God didn’t come to earth on a cloud amid trumpet blasts with angels leading the way.  Instead he became a human being and was born into the world in a family, where Joseph and Mary received him with love and nourished him and raised him and taught him what he needed to know to succeed in life.

So the Holy Family has become for Christians the model family, one to be imitated by other families. And yet, Mary and Joseph and Jesus were an ordinary family in almost every way.  Joseph was a carpenter who passed his trade onto his son.  In fact, they were so ordinary that later when people wanted to question Jesus’ identity as a prophet and miracle worker they asked is this not the carpenter’s son? (Mt 13.55)  How could an ordinary man from such an ordinary family get all this wisdom?

The Holy Family had their share of misunderstandings and problems between them.  St. Luke tells us about Jesus staying behind in the Temple (Lk 2.41-52), when his parents had started their journey back to Nazareth.  After they found him, Mary asked him with tears in her eyes, no doubt:

“Son, why have you treated us so? Behold, your father and I have been looking for you anxiously.”  And he said to them, “How is it that you sought me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?”

What makes the Holy Family the model family for us is not that everything was always perfect between them, but that somehow they learned how to work through their problems and reconcile with each other.  As God planned to save the world through a family, he also saves us by means of our families, through our daily joys and struggles, misunderstandings and reconciliations.

—Fr. Tim Howe, SJ, is president of St. Xavier High School, in Cincinnati, OH.