Archbishop Francesco Follo, courtesy of the Holy See Mission , UNESCO

Archbishop Francesco Follo, courtesy of the Holy See Mission , UNESCO

Archbishop Follo: Pilgrimage to Holy Family in Nazareth

With the invitation to contemplate the Son of God who makes himself a pilgrim for us and lives in a Holy Family

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Sunday of the Holy Family – Year B – December 27, 2020

Roman Rite: Jan 15.1 to 6; 21.1-3; B 11, 8.11-12.17-19; Luke 2, 22-40


Ambrosian Rite

Jer 31.15 to 18. 20; Ps 123; Rm 8.14 to 21; Mt 2, 13b-18

Sunday – The fourth of the eighth days of Christmas


1) The Family who is Holy, hence true.

Today the liturgy proposes the celebration of the Holy Family as the model of all human families and not just of the Christian families[1]. In a time of a deep crisis of identity for families, especially for the Western ones, with separations, divorces, and cohabitations of all kind, to bring to the attention of our families this unique family of Nazareth means “to rediscover the vocation and mission of the family, of every family. And, what happened in those 30 years in Nazareth, can thus happen to us too: in seeking to make love and not hate normal, making mutual help commonplace, not indifference or enmity. “. (Pope Francis, General Audience, December 17, 2014).

The Holy Family of Nazareth shows what is the beginning and the central point of each true family: Jesus Christ. The Family of Christ was holy because it is His family, because it welcomed Him and gave Him to the world. Our families are called to do the same. If we are rooted in Him who has lived in it, we can understand and live the great assets that are marriage, family, and the gift of life. We will also understand what great danger their degradation in civil institutions is for man and for his dignity.

I think that it is useful to start from the episode narrated by St. Mark in Chapter 3, in which to those who tell him, “Your mother, your brothers and your sisters are outside asking for you,” Jesus replies “Who are my mother and my brothers?”

Looking around on those who sat near him, he said: “Here are my mother and brothers.” Whoever does the will of God is my brother, sister and mother “(Mk 3: 31-35). It is as if Jesus Christ said: “My family is all here. I have no other families. The blood relations do not count unless they are confirmed in the spirit. My brothers are the poor who are crying, and my sisters are the women who have said yes to the Love who has purified and elevated love. ”

Jesus was not despising His Mother, St. Joseph, his legal father, and his relatives. He did not disown the Mother of whose womb He was the fruit. He meant that he did not belong only to the “small” Holy Family of Nazareth, but to His mission of Savior of the “great” human family. God comes to reconstruct the true meaning of the human family; the vocation of every man is the one of child and brother. God convenes his family to teach how to be really a family, because he wants to free us from the temptation of loneliness. God knows that it is never good for man to be alone. God himself does not want to be alone, thus He creates a family for “all nations”, as sung by Simeon.

 2) Pilgrims to Nazareth.

As Pope Francis has recently proposed to every family, to every mother, father, and child, let us make a spiritual pilgrimage to Nazareth to fill our own spirit with the sublime virtues of Mary, the humble servant of the Lord, of Joseph, the righteous man, the carpenter, the Keeper of the holy family, and of Jesus, the Son of God who was obedient to them and grew in age, wisdom, and grace.

Today’s liturgy offers us a meditation all centered on Christ, which is of particularly interest for the Christian families. It presents us the mystery of the life of the child Jesus with his parents.

The passage of today’s Gospel presents a familiar picture of great effectiveness for the understanding of the mystery of the Savior. We are at the time of the presentation of the Lord to the Temple and, waiting this extraordinary and anticipated event, there is an old man, Simeon, who now occupies the main scene of the Gospel on the Holy Family. He recognizes Jesus as the true and awaited savior and is happy that the Lord allowed him to see this day. He is the person of gratitude, but also of prophecy, of courage and of the absence of any fear of death because in the Child Jesus he already sees the victory over it. This holy man of God, who had waited years for the coming of the Messiah, can now happily leave the earth to meet the Lord in eternity.

In our families let us teach the sense of the eternal and of communion. Children grow up watching how adults live. Therefore, to educate the children means making them participate in the reality of the communion of the father and the mother who gave them life.  To educate the children means introducing them to life by teaching them gratitude.

3) A forgotten hero.

The Holy Family was not a family without problems. Mary and Joseph shared the condition of their disconcerting son, following him step by step in the revelation of his mystery. It is precisely because of their total availability that they deserve our admiration. It is not easy to know to have custody of the Son of God, to flee to Egypt, to return home and live in Nazareth, a village considered suburban for the Jews, and to see Jesus grow in wisdom and grace leading an ordinary life with no exceptional events up to his thirtieth birthday.

One would like to know more about the life of this extraordinary family; in the end, though, St. Luke says just enough to outline its physiognomy. Although extraordinary in many ways, it is a family like all the others with its joys, its pains, its secrets. A family which leads a life according to faith, experiences the joy of the birth of a child who grows healthy and strong, and is affected by the prophecies that announce a difficult future. In all families the years not always run without troubles; sooner or later problems, sufferings, and concerns arise, and they are more painful if caused by the lack of love. The Family of Nazareth faced joys and difficulties of life under the guidance and custody of St. Joseph.

It is important to understand the greatness of this unique man who was the husband of Mary, and who was often reduced to be the supplier of material goods, as if in the Holy Family he had only the “external” role of a man to whom are given unimportant tasks that do not require highest virtues. In fact, if we think of the situation of Mary carrying in her womb the incipient carnal life of the Son of God, from the legal point of view this situation is something shocking for Joseph because – humanly and legally speaking – his girlfriend had to be considered an adulteress worthy of the punishment of stoning.

How could Joseph acknowledge that Mary was innocent? Yet he was not even touched by doubt. His love for Mary was not injured and he protected her reputation so that she would not risk her life. Joseph believes the Angel and takes Mary so that she does not fall into danger. She and her baby need Joseph who with his spousal love even agrees to remain virgin so that He who is in Mary by the Holy Spirit can be born, grow and save the world. The angelic announcement: “Do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife” is the seal of God on this wedding unique and at the heart of the deeper, more authentic, more divine human love. A man who is capable of such a greatness belongs to the race of giants and of saints. Joseph accepts to live his virginal love to not inflict the slightest injury to his beloved. The marriage of Mary and Joseph has allowed Christ to enter the world with honor and to live the hidden life of Nazareth well protected, growing in wisdom and grace. In Nazareth Joseph, Mary, and Jesus lived day to day in a heroic way, so that the heroic becomes day to day and we too might imitate them in our daily lives.

Joseph participated with his whole person in the work of the Redemption of the Son of Mary: he has given to God the essence of his tenderness and his heart, sacrificing his love.

If we are parents, due to marriage or spiritually, the example of the Holy Family asks us to be ready for the sacrifice that makes life true.

I ask St. Joseph, who is the guardian and protector of virgins as he was of Mary, that he may make the consecrated virgins in the world know how to bear fruits from the riches of their heart so to persevere in the path of holiness through the total gift of themselves to the Lord who loves us with infinite patient and tender love.

Patristic Reading

Golden Chain

9239 Lk 2,39-41

THEOPHYL; Luke has omitted in this place what he knew to have been sufficiently set forth by Matthew, that the Lord after this, for fear that He should be discovered and put to death by Herod, was carried by His parents into Egypt, and at Herod’s death, having at length returned to Galilee, came to dwell in His own city Nazareth. For the Evangelists individually are wont to omit certain things which they either know to have been, or in the Spirit foresee will be, related by others, so that in the connected chain of their narrative, they seem as it were to have omitted nothing, whereas by examining the writings of another Evangelist, the careful reader may discover the places where the omissions have been. Thus after omitting many things, Luke says, And when they had accomplished all things, &c.

THEOPHYL. Bethlehem was indeed their city, their paternal city, Nazareth the place of their abode.

AUG. Perhaps it may strike you as strange that Matthew should say that His parents went with the young Child into Galilee because they were unwilling to go to Judea for fear of Archelaus, when they seem to have gone into Galilee rather because their city w as Nazareth in Galilee, as Luke in this place explains it. But we must consider, that when the Angel said in a dream to Joseph in Egypt, Rise, and take the young child and his mother, and go into the land of Israel, it was at first understood by Joseph as a command to go into Judea, for so at first sight the land of Israel might have been taken to mean. But when afterwards he finds that Herod’s son Archelaus was king, he was unwilling to be exposed to that danger, seeing the land of Israel might also be understood to include Galilee also as a part of it, for there also the people of Israel dwelt.

GREEK EX. Or again, Luke is here describing the time before the descent to Egypt, for before her purification Joseph had not taken Mary there But before they went down into Egypt, they were not told by God to go to Nazareth but as living more freely in their own country, thither of their own accord they went; for since the going up to Bethlehem was for no other reason but the taxing, when that was accomplished they go down to Nazareth.

THEOPHYL. Now our Lord might have come forth from the womb in the stature of mature age, but this would seem like something imaginary; therefore His growth is gradual, as it follows, And the child grew, and waxed strong.

THEOPHYL; We must observe the distinction of words, that the Lord Jesus Christ in that He was a child, that is, had put on the condition of human weakness, was daily growing and being strengthened.

ATHAN. But if as some say the flesh was changed into a Divine nature, how did it derive growth? for to attribute growth to an uncreated substance is impious.

CYRIL; Rightly with the A growth in age, St. Luke has united increase in wisdom, as he says, And he was strengthened, (i.e. in spirit.) For in proportion to the measure of bodily growth, the Divine nature developed its own wisdom.

THEOPHYL. For if while yet a little child, He had displayed His wisdom, He would have seemed a miracle, but together with the advance of age He gradually showed Himself, so as to fill the whole world. For not as receiving wisdom is He said to be strengthened in spirit. For that which is most perfect in the beginning, how can that become any more perfect. Hence it follows, Filled with wisdom, and the grace of God was in him.

THEOPHYL; Wisdom truly, for in Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily, but grace, because it was in great grace given to the man Christ Jesus, that from the time He began to be man He should be perfect man and perfect God. But much rather because He was the word of God, and God needed not to be strengthened, nor was in a state of growth. But while He was yet a little child He had the grace of God, that as in Him all things were wonderful, His childhood also might be wonderful, so as to be filled with the wisdom of God. It follows, And his parents went every year to Jerusalem, at the feast of the Passover.

CHRYS. At the feast of the Hebrews the law commanded men not, only to observe the time, but the place, and so the Lord’s parents wished to celebrate the feast of the Passover only at Jerusalem.

AUG. But it may be asked, how did His parents go up all the years of Christ’s childhood to Jerusalem, if they were prevented from going there by fear of Archelaus? This question might be easily answered, even had some one of the Evangelists mentioned how long Archelaus reigned. For it were possible that on the feast day amid so great a crowd they might secretly come, and soon return again, at the same time that they feared to remain there on other days, so as neither to be wanting in religious duties by neglecting the feast, nor leave themselves open to detection by a constant abode there. But now since all have been silent as to the length of Archelaus’ reign, it is plain that when Luke says, They were accustomed to go up every year to Jerusalem, we are to understand that to have been when Archelaus was no longer feared.

[1] Pope Francis: ” I have therefore decided to reflect with you, this year, precisely on the family, on this great gift that the Lord has made to the world from the very beginning, when he entrusted Adam and Eve with the mission to multiply and fill the earth (cf. Gen 1:28); that gift that Jesus confirmed and sealed in his Gospel. The nearness of Christmas casts a great light on this mystery. The Incarnation of the Son of God opens a new beginning in the universal history of man and woman. And this new beginning happens within a family, in Nazareth. Jesus was born in a family. He could have come in a spectacular way, or as a warrior, an emperor…. No, no: he is born in a family, in a family. This is important: to perceive in the nativity, this beautiful scene”. (December 17, 2014)

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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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