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5 Ways Any Family Can Imitate the Holy Family (Plus 5 Ways Parishes Can Help)

family looking up at cross

Meet the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph. Mary was conceived without original sin. Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit and is the Son of God. And Joseph was an exceptionally holy man chosen to protect Madonna and Child. 

Who can dream of imitating that family? 

Today’s families come in all shapes and sizes. Families may include traditional structures with parents and children, as well as single-parent households, blended families, those with adopted or fostered children, multigenerational families, and other support networks that play a role. Family life today can be rich and rewarding–and sometimes hilarious–but it can also be complicated, messy, and exhausting. Which can make it feel very far from “holy.”

While Jesus, Mary, and Joseph are perfect models of holiness and total surrender to God, they were real people with real issues to face. Mary was found pregnant and not yet married. Jesus was born in utter poverty. The Holy Family fled for their lives to escape Herod’s massacre of infants. They experienced the realities of being refugees in an unfamiliar land with limited resources. 

Despite these trials, their faith in God, trust in his divine guidance, and unwavering commitment to each other allowed them to overcome adversities. The trials of the Holy Family exemplify resilience, faith, and the ability to find grace in the midst of challenging circumstances. 

Those sound like virtues that could help any family weather their own storms. So how do we do it? Here are five ways any modern family can begin to imitate the Holy Family.

  1. Prioritize family time: It’s clear from Scripture that Jesus, Mary, and Joseph spent significant amounts of time together. With today’s schedules (work, sports, and school, oh my!), this may present a challenge for a lot of families. But setting time together as a priority doesn’t have to mean changing your lifestyle and schedule. Setting a goal, like at least two or three dinners together as a family (without phones!), could be one way to start. If that’s even a stretch, just make a goal of “one more” than you do now. “One more” hour or even minute of family time, with intention, can help build strong relationships and a sense of unity.
  2. Practice love and compassion: Jesus, Mary, and Joseph embodied love and compassion, giving us an example to follow in life. It’s sometimes harder to remember to treat our close family members this way–as they have said, “familiarity breeds contempt.” That’s why it’s so important to make an intentional effort to practice love and compassion with our immediate family. Pope Francis said that the keys to peace in the family are these words, “Please, thank you, sorry.” This is a practical way to show family members that they are valued and loved. And it’s an easy place for families to start. Kids can make posters for the refrigerator or bulletin board as a reminder to say, “please, thank you, sorry.” (It can be a good reminder for adults as well!)
  3. Live a life of humility: Jesus, as a human child, would have learned humility from Mary and Joseph. Humility is one of the key teachings of his adult ministry and something all Christians are called to. To imitate the Holy Family in living humbly, begin by promoting a sense of gratitude and modesty at home. Teach children to appreciate what they have. One practical suggestion is to have children choose what toys to keep and what to donate in Advent. As a family, make a commitment to express gratitude for the efforts of others–this can be an outstanding witness, thanking those who serve you in public places. 
  4. Embrace obedience and responsibility: “Obedience” is a word that can cause modern families to bristle. But in looking at the Holy Family as our model, they each lived lives surrendered to the will of God. Mary obediently cooperated with God’s plan. Joseph obeyed God’s will and was responsible for his family. Jesus obeyed his earthly parents and, as an adult, was obedient to God “to the point of death.” Parents can lead by example, demonstrating the values of obedience to God’s will and taking responsibility for the family’s well-being. Teach children the importance of their involvement in family duties, fostering accountability. This collaborative effort creates a shared sense of duty, where obedience and responsibility become shared virtues, fortifying the family’s faith and commitment.
  5. Foster spiritual growth: Mary and Joseph were devout Jews, and this was the spiritual foundation into which Jesus was born. The family was active participants in Jewish worship and practices, so this is where Jesus would have learned to pray, to read Scripture, and to love God and neighbor. So, just as the Holy Family had a strong spiritual foundation, it’s important to nurture the spiritual growth of your family members. This may also be a challenge for some families–especially to know where to start. Keep attending Mass together, as this forms that important foundation for growth. Add in one or two activities that can promote spiritual development. Consider a family rosary (even one a week), or if that’s not possible, maybe a single decade together. Decide to pray grace before meals as a family. Find a short, family-friendly devotion to read together before bedtime. Small practices like these can help instill values, ethics, and a sense of purpose in the lives of family members.

Even small moves as a family toward holiness will impact each individual’s faith journey. It will take patience and practice, but the effort to turn toward God will bring you closer to him.

5 Ways Parishes Can Help!

  1. Family-focused liturgical celebrations: Parishes can organize liturgical celebrations that specifically focus on the Holy Family, incorporating elements that resonate with family life. Special masses, blessings for families, and family retreats provide opportunities for spiritual growth and reflection on the virtues of the Holy Family.
  2. Educational programs on family values: Offering workshops, seminars, or discussion groups on family values based on the example of the Holy Family can be instrumental. Topics might include communication, parenting, and fostering a spirit of unity within the family. Parish educational programs can equip families with practical tools to navigate the complexities of modern life while staying true to their faith.
  3. Support groups for parents: Establishing support groups for parents within the parish creates a space for sharing experiences, challenges, and successes in the journey of imitating the Holy Family. These groups can provide mutual encouragement, guidance, and prayer support, fostering a sense of community and solidarity among parents striving to emulate the virtues of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph.
  4. Family-friendly events and activities: Organizing family-friendly events and activities, such as picnics, game nights, or seasonal celebrations, helps strengthen the sense of community within the parish. These gatherings provide opportunities for families to come together, build relationships, and share in the joys of faith in a relaxed and enjoyable environment.
  5. Integrating family prayer and devotions: Encouraging families to incorporate prayer and devotions into their daily routines is essential. Parishes can provide resources such as family prayer guides and devotional materials or even organize family prayer nights. By emphasizing the importance of prayer in imitating the Holy Family, the parish supports families in nurturing their spiritual lives together.

In imitating the Holy Family, modern Catholic families of any shape or size have the opportunity to build homes filled with love, faith, and virtue. By prioritizing prayer, fostering unconditional love, practicing humility, and embracing responsibility, families can create a sacred space where the values of the Holy Family continue to shine brightly in the hearts of each member. 

Jesus, Mary, and Joseph pray for us!

Brief History of Devotion to the Holy Family

The history of our devotion to the Holy Family spans centuries, rooted in the early Christian tradition and gaining prominence over time. Throughout the Middle Ages, depictions of the Holy Family in art and the reverence for their roles in the Gospels fostered a sense of devotion. The Council of Trent reinforced the sanctity of family life during the Counter-Reformation, and by the 17th century, various religious orders actively promoted the Holy Family as a model. Pope Leo XIII, in the late 19th century, underscored the significance of the Holy Family in an encyclical, and subsequent popes continued to emphasize their virtues. The Feast of the Holy Family was established universally in 1921. Today, the devotion endures, offering a timeless model for Christian households as the Church celebrates the Feast of the Holy Family, providing an occasion for reflection on the virtues exemplified by Jesus, Mary, and Joseph.

About Polly King

Polly King has over 30 years in the marketing and communications field, the last 12 in Catholic publishing. As a convert to the Catholic faith, she has a deep passion for helping parishes engage and evangelize their communities. This led her to join ACS Technologies as part of their mission to serve the Church with technology and solutions that support their ministries. Polly currently resides in Indiana with her husband Bob and their 14-year-old Australian Shepherd, Riley. Her commitment to her faith and dedication to her profession make her an inspiring figure for those looking to make a positive impact in their communities.

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