Christmas is an attractive time, because it reminds us of the basic hope that comes with the generation of new life. The birth of a child reminds us of the goodness of humanity and gives us hope for its future. The genius of Christmas is that, within this apparently ordinary human experience, the mystery of divine generation is hidden. Wrapped up and hidden within the flesh and soul of a brand new human baby is the presence of the Eternally Begotten Son. This Son is generated from the Father from all eternity and is co-equal to Him. He participates in our own human experience of birth so that we can soon participate in his divine experience of being Children of the Father :
What was from the beginning,
what we have heard,
what we have seen with our eyes,
what we looked upon
and touched with our hands
concerns the Word of life—
for the life was made visible;
we have seen it and testify to it
and proclaim to you the eternal life
that was with the Father and was made visible to us.
–1 John 1:1-3
On Christmas we celebrated the manifestation of the Son of God, who came in flesh in order to reveal the Father to us and allow us to become children of God. Now, on the Solemnity of the Holy Family
we “zoom out” and focus on the context of Jesus’ life in the world. Even though the Son of God already had the
perfect parent in God the Father, he chose to take two humans as his earthly mother and foster father. Mary, of course, is Jesus’ mother in the flesh, and Joseph is not involved in the human generation of Jesus, but adopts him as his own. But in today’s Gospel we hear that Joseph is so much a father to Jesus that Mary calls him “your father
.” So too, Jesus calls each of us, his unworthy apostles, to form his image and impart his life into other human beings.
We already meditated on the family as being the origin of all vocations.
But the family is also the destiny
of all vocations as well, in that every vocation is a call to generate and sustain life
. In the sacrament of marriage, that life is meant to be both natural and supernatural. The former happens in the procreation (or adoption) and education of children. The latter happens when the new child is brought to the baptismal font and receives that same divine life that Jesus Christ poured out for us on the cross in the form of sanctifying grace:
Through sanctifying grace we are “begotten of God” (1 John 3:9). We live a new life, the participated divine life through which we become children of God…What does God do when he dwells in a soul? Nothing other than to communicate himself to that soul, to engender it as his child, which is to give it a participation in his nature and his life…Through grace, the soul is constantly receiving from God its supernatural life, as the embryo in the womb is constantly receiving vital sustenance from the mother.
The parents’ role with respect to this divine life continues: They protect it, sustain it, help it grow, and restore it.
Bringing a child into the world and trying to raise him or her is a human experience of incomparable joy and inestimable challenge. This new, unique creature with an immortal soul needs not only sustenance and protection, but guidance, discipline, and nurturing. Parents must be loving, wise, strong, flexible, just, and merciful. The desire to be a parent is at the bottom of every human heart, even the hardest. Yet the challenge of being a parent is daunting even for the most courageous.
It is this desire that God supernaturalizes through Christ. Through our vocations he gives us both the responsibility and the grace to generate and sustain supernatural life within human beings. This is why the Church is a family. Unfortunately for some people, this natural desire has been buried or snuffed out through difficult or traumatic experiences. If you are in this position, know that God wants you first to experience the joy of being his child, and then, through grace and healing, he will call you to impart that divine life to others.
If, on the other hand, a person has an attraction to family life and a desire for marriage and the family, this doesn’t mean that he or she isn’t being called to a priestly or religious vocation. It could be that God wants to fulfill this desire on the level of spiritual fatherhood or motherhood. In his introduction to the great spiritual classic, The Soul of the Apostolate, Dom Jean-Baptiste Chautard begins with a prayer, in which he describes true apostles:
They will impart to men that divine life of which Thou art the fullness. Then they will be no longer mere preachers of dogma or moral theology, but men living to transfuse the Blood of God into the souls of men.
– The Soul of the Apostolate
If this desire is in your heart – to “transfuse the Blood of God into the souls of men” – then this is something to be attentive to, and to ask Mary and Joseph to help you bring to fulfillment. The distinguishing characteristic between marriage and the life of celibacy/virginity isn’t that one is natural and the other is supernatural. Since marriage is a sacrament, it is by definition supernatural. No, the difference is that the priest or religious is able to impart that divine life into more souls, and to be more exclusively united to God, the source of that life. And in the case of a priest, the man is able to give that divine life in a more definitive way by baptizing, absolving from sins, and giving the Eucharist.
Most people who are called to virginity or celibacy for the sake of the kingdom must pass through experiences of sifting through their desires. Sometimes these experiences are painful, when they have to let go of their own ideas of what it means to have a family. God is patient with us in these experiences, because the desire to be a mother or father is something good, which he has planted in our heart. Yet, as children of God, we hear his voice calling us to our vocation, and we conform to it. And in this loving obedience, we find that, by allowing the seed of our own desires to fall to the ground and die, we receive a hundred times more joy. We are spiritual fathers or mothers many times over, and, embracing the happiness and responsibility of this vocation, there is no regret.
So as we celebrate the Holy Family, who was both natural and supernatural, let’s ask the Holy Spirit to teach each of us how we are called to generate and sustain divine life in others. This is a call that would be beyond the natural powers of every one of us. But it is a grace and responsibility that has been placed within our reach by the coming of the infant Christ into the Holy Family.