The Holy Family with the Little Bird, by Bartolome Esteban Murillo, c. 1650AD.
Today is traditionally the feast of the Holy Family -- the Sunday after Epiphany. In the revised calendar of 1970AD, the Feast is celebrated on the Sunday during the Octave of Christmas, or, if there is no Sunday in the Christmas octave, 30 December. Regardless, it is, in these waning days of the Christmas season, an opportune moment to note something of this great model of family life.
"The special devotion which sets forth the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph as the model of virtue for all Christian households began in the seventeenth century. It commenced almost simultaneously in Canada and France: -- the Association of the Holy Family being founded in Montreal in 1663, and the Daughters of the Holy Family in Paris in 1674. Numerous other congregations and associations under the Patronage of the Holy Family have been established since that time, and they are spread over the world. The arch-confratenity was established by Bl. Pius IX in 1847. In 1893 Leo XIII approved a Feast for Canada, and Pope Benedict XV extended the Feast of the Holy Family to the whole Church and ordered its celebration to take place on the Sunday after the Epiphany." [Baronius Press Missal, pg. 244]
It is well to recall the collect of the Feast:
"O Lord Jesus Christ, who, being subject to Mary and Joseph, didst sanctify home life with ineffable virtues; grant that , with the aid of both, we may be taught by the example of Thy Holy Family, and attain to eternal fellowship with them."
While the specific devotion to the Holy Family is of recent origin, certainly the members of the Holy Family, Our Lord Jesus Christ, the Blessed Virgin Mary, and St. Joseph are well worthy of consideration as a family, and, indeed, give us a model of what family life should contain.
It is a wonder to ponder those words of the Holy Gospel according to St. Luke, Chapter 2: "51 And he went down with them and came to Nazareth and was subject to them. And his mother kept all these words in her heart."
For more, you would do well to check out this page: Fisheaters: Feast of the Holy Family
A consideration of the Holy Family naturally leads to a consideration of family and the Sacrament of Matrimony. You might consider the follow inspiring documents:
Arcanum of Pope Leo XIII, 1880
Casti Connubii of Pope Pius XI, 1930
Familiaris Consortio of Pope St. John Paul II, 1981
Of course, this last year, Pope Francis promulgated an apostolic exhortation, the longest such papal document, and one that is in the midst of some controversy: Amoris Laetitia of Pope Francis, 2016
We should note, too, regarding the definition and place of Holy Matrimony in society, the teaching of recent popes. Pope Benedict XVI taught, "In this regard, particular mention must be made of the powerful political and cultural currents seeking to alter the legal definition of marriage. The Church’s conscientious effort to resist this pressure calls for a reasoned defense of marriage as a natural institution consisting of a specific communion of persons...Defending the institution of marriage as a social reality is ultimately a question of justice, since it entails safeguarding the good of the entire human community and the rights of parents and children alike."
From the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith's Consideration, approved by John Paul II in 2003: "When legislation in favour of the recognition of homosexual unions is proposed for the first time in a legislative assembly, the Catholic law-maker has a moral duty to express his opposition clearly and publicly and to vote against it. To vote in favour of a law so harmful to the common good is gravely immoral."
Finally, I leave with you the chapter of the splendid work of St. Robert Bellarmine, Ars bene moriendi (The Art of Dying Well) on the subject of the Sacrament of Marriage:
"CHAPTER XV. THE FIFTEENTH PRECEPT, ON MATRIMONY.
THE sacrament of Matrimony comes next: it has a two-fold institution; one, as it is a civil contract by the natural law; another, as it is a sacrament by the law of the Gospel. Of both institutions we shall briefly speak, not absolutely, but only as regards teaching us how to live well, that so we may die well. Its first institution was made by God in paradise; for these words of God, "It is not good for man to be alone," cannot properly be understood, unless they have relation to some means of propagating the human race.
St. Augustine justly remarks, that in no way does man stand in need of the woman, except in bringing forth and educating children; for in other things, men derive more assistance from their fellow-men than from women. Wherefore, a little after the woman had been formed, Adam divinely inspired said: “A man shall leave his father and mother, and cleave to his wife: " and these words our Lord in St. Matthew attributes to God, saying: " Have ye not read, that he who made man from the beginning, made them male and female ? And he said: For this cause shall a man leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife, and they two shall be in one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let no man put asunder." (chap, xix.) Our Lord here attributes these words to God, because Adam spoke them not as coming from himself, but from the divine inspiration. Such was the first institution of Matrimony.
Another institution, or rather exaltation of matrimony to the dignity of a sacrament, is found in St. Paul’s Epistle to the Ephesians: " For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife, and they shall be two in one flesh. This is a great sacrament: but I speak in Christ and in the Church." (chap. v. 31, 32.) That matrimony is a true sacrament, St. Augustine proves in his book on "A good husband" he says: " In our marriages, more account is made of the sanctity of the sacrament than fecundity of birth: " and in the xxiv. chapter he says again: " Among all nations and people the advantage of marriage consists in being the means of producing children in the faith of chastity: but as regards the people of God, it also consists in the sanctity of the Sacrament." And in his book on " Faith and Works," he says: " In the city of the Lord and in his holy Mount, that is, in his Church, marriage is not only a bond, it is also considered to be a Sacrament." But on this point I need say nothing more. It only remains that I explain, how men and women united in matrimony should so live, that they may die a good death.
There are three blessings arising from Matrimony, if it be made a good use of, viz: Children, fidelity, and the grace of the sacrament. The generation of children, together with their proper education, must be had in view, if we would make a good use of matrimony; but on the contrary, he commits a most grievous sin, who seeks only carnal pleasure in it. Hence Onan, one of the children of the patriarch Juda, is most severely blamed in Scripture for not remembering this, which was to abuse, not use the holy Sacrament.
But if sometimes it happen that married people should be oppressed with the number of their children, whom through poverty they cannot easily support, there is a remedy pleasing to God; and this is, by mutual consent to separate from the marriage-bed, and spend their days in prayer and fasting. For if it be agreeable to Him, for married persons to grow old in virginity, after the example of the Blessed Virgin and St. Joseph, (whose lives the Emperor Henry and his wife Chunecunda endeavoured to imitate, as well as King Edward and Egdida, Eleazor a knight, and his lady Dalphina, and several others,) why should it be displeasing to God or men, that married people should not live together as man and wife, by mutual consent, that so they may spend the rest of their days in prayer and fasting ? Again: it is a most grievous sin, for people united in matrimony and blessed with children, to neglect them or their pious education, or to allow them to want the necessaries of life. On this point, we have many examples, both in sacred and profane History: but as I wish to be concise, I shall be content with adducing one only from the first book of Kings: "In that day I will raise up against Heli all the hings I have spoken concerning his house: I will begin and I will make an end. For I have foretold unto him, that I will judge his house forever for iniquity, because he knew that his sons did wickedly, and did not chastise them. Therefore have I sworn to the house of Heli, that the iniquity of his house shall not be expiated with victims nor offerings for ever." (chap. iii. 12, & c.) These threats God shortly after fulfilled; for the sons of Heli were slain in battle, and Heli himself falling from his seat backwards, broke his neck and died miserably. Wherefore, if Heli, otherwise a just man, and an upright judge of the people, perished miserably with his sons, because he did not educate them as he ought to have done, and did not chastise them when they became wicked; what will become of those, who not only do not endeavour to educate their children properly, but by their bad example encourage them to sin? Truly, they can expect nothing less than a horrible death, for themselves and for their children, unless they repent in time and do suitable penance.
Another blessing, and that a most noble one, is the grace of the Sacrament, which God Himself pours into the hearts of pious married persons, provided the marriage be duly celebrated, and the individuals are found to be well disposed and prepared. This grace, not to mention other blessings it brings with it, helps in a wonderful manner to produce love and peace between married people, although the different dispositions and manners of each other are capable of sowing discord. But, above all things, an imitation of the union of Christ with the Church makes marriage most sweet and blessed. Of this the Apostle thus speaks in his Epistle to the Ephesians: "Husbands, love your wives, as Christ also loved the Church, and delivered Himself up for it, that He might sanctify it, cleansing it by the laver of water, in the word of life, that he might present it to Himself a glorious Church, not having spot or wrinkle." (chap. v. 25, &c.)
The Apostle admonishes women also, saying: " Let women be subject to their husbands, as to the Lord. Because the husband is the head of the wife, as Christ is the head of the Church. Therefore as the Church is subject to Christ, so also let the wives be to their husbands in all things." The Apostle concludes: “Nevertheless let every one of you in particular love his wife as himself, and let the wife fear her husband." If these words of the Apostle be diligently considered, they will make our marriage blessed in heaven and on earth.
But we will briefly explain the meaning of St. Paul s words. .First, he exhorts husbands that they love their wives, " as Christ hath loved the Church." Christ certainly loved His church with a love of friendship, not with a love of concupiscence; He sought the good of the Church, the safety of the Church, and not His own utility, nor His own pleasure. Wherefore, they do not imitate Christ, who love their wives on account of their beauty, being captivated by the love thereof, or on account of their rich dowry or valuable inheritance, for such love not their spouse but themselves, desiring to satisfy the concupiscence of their flesh, or the concupiscence of their eyes, which is called avarice. Thus Solomon, wise in the beginning, but in the end unwise, loved his wives and his concubines, not with the love of friendship, but of concupiscence; desiring not to benefit them, but to satisfy his carnal concupiscence, wherewith being blinded, he hesitated not to sacrifice to strange gods, lest he should grieve in the least his mistresses.
Now, that Christ in His marriage with His Church, sought not Himself, that is, His own utility or pleasure, but the good of His spouse, is evident from the following words: " He delivered himself for it that he might sanctity it, cleansing it by the laver of water in the word of life." This indeed is true and perfect charity, to deliver one’s self to punishment, for the eternal welfare of the Church his spouse. But not only did our Saviour love the Church with a love of friendship, not concupiscence, but also He loved it, not for a time, but with a perpetual love.
For as He never laid aside His human nature which He once assumed, so also He united His spouse to Himself, in a bond of indissoluble marriage. " With a perpetual love have I loved thee," saith He by the prophet Jeremias. This is the reason why marriage is indissoluble among Christians, because it is a sacrament signifying the union of Christ with His church; whilst marriage among the Pagans and Jews, could be dissolved in certain cases. The same apostle afterward teaches women to be “subject" to their husbands, as the Church is subject to Christ. Jezabel did not observe this precept; for as she wished to rule her husband, she lost herself and him, together with all their children. And would that there were not so many females in these days, who endeavour to rule over their husbands; but perhaps the fault is in the men, who do not know how to retain their superiority. Sara, the wife of Abraham, was so subject to her husband, that she called him lord: "I am grown old, and my lord is an old man," & c. And this obedience of Sara, St. Peter in his first Epistle thus praises: "For after this manner holy women also, being in subjection to their husbands, as Sara obeyed Abraham, calling him lord." (chap. iii. 5, 6.) It may appear strange, that the holy Apostles Peter and Paul should be continually exhorting husbands to love their wives, and wives to fear their husbands; but if they be subject to their husbands, should they not also love them? A wife ought to love her husband, and be loved in return by him; but she should love him with fear and reverence, so that her love should not prevent her fear, otherwise she might become a tyrant. Dalila mocked her husband Sampson, though such a strong man, not as a man, but as a slave. And in the book of Esdras it is related of a king, how being captivated with love for his concubine, he suffered her to sit at his right hand; but she took the crown from the King’s head and put it upon her own, and even struck the king himself. Wherefore, we must not be surprised at the Almighty having said to the first woman: “Thou shalt be under thy husband’s power, and he shall have dominion over thee." (Genesis, iii. 1 6.) Hence a husband requires no little wisdom to love, and at the same time rule his wife; to admonish her and teach her also; and if necessary, even correct her. We have an example in St. Monica the mother of St. Augustine; her husband was a cruel man and a Pagan, but yet she bore with him so piously and prudently, that she always was loved by him, and at length converted him to God. (See St. Augustine’s " Confessions)"