Franciscan Focus

Just a simple blog of a Secular Franciscan trying to live with a Franciscan focus.
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28 December 2008

Feast of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary, & Joseph 

Just a few of my fave Holy Family imagesOh, how I love this feast day! It reminds us that Jesus came to us from within a family, as the ultimate good of Mary and Joseph's marriage. With them, He formed a union of divine and human hearts, and established an earthly trinity to help us better comprehend the mystery of the heavenly Trinity.

And He gave us not just a means of contemplating the heavenly Trinity, but a living example for us all -- from the very start of His life on earth, He gave us a family in which "all men might behold a perfect model of domestic life, and of all virtue and holiness." (Pope Leo XIII) "God wanted to be born and to grow up in a human family. In this way he consecrated the family as the first and ordinary means of his encounter with humanity." (Pope Benedict XVI)

What a gift! What a wonderful source of inspiration to meditate upon. And in this spirit of meditation, here are some reflections on the Holy Family and the history of this Devotion in honor of today's feast.

Union of Hearts

"Jesus, Mary, and Joseph comprise the Holy Family, the basic human unit of God's strategy for the Incarnation and Redemption. They belong together in the history of salvation. The three are inseparable, and should always be seen and understood together theologically, pastorally, and in church art. Their special identities in God's plan are interrelated. To see them separately is regrettable and misleading."
~ Br. John M. Samaha, SM, "Like Wife, Like Husband"

* * *

"[St. Francis de Sales] avers that Christ Jesus Himself joined the hearts of Mary and Joseph in an indissoluble union 'by the heavenly bond of a completely virginal marriage, so that [Joseph] might be [Mary's] helper and coadjutor in the guidance and education of His divine infancy.'

"... Without the marriage of Mary and Joseph, there would be no Holy Family. According to [St. Francis de Sales], the bond of love that binds the members of the Holy Family is a union of hearts which comes about through the marriage of Mary and Joseph. Mary and Jesus were so completely united with one another that they 'had but one soul, but one heart, and but one life, so that the Blessed Mother, although living, yet did not live herself but rather the Son lived in her.' And through the indissoluble union that Jesus establishes between Joseph's heart and Mary's heart, He draws the saint into union with His own divine heart. Jesus was 'the dear Child of [Joseph's] heart,' and Joseph was Jesus' 'great friend and His beloved father.' "
~ Fr. Joseph F. Chorpenning, OSFS, The Holy Family Devotion: A Brief History

Origin of the Holy Family Devotion

"Devotion to the Holy Family first appears in the late Middle Ages. Prior to this period, there were two major obstacles impeding the emergence of this cult. First, a strong, positive theology of the person and mission of St. Joseph was lacking. Veneration of the Holy Family is inextricably linked with devotion to St. Joseph, and the former did not appear until the latter flourished. The image of St. Joseph as an active, full-fledged participant in the Holy Family had to be established before it was possible to consider Jesus, Mary, and Joseph as forming an integral and credible family unit. Second, there was no word or expression to denote nuclear family. At the time, the word 'family' was understood to mean 'extended family' (or all those living under the authority of the paterfamilias), rather than 'nuclear family,' as it does today. Both of these obstacles would be removed in the late medieval period, due principally to the efforts of Jean Gerson (1363-1429), the eloquent and prolific chancellor of the University of Paris.

"Gerson has been described as 'the founder of that branch of theology which today we call "Josephology." ' He conducted an active campaign to rescue St. Joseph from the relative neglect of earlier periods, to correct mistaken notions about him found in the apocryphal gospels and often reflected in art and literature, and to promote his cult among the faithful. Gerson systematically reworked St. Joseph's image from that of an aged, ineffective attendant to the Virgin and Christ Child to a vigorous, youthful man* who was the divinely-appointed head of God's household, a paradigm of perfection who had been sanctified in the womb and was thus incapable of sin, the protector of God's plan for salvation, an industrious provider for the Holy Family, and, along with his spouse, Mary, an exemplar of holy matrimony. As if to underscore that the cult of St. Joseph is the foundation for that of the Holy Family, throughout his writings, Gerson always refers to Jesus, Joseph, and Mary in that order.

"Gerson's transformation of St. Joseph's image made it possible to think about the Holy Family in a new way. Gerson also made it possible to speak about the Holy Family by coining the expression 'earthly trinity' to speak about Jesus, Mary, and Joseph as a nuclear family in the modern sense. Although Gerson did not explicitly compare the earthly trinity of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph with the blessed Trinity in heaven, such a comparison is implicit since previously the use of the word was reserved to the three divine Persons. Henceforth, it became popular to refer to and to depict in the visual arts the Holy Family as a trinity which replicated on earth the blessed Trinity in heaven."
~ Fr. Joseph F. Chorpenning, OSFS, The Holy Family Devotion: A Brief History

* A wealth of historical research has born out Gerson's assertions of Joseph's youth. For more information, see Josephology: On Joseph's Age at His Betrothal to Mary and Josephology: On Joseph's Age at His Betrothal to Mary, Part II.

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