The Holy Family: Making the Invisible Visible

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By Mary Peterson

Maybe you walked right past it, unimpressed.

Maybe you stopped for a moment and gazed on it with admiration.

Maybe you own a copy.

It is Andrei Rublev's icon of the Trinity (detail above), which depicts three figures seated around a low table. They look identical; only the color of their clothing distinguishes one from the other. There is an ethereal beauty to the image, but we can still walk away scratching our heads. After all, the Trinity is not an easy concept to grasp: one God, three unique Persons (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) with the same nature, substance, and being, united in a love that flows continually outward.

Even the most brilliant saints in our Church have struggled to understand that fully.

However, if you've ever tried to teach a difficult concept to a child, you know that using something tangible can help, even if it doesn't capture every nuance.

That might be the reason God gave us the Holy Family, whom we honor on Dec. 26. They are like an earthly icon, a tangible image of the Divine Trinity. Each person in the Family is distinct, yet they are one family united in a love that isn't self-seeking or pleasure-focused, but reaching out to one another and everyone around them. In a sense, the Holy Family makes the invisible Trinity visible in the world. They make divine love palpable.

And they help us do the same — not in theory but in practice, through our actions and our words. Because trying to love a general, amorphous humanity doesn't work. We have to love individuals, which entails having real, loving relationships within our families, workplaces, parishes, and communities.

But what does that look like? Let's turn to the Holy Family and see how they relate to one another and to us.

Saint Joseph was given the extraordinary vocation of protecting and providing for Jesus and Mary. When the angel told him to take the Child and His Mother and flee to Egypt, Joseph obeyed (see Mt 2:13-23). He didn't ask how he would provide for them in a foreign country; he didn't worry about what he was leaving behind; and he didn't take a few days to gather provisions. He did what was best for Jesus and saved Him from Herod's wrath. When we consecrate ourselves to St. Joseph, he protects and provides for us, too — not necessarily in material wealth; after all, the Holy Family was poor. But he provides for our needs, protects us on our earthly journey, and helps us put our priorities in perspective.

Our Blessed Mother always points to Jesus. Just as she did at the Wedding Feast of Cana (see Jn 2:1-11), she turns to Him and intercedes for us, not telling Him how to fix our problems, but only expressing them to Him. And she brings us to Jesus, too, instructing us to do whatever He tells us. Then she steps out of the way so our eyes are fixed on Him. When we consecrate ourselves to Mary, we surrender all we are and have to her, and she lovingly nurtures our growth in holiness, our ability to see the needs of others, and our union with Jesus.

Jesus, the Word of God, reveals that His Father is waiting patiently for His wayward children to return to Him (see Lk 15:11-31) —and not just waiting, but with His eyes on the horizon, searching for us. When we consecrate ourselves to Jesus' Merciful Love, our weaknesses (and even our sins) become the occasions to throw ourselves "into the arms of [His] mercy" (Diary of Saint Maria Faustina Kowalska, 1541). And filled with that Mercy, we're drawn to give it to others.

It's easy, then, to see why we should have a relationship with the Holy Family, but why "consecrate" ourselves, and what does that mean? To "consecrate" is to dedicate a person or thing to the service of God. Baptism was our first consecration, so responding now with a decision to deepen our spiritual life helps us strengthen that baptismal commitment. And consecrating ourselves to God through the Holy Family enables us to build a loving, devoted relationship with them and with the Divine Trinity.

Fortunately for us, if we'd like to experience the power of a consecration, the Marians can help. They've written inspiring, easy-to-understand books on the subject. Each is filled with practical words of wisdom and comfort — and beautiful stories that inflame our love and devotion:

Consecration to St. Joseph by Fr. Donald Calloway, MIC, rings us on a profound journey to the heart of our Spiritual Father.

33 Days to Morning Glory by Fr. Michael Gaitley, MIC, leads us to union with Jesus through the loving and Immaculate Heart of Mary.

33 Days to Merciful Love by Fr. Michael Gaitley, MIC, helps us encounter Divine Mercy through St. Thérèse and her "Little Way."

Consecration is also foundational to our faith. The Catholic Church consecrates churches, altars, and holy chrism to set them apart for sacred use. Of course, the consecration par excellence occurs at Mass, when the priest consecrates bread and wine. At that moment, the bread and wine become the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Jesus.

Our consecrations will change us, as well — to become more like Jesus, to be grafted into Him (Rom 11:17) — so we may "become sharers in the life of the Trinity itself," as Fr. Michael Gaitley, MIC, explains in 33 Days to Greater Glory.

What a great New Year's resolution!

Credit: Andrei Rublev, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

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Michael - Dec 30, 2021

Wow. I never thought of the Holy Family as a tangible metaphor for the Trinity, in such clear-cut and well-defined terms.
Thank you for including this on your site!