Wojtyla’s homily for the Feast of the Holy Family (1969)

The light of the Holy Family shines out . . .

Cardinal Wojtyla

In the Christmas season we often address the newborn Lord with the prayer, “Raise your little hand, O Holy Child, and bless our beloved homeland.” Today we are celebrating the feast of the Holy Family, when the Church asks Jesus to bless the family. May he, who was the blessing of his own family because he grew to manhood within it, preparing himself in its shelter for his messianic vocation, bless every human family. Today, the hope and fervant desire of the Church is that every human family may be permeated with the mystery of the Holy Family, in which God became man.

The mystery offers many points for reflection: Christ spent his childhood and youth with his family, thus showing us that God’s greatest work is carried out within the family; he wrought our redemption and salvation in the context of his family life; and it is thanks to it that all of us are saved. That is why today’s feast is of such universal significance. The light of the Holy Family shines out to anywhere where there is a human family  — which in fact means everywhere.

The meaning of this feast is also very individual and personal. Today the mystery of the Holy family concerns each individual family in a specific way  — both husband and wife but also that special community which begins with their marriage, in other words, the community of parents and children. Whether this is a community of mature people or of those still in formation, it is a wonderful and fundamental community, and without it the human race would not exist.

In a special way today, through the mystery of the Holy Family, all humanity and the Church reflect on God’s greatest work — that of creation. God started the human race when he created the first human couple of man and woman, husband and wife. The great human family begins with them; when he gave them the power to transmit life, he invested them with the divine power of creation. Thus the work of creation continues through the family in every age and generation of human history. As parents, you are partners with God and share in his work in a way in keeping with the dignity of the human person. The Creator wants the work of creation to be manifested in every human family and, through the family, in every people and society and in humanity as a whole.

If the Son of God became man and carried out the major part of his mission within the family, this means that his work must be carried out within and through the family. This work of redemption and sanctification raises man up out of the evil to which he has inclined as a result of original sin and draws him toward the good of which he is capable, even at the price of effort and sacrifice. Jesus showed us this, and he urges us toward it, constantly giving us new strength for our task.

The work of redemption shows us the full value of everything human and especially of marriage and family. It is as if God himself — symbolized in the family by the newborn child  — said to every couple: “See how beautiful it is, and how it is both human and divine!” This is the meaning of today’s feast.

The divine and human beauty that exists in the family can only be gained through constant effort. It is not ready-made, but must be worked for by every couple. We are quite right in saying that marriage is based on l;ove; we find this truth in the gospel. However, we must immediately add that true love makes us capable of taking on the tasks and problems of married and family life and that it is does not give us this capacity it cannot be called love. We should therefore be careful not to debase this wonderful word that was spoken by the Son of God as the greatest commandment.

Through marriage and family  Christ carries out his work of redemption, which he won for us on the cross. However, just as Christ came to resurrection through the cross, so too, difficulties and hardship bring us to the true value of marital and family love and real formation and development  — first and foremost the mutual formation of husband and wife and then the education of their children.

Only well trained and formed adults are capable of educating the young. This is also part of the work of sanctification that flows from the mystery of the Holy Family through the sacrament of matrimony.
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The deepest witness of this community is the institution of marriage. This can be be seen clearly in the Old Testament  and also in all the words and actions of Christ. . . . . Let us not imagine that the sacrament of matrimony takes effect mechanically; no, it acts together with the will and efforts of the individual. The sacrament helps us and makes sanctification possible, but we for our part, must demonstrate our good will and humbly pray. This is the only way of reaching sanctity, whether in the priesthood or marriage.

My dear ones, these reflections are prompted by the mystery of the Holy Family and are of great importance to the Church, which always gives Christian matrimony and its sanctity a primary place in its mission because Christ founded the Church by beginning his mission as Messiah within the family.

We pray fopr our country, in the knowledge that (as is the case for any country, people, or society) its strength lies in the family. Too little is done to develop and harness this strength, while, on the contrary, a great deal is done to weaken the marriage bond and the stability of the family. . . .  While we can can change the parts of an engine, the fundamental human community of the family can not be substituted. It must be served and helped to develop. It is not licit to destroy it, since it is a work of God.

“Raise your little hand, O Holy Child, and bless the family” — every family that is loved by its members and dear to other people and lives in the atmosphere of love. There is nothing dearer to man than this community.

This is the meaning of the Christmas prayer that we sing together around the manger in which the Holy Child lies. Together with you, and through the words of this Christmas carol, I invoke the blessing of the Holy Child for our country and for our families. Translated by Leslie Wearne (The Word Made Flesh, Harper and Row 1985), pp. 73-76

Homily delivered to parish in Zakopane, Poland
 28 December 1969

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