The School of the Holy Family
Jul 5th, 2021 • 7 min
The following beautiful passage from the Pastoral Letter of the Bishop of Nottingham, Advent, 1887, which fell under our notice after the above was written, will serve to illustrate much of what has gone before, and to quicken and deepen our perception, in detail, of the life which the Holy Family led at Nazareth, and of the obedience which, in His divine condescendence, Jesus paid His parents.
“In the Holy House of Nazareth the Child was the teacher of His parents, not taught by them. 1 The Eternal Wisdom of God could learn nothing from any creature, even in His Human Nature. Divine light, and teaching, and grace poured forth from His every act and word into the souls of His father and mother.
“Yet, while He thus enlightened them—the two most perfect of His creatures—His every look and word were those of a docile and obedient child. He followed their directions and obeyed their commands, and also the commands of His Heavenly Father, sent, not to Him directly, but to them for Him.
“He sat at their feet, hearing them and asking them questions, as He did with the priests in the Temple, while they always hung upon His words, and pondered them in their hearts, and wondered at His wisdom and at His answers.
“How marvellous must have been that school of Heavenly Wisdom, in which Mary and Joseph were but pupils, where even the Virgin of Good Counsel, the Seat of Wisdom herself, and her dear Spouse Joseph, the just man, the Son of David, did not always comprehend the Word that was said, but had to ponder divine mysteries in their hearts, waiting for further illuminations of the Holy Spirit! What perfect and consummate wisdom was there breathed forth! What inconceivable perfection and holiness of life was there displayed!
“The angels who looked on in adoring admiration might have reversed the words of our prayer, and have besought God that His will might be done by them in Heaven, as it was done by Jesus, Mary, and Joseph upon earth.
“For thirty years was Jesus subject His to parents, and for thirty years did that Paradise of Delights, the Holy House of Nazareth, continue to offer to us a model of every Christian virtue, a type and pattern of what our homes should be, or which, at least according to their measure, they should imitate.
“Dear children in Christ, visit in spirit that Holy House. Consider its poverty, and the rudeness and simplicity of its furniture. Behold also the exquisite cleanliness, order, and neatness which is manifested in every detail. Though poor, it is bright and cheerful, made so by the looks and words of loving hearts, and the labours of loving hands.
“The Eternal God, and the Queen of Heaven and her Spouse, chose not to have earthly magnificence around them. Had they possessed it, they, being perfect, would have sold what they had, and given to the poor. They chose the better part of voluntary poverty, working with their hands that even so they might have wherewith to give to those who were in need. They knew how many of the houses of their children must be poor and destitute. Therefore they took their part in poverty and destitution, to show that the deepest poverty can be enriched and made happy by the love of God and man.
“How can we sufficiently admire the unremitting, uncomplaining, self-sacrificing toil of Joseph, who was honoured by the Eternal Father with the office of governing and working for His Eternal Son and the Ever-Blessed Virgin Mother!
“How shall we wonder at the sweet, gentle, assiduous labours of Mary, watching over the comfort of her husband and her Child, never forgetting nor omitting anything which might cheer or alleviate their earthly lot, and brightening their home with her beautiful and loving smiles!
“How shall we adore the gracious Child, advancing daily in wisdom, and age, and grace with God and man, manifesting ever more and more to His parents’ wondering eyes the hidden perfections of His Godhead, and captivating their love by His reverent obedience, and sweet attentions, and gentle loving ways!
“What a school of love was there! Jesus the Ocean of created love and charity; Mary full of grace and love as much as was possible to a pure creature; Joseph, the Guardian-Father of Jesus, the Virgin-Husband of Mary, the Companion and Disciple of both, and filled by God with that supreme love which such offices required.
“Every kind of created tenderness was there, following upon charity, and unspeakably dear to the God of charity, who has known how to create so many varieties and sweetnesses of love in the heart of man.
“There was the ineffable mutual love of husband for wife and of wife for husband, intensified as well as purified by the virginity of both.
“There was the love of father and the love of mother for their Child; for He was the Child of both, pre-ordained to be the recompense and bond of their virginal union.
“There was the love of the Child for His parents, intense and perfect, as must have been every kind of love in the Sacred Heart of God. …
“There was the pattern of charity, piety, and mutual service and kindness, which should be imitated in every Catholic home. There was also a pattern of religious observance and of the worship of God. We read in the Holy Scriptures how perfectly our Lord and His parents observed the law of Moses, even when they might have justly claimed to be dispensed from it. We know He and His Blessed Mother and St. Joseph were ever engaged in unceasing love and contemplation of the Divinity.
“We can imagine, then, something of the assiduity, reverence, and devotion of the spiritual exercises of the Holy Family in their humble home. Prayer of the heart without ceasing, prayer in common many times a day, prayer undistracted, prayer made with adoring reverence in the visible presence of God, prayer enriched with the divine blessing of Him who prayed.
“There also was the virtue of temperance in its perfection. In Jesus and Mary it found no evil passion to restrain, and in Joseph a Saint already made perfect in self-denial. Yet it lost nothing of its perfection or of the fulness of its practice. Obedience, self-sacrifice, humility, mortification of the appetites, meekness, chastity, modesty, sobriety all concurred to the holiness and happiness of that home.”
It is hardly necessary to observe that this assertion, that the Child Jesus was not taught by His parents, in no wise excludes the mysterious condescension by which He was pleased to learn from them in a secondary and experimental sense; to which, indeed, the Bishop himself immediately afterwards alludes, where he speaks of Jesus sitting at their feet, hearing them, and asking them questions. ↩
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