On this feast of the Holy Family, we are presented with examples of those who lived a faith-filled life. First, we have Abraham, who not only believed that God would give him a son in his advanced age, but also trusted that God would resurrect Isaac after sacrificing him as God asked. Second, we have the example of the Holy Family, Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, who truly allowed their faith to influence their lives, both individually and as a family. By the example of the Holy Family, we are shown how to live a family life full of faith.
Some might argue that the Holy Family sets up an impossible example to live by. After all, Jesus is the Son of God, it's easy for him to have faith. Likewise, Mary is the sinless Virgin who was visited by an angel. Of the three, only Joseph is closer to what we would consider “normal”, but even he had an angel appear to him in his dreams. How can we live up to that example? It does seem an impossible task, but we're not called to follow them perfectly, only to the best of our abilities. The important aspect that we need to take away is that the Holy Family lived their faith. Instead of merely talking about believing in God, they practiced their faith in their daily lives. Their faith was a priority to them, not merely an addition to their lives.
Travel from Nazareth to Jerusalem was not merely a brief jaunt. They likely would have traveled 100 miles each way, depending on the trade route they chose to use, at a time when travel was by foot or pack animal. It may have taken them 5-6 days, nearly a week, to get between the two towns. This was not a journey to be taken lightly, and we know through the Gospels that they made this journey several times while Jesus was a child.
While these pilgrimages would have occurred occasionally, we can be sure that the Holy Family prayed together on a daily basis. Jewish custom gave several prayers that were to be prayed throughout the day. At some times in the day, the family would pray some of the Psalms together. There were prayers before and after meals, much like Catholics pray the traditional blessings at meals. Prayer was an important part of the Holy Family's life, and this carried over into Our Lord's ministry. Whenever he would come to a decision or difficulty, he would pray before acting, a good example for all of us.
Living the faith as a family means more than weekly Mass attendance and praying the blessing before meals, as important as those practices are. The Second Vatican Council, in its document Lumen Gentium, called the family a “domestic Church”, and encourages parents “by their word and example, [to] be the first preachers of the faith to their children.” (LG 11) The greatest example parents can give to a child is to live their faith without being preachy about it, but still being willing to talk to the child about matters of faith. Parents need to be willing to teach about the elements of the faith, and to learn for themselves if they don't know the answers.
All too often, we see young Catholics who go through Confirmation and High School youth group, but never practice the faith after leaving home. In many cases, the faith was not practiced at home, outside of weekly Mass attendance performed grudgingly, and was never seen as a priority by the children. When the time came for the children to make their own decisions regarding the faith, it was dropped in favor of something they see as a higher priority.
Sometimes children will fall away from the practice of the faith in those families who have made the faith a priority. While this is always hard on the family, it shouldn't be an occasion of doubt or anger towards the faith, but is a challenge to the family to live the faith all the more. The family is encouraged to pray for the children who have fallen away, and to be open and welcoming so that the children may feel drawn back into the practice of their faith.
The Holy Family is held up as the example of how to live with faith in God as a family. Through their example and intercession, may families grow in the practice of their faith and be united by that faith.