God’s Icon, The Family — Feast of the Holy Family

Our Catholic Faith is full of mysteries, but what is a “mystery?” In the world, or in a novel, a mystery can be completely solved once important clues are found. “It was Cornel Mustard, in the Library, with the Candle Stick”–case closed. But in the Church, a mystery is something rather different. Is not something that one more clue could solve, nor something so dark and impenitrable that we can know nothing for certain about it. We can know many things with certainty about Christian mysteries, but they are parts of our Faith which are so rich that we will never completely exhaust them. The Trinity is perhaps the greatest of these mysteries, but by God’s revelation (through words and deeds and created things) truths about the Trinity have been revealed to us. Invisible realities can be known through the things that God has made. One great window into the mystery of the Trinity is the human family.

In the beginning, the Lord God said: “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a suitable partner for him.” So the Lord God cast a deep sleep on the man, took out one of his ribs, and built it into a woman.  When he brought her to the man, the man said: “This one, at last, is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh” The two came together, and brought forth new life.

In the Trinity, the Son is of the Father; “God from God, light from light, true God from true God.” The Son is “begotten, not made,” He is a person from a person; not a lesser, created thing. From the everlasting, mutual self-gift of love shared between the Father and the Son, God the Holy Spirit proceeds.

The human family is an icon of the Trinity, like the icon of Mary and Jesus on our Marian altar. An icon can teach us about, and actually connect us to, the events and holy people they depict; however, it is also possible to misunderstand their metaphor. Gazing and meditating upon the Holy Mother and Child can help us to know them and relate to them better, but it would be foolish to think that they are made of wood and paint like the icon. Not everything found in a human family applies equally to the Trinity, but the family is perhaps the greatest icon of the Trinity, sharing many of its realities.

The Trinity is one; three persons sharing the same divine nature. Jesus said, “The Father and I are one,” and, “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.” Likewise, in the family, husband and wife are one flesh and their children are their very flesh and blood. No matter what, your biological parents and siblings will be related forever, for there is a special oneness to your nature.

There is equality in the Trinity. Jesus accepted peoples’ worship, something only God can justly receive, and the Holy Spirit does the same: “With the Father and the Son, He is worshiped and glorified.” Likewise, there is equality (or at least there should be) between husband and wife in marriage. Though there are natural differences between them, the two are equal in dignity.

Though there is equality among the persons of the Trinity, there is also an order among them. Jesus said, “I do nothing on my own, but I say only what the Father taught me…. The Father who sent me commanded me what to say and speak.” Though equal in dignity, the Son follows the Father’s lead.

Notice in the Gospel how three angelic messages come to Joseph in three separate dreams: first, to flee to Egypt; second, to return to Israel; and third, to settle in Nazareth. Now God could have chosen to send His angel to Mary. He had done it before, Mary would have certainly obeyed God’s command, and Joseph (following her miraculous pregnancy) would have believed her, but that’s not what God did. God wanted Joseph to lead his family, and when Joseph woke his wife up in the middle of the night and said, “Mary, I had a dream–we need to leave, right now.” Mary said, “Ok,” because she knew that he loved her and trusted him. As Mary was to be the heart of their home, Joseph was to be the head of their family.

Mothers and fathers, in sometimes different but complementary ways,  reflect the divine attributes of God. Our moms and dads were distant likenesses of God, but through them we first came to conceptualize about God. Through them we first experience beauty and strength, the firmness of justice and the tenderness of mercy, the immanent love that braces what we are and the transcendent love that calls us to be more.  Parents are icons of God. That is why bad parents can be such a scandal to a life of faith. If our own parents were poor, let us recognize that it is the ideal they failed to live up to, not their behavior, which is the actual likeness of God.

We are all called to marriage, either natural or spiritual. We are all called to raise up biological or spiritual children for God. We are all called to be icons of God. Let us pray for the grace for our own married and parental love to be a worthy icon of the Trinity. That may seem intimidating, but don’t be afraid. You were made for this.

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