Two weeks ago,a few of us at Salt and Light went on a pilgrimage in the Holy Land to follow in the footsteps of Jesus. In Galilee, we made our way to the place where the Holy Family’s life began, in Nazareth, where God became incarnate through His mother.
It is in this city located in the north of Israel where Mary, Joseph and Jesus experienced the simplicity of family life, of a humble life, offered to God, with all the tasks of a normal life: home maintenance, manual labor, education of Jesus, family prayer, social life...
In Nazareth, we can contemplate the spirituality of this Holy Family, which everyone can imitate in simplicity. The Holy Family of Nazareth leads a modest life. Neither poor nor rich, the family earns its daily bread by the sweat of the brow and respects the laws of its people. The family's life is marked by prayer in the synagogue, ritual and many Judaic feasts.
But behind this modest life, the holy family lives in a reality outside the norm, with the birth of Jesus the son of God and Savior of the world.
The testimony of Jesus and his parents also show how radiant a family becomes when they lead a life in God, in simplicity and shared love. Whether we are father, mother or child, each one of us can follow the example of Joseph, Mary and Jesus.
Joseph is not a monk, but a layman. He is not an intellectual, but a craftsman. His conduct is an inspiration to husbands and fathers. Joseph the carpenter is one who gives bread and provides for the home, his wife and his son. He is a man obedient to God since, without delay, "he took with him his wife" (Mt 1, 24). He is a loving husband and a protective father as he took his family and fled to Egypt to save the life of the child Jesus. By his example and by initiating him to the practice of a carpenter Joseph enables Jesus to fit into the world of work and social life. Through his fatherhood he makes his home, with the cooperation Mary, a favorable environment for the growth and personal maturation of his son. We also know Joseph to be just and respectful of human laws: he goes to Bethlehem for the census. He circumcises Jesus. He presents him to the Lord when the days of purification of Mary are fulfilled. He travels with his wife every year to Jerusalem for the Passover feast. By his conduct, Saint Joseph reminds today's fathers that one’s main concern should be to follow the will of God. As husband, he does not hesitate to sacrifice his human aspirations to allow Mary to be the Mother of God and fulfill within her his divine project.
Mary as mother lives in the daily routine of all mothers. She knows, like all other mothers, the joy of bringing a child into the world, the joy of seeing that child grow, and receive affection and tenderness. Like all other mothers, she also knows the day-to-day worries of a mother. She feels particularly anxious for her child, during the three days she and Joseph are looking for Jesus when he remained with the doctors of the temple. Like any mother, she knows the pain of seeing her son leave home, when Jesus begins his public life permanently. Mary is the mother par excellence. Not only does she help him grow "in wisdom, age and grace" (Lk 2, 52), she prepares him for his mission. She introduces him to the culture and traditions of the people of Israel. She also bears with him his sorrows and sufferings until his last breath on the cross. As a deeply loving mother, she could have tried to avoid the via dolorosa that was announced to her. But she does not seek to prevent her Son from doing the Father's will. Not only did she agree to give up her only son, but at the hour when men take him away, she agrees to become the Mother of all men: "Behold your son," said the Savior to Mary standing beside John at the foot of the cross. Far from being a possessive mother, she is a model of generosity, obedience and unconditional love. It is her YES that opens us to the incarnation of God and our own redemption.
Jesus meanwhile, during his hidden life in Nazareth, remains in the silence of an ordinary existence, and shares the condition of most men who lead a regular life: a life of manual labor, a religious life subjected the law of God, and a communal life. During his hidden years in Nazareth Jesus does not remain idle. Luke tells us that he continues to grow in wisdom, in stature and in favor with God and with man. Jesus in fact is given spiritual and religious formation and becomes an apprentice in his father's workshop. Jesus we are told again, is a child obedient to his parents, which perfectly fulfills the 4th commandment. He is a loving son, moved by his mother’s tears. Jesus went through all the steps. In the womb, he experienced the fragility of a baby. He passed through the growth of adolescence and youth, and later fatigue, work, pain and suffering until death. He did not speed up the process. He observed every law, in humility and obedience. His life is an example of modesty and simple acceptance of the law. His example allows us to be in communion with him in a daily life made of prayer, work and family love.
This simplicity of Jesus and his parents in Nazareth is a lesson for every family. Nazareth teaches us what is family, its beauty and sacredness. The Holy Family of Nazareth is a temple of grace that shows us how to sanctify daily life through the example of Mary, Joseph and the baby Jesus.
Charles Le Bourgeois is a French producer for Salt + Light. Follow him on Twitter