Sunday, December 26, 2010

Can we and should we model our families after the Holy Family?

Today is the Feast of the Holy Family.  In a few hours I will attend Mass and likely hear again from an unmarried, childless priest how I should model my family after the Holy Family.  My question today simply is, why?

In marriage preparation I learned the foundational elements of marriage include husband and wife sharing common views on faith, family, finances, sexuality and child-rearing.  Let’s examine what scripture actually tells us of the Holy Family’s views in these areas.

Mary and Joseph raised their son in the Jewish faith.  The 2009 U.S. Bishops’ pastoral letter “Marriage: Love and Life in the Divine Plan” acknowledges and extols Jesus being raised in the Jewish tradition.  Should I follow Mary and Joseph’s example and raise my children in the Jewish faith tradition, one lacking a Magisterial authority? 

As an aside, if you are not familiar with the aforementioned pastoral letter it is a 60 paged treatise on marriage written by the U.S. bishops.  I found the bishops’ marital advice very reflective of their context as unmarried, childless men, detached from family constructs and often lacking intimate interpersonal relationships, especially with women.

Anyway, we know little of Mary and Joseph’s views on family and child-rearing:
1.  Mary visited her cousin Elizabeth during their pregnancies.  However, Jesus and John the Baptist’s unfamiliarity upon meeting as adults might indicate a weak familial bond. 
2.  Mary and Joseph traveled to Jerusalem with relatives annually for Passover.  When traveling, my parents ritually “counted noses” to ensure they retained all nine of their children.  However, Mary and Joseph once traveled unconcerned for an entire day without missing their one child (LK 2:41-52).    
3.  At the Wedding of Cana, Jesus told his mom that his hour had not yet come when she correctly instructed him to perform his first miracle (John 2:1-12).  
4.  Jesus once denied his mother and brothers an audience (MT 12:46-50). 
5.  Their child was sinless and the son of God.  Mine are not; neither are anybody else’s.

There’s not a lot there upon which to model my family’s views on family or child-rearing. 

We know even less about Mary and Joseph’s views on finances.  Joseph was a carpenter so on a low economic rung.  Mary and Joseph seemed to respect civil tax law, going to Bethlehem for census enrollment.  They also paid for the modest temple sacrifice of two turtle doves.  Again, there’s not a lot upon which to model my family’s views on finances.

This brings us to Mary and Joseph’s views on sexuality.  The Catholic Church believes Mary remained ever-virgin.  It also teaches that conjugal love is essential to marriage for the purposes of unity and procreation.  Most of the 60-paged pastoral letter focuses on this.  Furthermore, doctrinal writings such as Humanae Vitae teach that the faithful should do nothing to render conceiving children impossible.  Thus the church considers physical intimacy a marital duty, not a privilege or optional activity.  It is considered so critical to marriage that refusal to have marital intimacy or to conceive children are grounds to nullify a marriage.  

Should Catholic couples really model their sexuality after Mary and Joseph by never having sexual relations?  Never having sex seems to interfere greatly with conceiving children. The only child they welcomed into their union was conceived out of wedlock.  Therefore, does the church consider Mary and Joseph’s marriage invalid since they never embarked upon their marital duty for purposes of unity or procreation? 

When you strip away romanticized, idealistic folklore inferred about the Holy Family, I see little practical example to follow and some examples to not follow.  Rather than chasing an idealized image of what God called somebody else to do, shouldn’t we focus on discerning what God actually calls each of us to do?


  1. Wonderful post, Louise. Thoughtful, provocative and well crafted. I'm still snickering at your line "Never having sex seems to interfere greatly with conceiving children." Love your blog

  2. Thinking further on your post I cannot help but think of David - a man that God said was a man after His own heart and yet David was a man that committed awful sins in his life. The sins were not what defined his life, it was his desire to seek God's heart. I think the same approach is most appropriate for examining Jesus' family. It is senseless to take the literal aspects of their lives and use them to define the family but rather we should examine their hearts that God chose to use to bring His son into the world - their willingness to be used, to trust, to endure, to be misunderstood, to learn and grow as parents of the Christ child. As with David, their hearts should be our model, not the the outward manifestation of their humanity.

  3. Excellent point, Kathleen. I think we strive to model ourselves after any of the human hearts represented in the Bible, trying to serve God but doing so imperfectly. I identify with them more than the perfect ones, being an imperfect person myself.