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Monsignor Follo on Feast of Holy Family of Jesus

the Liturgy makes us celebrate the feast of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph to help us live our daily life in an extraordinary way’

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Sunday between the eighth of Christmas – The Holy Family of Nazareth – year A – December 29 2019


READINGS: Sir 3, 3-7.14-17a; Col 3, 12-21; Ps 128; Mt 2, 13-15. 19-23

       1) The extraordinary becomes ordinary and teaches us to make the ordinary extraordinary.

Just under a week ago, we celebrated the extraordinary nature of the birth of Jesus Christ. Today, the Liturgy makes us celebrate the feast of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph to help us live our daily life in an extraordinary way. The way to make «heroic» (word that I would like to be understood and used as a synonym for «saint») is to learn from the Family of Nazareth, meditating on the three components of this «true» (another adjective that should be used as a synonym for «saint») family unit.

Let’s start with Joseph, the descendant of David, the just man. Thanks to him «the mystery of the Incarnation and that of the Holy Family are deeply inscribed in the spousal love of man and woman and indirectly in the genealogy of every human family» (St. John Paul II).

In Matthew’s Gospel it is Joseph who receives the will of God through the angel and fulfills it. Joseph is the true (in the sense of lawful and saint) head of the family. The gospel always presents him as the obedient and silent man. «One who does not preach, does not speak, but tries to do the will of God; and he does it in the style of the Gospel and the Beatitudes:» Blessed are the poor in spirit, because the kingdom of heaven is theirs «(Mt 5: 3) ) «(Pope Francis December 22, 2019). He does what he is told. His is not servile obedience, but a free, courageous and responsible choice, not without risks, dangers, doubts and fear of the unknown. St. Joseph is aware that the people entrusted to him, the Guardian of the Redemption, are not his property. Jesus and Mary belong to God, but they are entrusted to him to take care of them, protect them and keep them. This righteous man fulfills this task with faithful love, trusting totally and only in God and sacrificing his own legitimate personal aspirations. His obedience to God is fully free and happy thanks to the joy of the gift. It is by giving that you receive. Joseph understood it well and for love of Mary and Jesus is willing to pay any price. Joseph is the man who knows how to translate obedience to God into a song of love and freedom.

Let us now turn the eyes of the heart to Mary. Matthew’s gospel presents the Mother of Jesus as a silent and at the same time always attentive and caring mother. Those repeated words «the child and his mother» tell us that Mary was always beside Jesus. Mary is the fertile ground that has welcomed the Son of God. As Virgin Mother, she has a very special relationship with that child who is her God. A motherly love relationship that is a sword that pierces. That this love is like a sword was revealed to her by the prophet Simeon on the day of Jesus’ presentation in the Temple: «A sword will pierce your soul». Love is a sword, and Christ was a sword for his Mother even before he was born. Who does not remember this drama evoked at the beginning of the Gospel of Matthew, this drama of human love, this great drama of the infinite silence that follows the announce when, after receiving Mary’s yes , the Angel left her alone in the modest house in Nazareth, in silence. Our Lady can only remain enclosed in her silence, because the secret she carries within her is the secret of God. The Virgin of Nazareth has become, in fact, the «Mother of God».

«Therefore, in Mary, Mother of God, every woman sees her face mirrored. In her she sees her perfection realized, the perfection of what» is characteristic of a woman «, of ‘what is feminine’ (Saint John of God). A special way of loving and being loved by God, a vocation that a woman realizes both in virginity and in motherhood. Mary is the Mother of God without ceasing to be a servant, she is close to her son and with faith and love she loves him not only as a son, but as her God. Without exhausting the mystery, Mary is always beside her son. With the eyes she sees him as a child, in her heart she contemplates him as God. All this also happens to her in the suffering of fear and in the pain of exile. In the warm of this human and supernatural love, Maria also lives her marital relationship with Joseph. A special relationship, of course, but always deeply human, made up of looks, affections, silences and lots of love. Mary does what Joseph tells her to do, without prevaricating. In Matthew’s gospel, the will of God is manifested to her through the relationship of communion with her spouse. We can read an expression of this profound relationship between the two in Luke’s Gospel, when Mary says to Jesus: «Your father and I grieved were looking for you». It is in pain that feelings are refined and consolidated.

2) Jesus ​​is watched by Mary, by Joseph and by each of us.

Let us now look at Jesus with the eyes of Mary and Joseph.

Close to each other, Mary and Joseph look at Jesus smiling and thoughtfully: he is a fragile child, but gorgeous as every child is for his parents. In that fragility, which becomes tenderness, they glimpse the mystery of God’s tenderness. Jesus is in the heart of the history of his people. It is a stupendous, but disturbing presence; it is a «sign of contradiction» that pierces the heart with the sword of the love that gives. It requires a radical choice.

In the concrete everyday life of Mary and Joseph’s marriage the mystery grows. Their talks are intense and full of amazement. Mary communicates to Joseph what her motherly heart suggests to her; Joseph participates to Mary what he seems to understand.

As in the crib, the gaze of faith makes us embrace together the divine Child and the people who are beside him: his Most Holy Mother, and Joseph, his putative father. What light emanates from this «group icon» of Holy Christmas! Light of mercy and salvation for the whole world, light of truth for every man, for the human family and for individual families. How beautiful it is for spouses to mirror themselves in the Virgin Mary and her husband Joseph.

Let’s now contemplate the Holy Family to taste the gift of family intimacy which pushes us to offer human warmth and concrete solidarity in those situations, unfortunately numerous, in which, for various reasons, there is no peace, no harmony, in a word, no «family».

«With the Incarnation the Son of God united himself in a certain way to every man. He worked with human hands, … he loved with a human heart. By being born of the Virgin Mary, He truly made himself one of us, in everything like us except in sin ».

Matthew dwells on the pitfalls plotted by Herod. Jesus was born a child, he lived as a child. He fled in front of the violence of the powerful. He spent most of his life in the hiding place of Nazareth, «submissive» (Lk 2,51) as «Son of man» to Mary, his Mother, and to Joseph, the carpenter. Jesus also accepted the mission that the Heavenly Father confided to him. He made himself small and obedient.

3) Family and virginity

The Family of Nazareth is holy because all its components are united by the desire to be faithful to God, to live his word, to seek his will and to put it into practice. «Through God’s mysterious design, it was in that family that the Son of God spent long years of a hidden life. It is therefore the prototype and example for all Christian families. It was unique in the world. Its life was passed in anonymity and silence in a little town in Palestine. It underwent trials of poverty, persecution and exile. It glorified God in an incomparably exalted and pure way. And it will not fail to help Christian families-indeed, all the families in the world-to be faithful to their day-to-day duties, to bear the cares and tribulations of life, to be open and generous to the needs of others, and to fulfill with joy the plan of God in their regard. «(Familiaris Consortio, 86).

Mary, true wife of Joseph, lived her love, in a virgin and chaste way. In my opinion, it is correct to say that, as an exceptional inspiration of the Holy Spirit guided Mary towards the ideal of virginity, throughout the history of the Church the same Spirit will push many women on the path of virginal consecration.

It is the singular presence of grace in the life of Mary that leads to a commitment of the young woman in virginity. Filled with exceptional gifts by the Lord from the beginning of her existence, she is oriented towards a dedication of her whole soul and body to God in the virginal offering.

Furthermore, the aspiration to the virginal life was in harmony with that «poverty» before God to which the Old Testament attaches great value. By fully engaging in this way, Mary also renounces motherhood, the woman’s personal wealth so much appreciated in Israel. In this way «She excels among men and the poor of the Lord, who confidently await and receive salvation from him» (LG 55). Presenting herself to God as poor and aiming to a fruitfulness only spiritual, fruit of divine love, at the Annunciation Mary discovers that her poverty is transformed by the Lord into wealth. She will be the Virgin Mother of the Son of the Most High. Later she will also discover that her motherhood is destined to extend to all the men whom the Son has come to save (cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, 501).

Patristic reading


  1. The Lord’s flight into Egypt: The angel of the Lord.

    In this first clause, there is shown morally how anyone of good will should carefully guard his work from the snares of the devil and the favour of the world. Let us see what is meant by the angel, Joseph, his sleep, the mother, the boy, Egypt and Herod.

    The ‘angel of the Lord’ is the inspiration of divine grace, which tells a man what he should do and what he should not do. So Exodus 14:

    The angel of the Lord went before the camp of Israel; (Ex 14,19);

    And Exodus 32:

    My angel shall go before thee,(Ex 32,34)

    For two purposes, namely to show you the way and to defend you against the enemy.

    So Tobit 5 says:

    May you have a good journey; and may God be with you in your way; and may the angel of the Lord accompany you.(Tb 5,21)

    Joseph (meaning ‘growing’) is any Christian who, planted in the Church by the faith of Christ, should grow from good to better, and bear the fruits of eternal life. His ‘sleep’ is peace of mind and the sweetness of contemplation. «Sleep is the rest of an animal’s

    strength, with an intensification of its natural powers.»1 When carnal concerns are at rest, and the spiritual are extended, then Joseph is ‘asleep’. So Job 3 says:

    Now I should have been asleep and still; and should have rest in my sleep:

    with kings and consuls of the earth, who build themselves solitudes;

    or with princes, that possess gold, and fill their houses with silver. (Jb 1,15)

    3. ‘Kings’ are those who hunger and thirst for justice (Mt 5,6). Augustine2 says, «Enter the court-room of your soul. Let reason be the judge, conscience the prosecutor, fear and pain the torturer and executioner, and let your works be in the witness-box.» The ‘consuls of the earth’ are those who mourn (Mt 5,5) their misery and guilt. What sound counsel it is, to weep for oneself! Jeremiah 7 gives advice and counsel:

    Cut off thy hair and cast it away: and take up a lamentation on high. (Jr 7,29)

    Your ‘hair’ is temporal concerns, which hinder you from seeing your wretchedness and weeping for your sins. Cut it from your body, then, and cast it from your mind, and then you will be able to take up a lamentation on high. To lament in this way is not to spare oneself. Self-love is apt to be soft on itself, and lament insincerely. Those who want to act rightly should ‘build themselves solitudes’ not just of mind, but of body too. St Jerome3 says, «To me, a fortress is a prison, but the desert is a paradise.» ‘Princes’ are the poor in spirit (Mt 5,3), who possess ‘gold’ (that is, golden poverty), and fill their ‘houses’ (their consciences) with the sounding silver of confession- both of divine praise and their own sin.

    Sleeping with all these, Joseph should be still from the noisy world, and rest in sleep from tumultuous thoughts, so that the angel of the Lord may appear to him and say, Arise, that is, mount up, that you may grow high; don’t be like a turnip, that grows in and under the earth; be like a palm-tree which mounts on high. Arise, then, mount up like the swallows, which do not feed on the ground, but catch and eat their food in the air. The Apostle says:

    Seek the things that are above, not the things that are upon the earth. (Col 3,1-2)

    Rise, then, and take the child and his mother (Mt 2,13).

    4. The ‘mother’ is good will, which when divinely inspired conceives good works affectively, and brings them to birth effectively. For instance: if you have good-will, but have not yet proposed any good deed in your heart, your will is barren, and is cursed as ‘barren in Israel’ (cf. Ex 23,26 Dt 7,14). But when you deliberate some good, you conceive; and when you complete it in work, you give birth. So Isaiah 8 says:

    I went to the prophetess; and she conceived and bore a son. And the Lord said to me: Call his name, Hasten to take away the spoils, make haste to take away the prey.(Is 8,3)

    The ‘prophetess’ is the soul, or a man’s own will, which should prophesy to him the glory of the Kingdom, the pains of hell, the malice of the devil, the deceit of the world, and his own wretchedness. Go to her in devotion, and she will conceive by deliberation and give birth by execution. And note that your ‘son’, your work, has a name in three parts: ‘Hasten’, because «Delay brings danger, and once you are ready it harms you to put off action.»4 That which thou dost, do quickly (Jn 13,27). Note that every good work should be performed in three ways: swiftly, charitably, and to an end. Hasten, then, so as to act swiftly; ‘take the spoils’ from yourself, so as to provide charitably for your neighbour; and ‘make haste to take away the prey’ of the Kingdom of heaven, which should be the final cause of your whole work. Take, then, the child and his mother, lest Esau kill the mother with the children (cf. Gn 32,11), lest Pharao drown the child in the river, or Herod cut its throat with the sword.

    5. So there follows:

    For it will come to pass that Herod will seek the child to destroy him (Mt 2,13).

    Herod means ‘glorying in skins’; he is the devil or the world. The devil transformeth himself into an angel of light (2Co 11,14); he glories in the whiteness of another’s skin, while his own hide is of the darkest hue. The world, too, is like to whited sepulchres, which are full of all filthiness (cf. Mt 23,27), and its glory is an outward one, in the brightness of the skin. It does everything so as to be seen by men (cf. Mt 6,5); and John 5 says:

    How can you believe, who receive glory from one another; and the glory which is from God alone, you do not seek? (Jn 5,44)

    These two conspire together to destroy the child, the purity of our work; the former by fraud, the latter by favour, the former by suggestion, the latter by flattery. They are the ‘hairy ones’ of whom Isaiah 34 speaks: The hairy ones shall cry out to one another, (Is 34,14)

    to seek the child to destroy him.

    So in the Psalm five things are mentioned, arising from these two, which customarily destroy the child; but first a saving remedy is mentioned:

    His truth shall compass the with a shield (Ps 90,5)

    The Truth of the Father is the Son, and his shield is the Cross, whereby he surrounds you to protect you against the devil, the world and the flesh. In the Cross is humility

    against the devil’s pride; there is found Christ’s poverty, against the avarice of the world; there is crucifixion with nails against the lust of the flesh. Therefore,

    Thou shalt not be afraid of the terror of the night; (the devil’s suggestions)

    of the arrow that flieth in the day; (vainglory;

    of which Jeremiah says: I have not desired the day of men, thou knowest; (Jr 17,16) and Luke: And that in this thy day, the things that are to thy peace! (Lc 19,42)) of the business that walketh about in the dark; (the deceits of hypocrisy) of invasion; (of adversity, )

    or of the noon-day devil (Ps 90,5-6) (of prosperity, which burns like the sun at noon.)

    6. Therefore, lest he perish, Take the child and his mother and fly into Egypt (Mt 2,13), which means ‘darkness’ or ‘anguish’, denoting the state of penitence. Note that the glory of the skin consists in two things: in whiteness and in extension; and on the contrary the glory of penitence is in darkness and contraction. In darkness of clothing, since, as Apocalypse 6 says:

    The sun became black as sack-cloth of hair. (Ap 6,12)

    In the contraction of humility and in anguish of sorrow in the mind, as Isaiah 21 says:

    Anguish hath taken hold of me, as the anguish of a woman in labour, (Is 21,3)

    That is, of the penitent who brings forth the spirit of salvation. Do you want to save the child? Then fly into this Egypt, and be there until I shall tell thee (Mt 2,13). Note that the child Jesus, as the Gloss says, was hidden for seven years in Egypt; and you should dwell all the seventy years of your life in the Egypt of penitence, so that when they are done you may hear: Return into the land of Israel (Mt 2,20), the heavenly Jerusalem in which you will see God face to face (cf. 1Co 13,12)

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Archbishop Francesco Follo

Monsignor Francesco Follo è osservatore permanente della Santa Sede presso l'UNESCO a Parigi.

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