Opening the Word: Becoming holy family

There's no doubt that the traditional family is under attack today in many ways. The list of corrupting influences and active enemies is lengthy, including adultery, divorce, "same-sex marriage," contraceptives and much more. Families with more than a couple of children are often mocked as being either religious zealots or simply stupid, while those who believe children are best raised by a mother and a father are regularly labeled as "narrow-minded."

The family is the human communion by which life is received and love is given -- and then offered to others. The family is the core of social and relational life, and without it, humanity ceases to exist. As the Second Vatican Council's Decree on the Apostolate of the Laity stated, "This mission -- to be the first and vital cell of society -- the family has received from God" (No. 11).

Today's reading from Sirach reflects on the God-given nature of the family, including the specific roles of the father, mother and children. It refers to "honor," "authority," "reverence" and "obedience," notions often ignored or even scoffed at today. Likewise, in the reading from St. Paul's Letter to the Colossians, numerous other godly qualities are encouraged, including humility, gentleness, forgiveness and gratitude. Yet the culture of death insists instead that relationships are about getting, not giving, and that arrogance, rudeness and anger are acceptable when things don't go my way.

It's natural to think this state of affairs indicates that we live in a unique time, and the temptation is to look back fondly to a day the family was held in high esteem. But on this feast of the Holy Family, I would suggest the family has been under siege from the very beginning of human history, and that the many and varied attacks on the family reveals Satan's hatred for God's plan of love, life and salvation. The serpent in the Garden appealed to man's pride -- that is, to his love of self. In this way the first human family and marriage was dealt a fatal blow that has reverberated down through time.

Thanks be to God, "Christ chose to be born and grow up in the bosom of the holy family of Joseph and Mary" (Catechism of the Catholic Church, No. 1655). This is not, of course, a mere historical detail, but a powerful witness to the full humanity of the Incarnate Word and to God's love for the family. God -- as Father, Son and Holy Spirit -- is a completely perfect relationship in himself, an eternal exchange of love. Yet in creating man, God did not only give physical life, but desired to give his own divine, Trinitarian life. "He calls together all men, scattered and divided by sin," states the Catechism, "into the unity of his family, the Church" (No. 1). Through Jesus, the Son of God who became the Son of Man, the Father has formed a family, the Church, bound together by the bond and love of the Holy Spirit.

In Matthew's account of the Holy Family fleeing to Egypt there is mention of another family -- the Herodian dynasty. This powerful family of rulers was ruthless and cruel, often killing real and perceived enemies, including the innocent male babies of Bethlehem (see Mt 2:16-18). Herod the Great and his sons had numerous marriages, most of which ended in divorce or execution.

Likewise, many people today are willing to destroy families, including their own, in order to grasp at the temporal pleasure of life in this world. We can give thanks that Jesus came into this world to invite us into his family, the Church, and to share in the eternal life of the Father through the divine grace of the Holy Spirit.

Carl E. Olson is the editor of