by Fr. Francis l. Filas, S.J., 1947
“When God in His mercy decided to carry out the work of man’s redemption, so long expected through the centuries, He arranged to perform His task in such a way that in its beginnings it might show forth to the world the august spectacle of a divinely founded family.
“In this all men were to behold the perfect exemplar of domestic society as well as of all virtue and holiness.
“A benign Providence established the Holy Family in order that all Christians in whatever walk of life or situation might have a reason and an incentive to practice every virtue, provided they fix their gaze on the Holy Family.” Thus did Pope Leo XIII write in 1892.
A divinely founded family…the perfect exemplar of all virtue and holiness…for all Christians in whatever walk of life.
“Why!” you say, “my family life is to make me holy? Did Pope Leo mean that ordinary people can be and should be saints? We who live in the world, who have to spend most of our time watching the budget and earning enough to support ourselves and our children?
Our ideals are subjected to continual battering by the un-Christian teachings and practices of so many of our neighbors. We can’t spend our whole day in prayer like the saints of old.
Evidently the Pope did not realize how ordinary we are. We try to live a good Catholic life, but we don’t deserve special credit for that. Holiness is something reserved for a few select laymen, for priests and religious, for monks and nuns in austere monasteries and convents.”
But the Pope did mean you–you and your husband or wife as well as your whole family. You can be and should be saints, for saints are those common-sense people who act according to their realization that all their happiness lies in obeying God’s law perfectly as it is shown them by the Church and by their conscience.
Holiness means happiness. Holy people are happy people at peace with God, with others, and with themselves.
There is only one requirement. You must do God’s will. This embraces various obligations and gives you corresponding rights and privileges.
God’s will in your regard is not something frightening and preternatural, brought down to you by angels amid trumpet blasts, thunder, lightning, and earthquakes.
No, it consists in the observance of the commandments, the frequent reception of the sacraments, and the practice of certain virtues in your everyday life. That is all. Call it homely, call it an everyday, ordinary, humdrum rule of life if you wish; but you can’t call it difficult and beyond your strength.
God’s grace is with you at every turn, sufficient and more than sufficient to help you serve Him.
Sometimes in your efforts you perhaps will fall out of weariness or discouragement; but you rise quickly, and trusting in God’s abundant grace, you go forward again.
Your goal must ever be the perfect love of God manifested in perfect love for His creatures, your “neighbors”–your husband or your wife, your children, your friends, all with whom you come into contact.
You look for inspiration to attain such an ideal. You ask for a proof to convince yourself that everyday joys can be the means to serve God perfectly; or on the other hand you are possibly too close to the earthly conditions of daily work attended with monotony, disappointment, worry, and fatigue.
This makes it hard to believe that in so ordinary a way you can become someone so extraordinary as a saint, known to God as His special image, His temple in whom He loves to dwell.
You want proof and inspiration? You wish to see everyday life made into a steppingstone to the very heights of heaven? Then you need only look at the Holy Family.
You must contemplate Jesus, Mary, and Joseph. They not only possessed human nature like yours, but they performed workaday tasks as you do. They ate and drank and slept and cleaned house and earned a living and prayed and had their neighbors just like you. Yet who were they?
They were Jesus Christ, God, Second Person of the eternal Blessed Trinity, who took to Himself a body and soul like ours: Mary, the blessed Virgin Mother of God, all-perfect, in whom there was never the slightest sin or imperfection; and Joseph, he whom Jesus called “Father,” the virginal husband of the Mother of God.
Have you ever stopped to do a little arithmetic in studying Christ’s life? Jesus had a tremendous mission to accomplish. He was to teach mankind the new and difficult law of brotherly love; He was to redeem us by means of intense suffering and a painful and disgraceful death; He was to found a Church that would last for all time as the only certain road to salvation.
Nonetheless, with such a task before Him, the Son of God spent ten times as much of His life in obscurity as in His public apostolate.
We are told of no miracles, no preaching, no teaching of the multitudes during that period.
There was merely a hidden and ordinary family life with two lovable persons as His intimate and chosen companions, Joseph and Mary.
No human being has ever been or will ever be holier than this husband and wife. Yet these two souls did not help Jesus in His preaching and teaching, for Joseph was already dead when Jesus left Nazareth to begin His career; and as far as we know, Mary stayed quietly at home during almost all of the Public Life.
Actually, then, Joseph and Mary gained their immeasurable holiness by offering Jesus the love of a father and mother in a true family, while Jesus in His turn tendered them the homage of a son. Could any lives have been more ordinary than those at Bethlehem, Egypt, and Nazareth–yet were any lives ever more holy?
This is the lesson of the Holy Family. The will of God must count for everything in our daily lives. Prosaic deeds done for God can lead to spectacular holiness.
Jesus, Mary, and Joseph were human, intensely human in the best sense of the word. They show us how our lives, too, should be human–truly warm and Godlike.
By this means we can be sanctifying ourselves more and more. The method is simple. Perhaps we have been following it all along without realizing the fact. At any rate, the leaders are set before us. All we need do is follow.