This stained glass image in Holy Family Church, Union Beach, depicts a young Jesus, with his parents, Mary and Joseph. Father Koch offers a Gospel reflection for the Feast of the Holy Family that is observed Dec. 27. Monitor file photo
This stained glass image in Holy Family Church, Union Beach, depicts a young Jesus, with his parents, Mary and Joseph. Father Koch offers a Gospel reflection for the Feast of the Holy Family that is observed Dec. 27. Monitor file photo
Gospel reflection for Dec. 27, 2020, Feast of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph

In 2014, the Vatican hosted an extraordinary interreligious Conference on the Family. It included speakers from religious communities across a wide international spectrum, and with religious views divergent from our own. Yet a shared perspective on marriage and the family united these speakers together in interesting ways.

The most widely regarded and received address was that of Lord Jonathan Sacks, Chief Rabbi Emeritus of the United Kingdom.

He directed his reflection from anthropological considerations while then focusing on the distinct covenantal and theological nature of marriage and family in Judaism.

This week we celebrate the Feast of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph. In doing so, it can be easy to overlook the reality that they were a Jewish family – a typical Jewish family of their historical period – living in the small village of Nazareth. So much of the Jewish religious ritual then and now is based within the home. And this week as we see Mary and Joseph offering the ordinary ritual of thanksgiving for the birth of a first-born son, we see a glimpse of their Jewish life and faith.

Lord Rabbi Sacks, in developing his address identified seven key points. In the seventh he states: “… in Judaism, the home and the family became the central setting of the life of faith. In the only verse in the Hebrew Bible to explain why God chose Abraham, He says: ‘I have known him so that he will instruct his children and his household after him to keep the way of the Lord by doing what is right and just.’ Abraham was chosen not to rule an empire, command an army, perform miracles or deliver prophecies, but simply to be a parent. In one of the most famous lines in Judaism, which we say every day and night, Moses commands, ‘You shall teach these things repeatedly to your children, speaking of them when you sit in your house or when you walk on the way, when you lie down and when you rise up.’ Parents are to be educators, education is the conversation between the generations, and the first school is the home.

“So Jews became an intensely family oriented people, and it was this that saved us from tragedy. After the destruction of the Second Temple in the year 70, Jews were scattered throughout the world, everywhere a minority, everywhere without rights, suffering some of the worst persecutions ever known by a people and yet Jews survived because they never lost three things: their sense of family, their sense of community and their faith.”

This is the world of Jesus and his family, but it certainly impacts us and our world today as well. Our families ought to be where our faith is nurtured each and every day. There should never be a doubt that a Catholic family is a Catholic family. Prayer, moral instruction, interest and support in religious formation, shared attendance at Mass and other occasions of prayer and worship, should stand at the core of who we are as Catholic families.

Yes, there are challenges to traditional family life these days – economic, sociological, philosophical and ideological. There are those who seem to be actively working against the tradition of the past. Lord Sacks put it this way: “It will go down in history as one of the tragic instances of what Friedrich Hayek called ‘the fatal conceit’ that somehow we know better than the wisdom of the ages, and can defy the lessons of biology and history. No one surely wants to go back to the narrow prejudices of the past.”

Pope Francis recently raised the ire of many when he seemed to suggest a respect for the rights of those who live outside of traditional marriage covenants.

In what might serve as an insight into this perspective of the Holy Father, Lord Sacks observed: “But our compassion for those who choose to live differently should not inhibit us from being advocates for the single most humanizing institution in history. The family, man, woman, and child, is not one lifestyle choice among many. It is the best means we have yet discovered for nurturing future generations and enabling children to grow in a matrix of stability and love. It is where we learn the delicate choreography of relationship and how to handle the inevitable conflicts within any human group. It is where we first take the risk of giving and receiving love. It is where one generation passes on its values to the next, ensuring the continuity of a civilization. For any society, the family is the crucible of its future, and for the sake of our children’s future, we must be its defenders.”

Today we pray for all families – for our own families – that we will stand in testimony and witness to the great gift God has bestowed upon all of us.

Father Garry Koch is pastor of St. Benedict Parish, Holmdel.