love may differ in the different specific vocations, but nevertheless love is at the center of each of the vocations. Jesus was no exception. His ultimate mission was to enact the fullest expression of love the world has ever seen. To love another is to give the gift of one's self for the other, and Jesus' gift of himself upon the cross is the gift of self par excellence. Being fully human, Jesus would have had to learn to love like any other human would learn. The best possible way to learn to love is in the community of love called a family. Jesus must have learned how to give of himself by watching Mary and Joseph give of themselves. The years Jesus spent with his family were not wasted years but rather years of preparation.

In the opening prayer of the liturgy for the Feast of the Holy Family we pray "Oh God, who were pleased to give us the shining example of the Holy Family, graciously grant that we may imitate them in practicing the virtues of family life and in the bonds of charity" [4]. Reflection on the Holy Family is not merely of historical interest but is reflection on a shining example of how to practice the virtues of family life in our own families here and now. Therefore, Jesus' birth into a family is especially important to ponder in our domestic churches. When Jesus demonstrated for us how to be the best possible human, he embraced his family and showed us that we should embrace our own families. We are told in the Gospel that the Holy Family pondered their experiences in their hearts. We likewise, in our domestic churches, must ponder our experiences to see how God is revealing himself to us in the midst of life in the family. I have attempted to give several examples of how to reflect in this way in my Reflections on this website. Our domestic churches must be communities of love like the Holy Family was a community of love. In our families we should give of ourselves, and through our experiences in our families we should learn to give of ourselves more fully. In giving of ourselves in our families, we will be learning to give the gift of ourselves as Jesus gave the gift of himself.

On Christmas, we celebrate Jesus' birth, the moment that God became man. We also celebrate that Jesus was born into a family. The Feast of the Holy Family prompts us to probe this aspect of the Incarnation more deeply and to consider the importance of our own families in our faith. Christmas is a time when we give increased time, energy, and attention to our families and this is not a waste. The recognition that our families are integral to our faith is at the heart of what it means to be a domestic church. The time is near to take down our trees, turn off the colored lights, stop playing the Christmas music, and put away the nativity scenes. When we put the Mary and Joseph figurines out of sight until next Christmas, let's not put Jesus's mother and father out of our consciousness for the rest of the year. As we listen to Gospel readings about Jesus's public ministry throughout the year, let's continue to ponder how he was influenced by his family and how his family was influenced by him. Finally, as we reflect on the meaning of Jesus' presence in his family, let's also reflect on the meaning of his presence in our families as well, his presence in our domestic churches.

[1] Francis, “Jesus Chose to Come to the World as Part of a Family,” in Pope Francis on the Family: Weekly Catechesis December 2014 - September 2015 (Manassas, VA: Trinity Communications, 2015), 6, accessed December 23, 2016, http://www.catholicculture.org/ebooks/Pope-Francis-on-the-Family.pdf.

[2] Francis, Pope Francis on the Family, 7.

[3] Second Letter of Peter, Saint Irenaeus, Saint Athanasius, and Saint Thomas Aquinas as quoted in Catechism of the Catholic Church (New York: Doubleday, 1995), 460.

[4] The Roman Missal, Third Typical Edition. (Liturgy Training Publications, 2011), 176, accessed January 1, 2018, https://books.google.com/books?id=IwV6-e0juMEC.


© 2020 by Brian Myers