Sirach 3:2-6, 12-14; Colossians 3:12-17; Matthew 2:13-15,19-23
Recently on Catholic radio I heard of a church called the basilica of the Holy Family. It stands in downtown Barcelona and, from the images I’ve seen, is as breathtaking as it is hard to describe. I urge you to look up the pictures and videos online and see this majestic, cavernous, awe-inspiring structure for yourself.
There isn’t time to talk about the brilliant architects, artists, and builders who have contributed their time and energy to the project but a couple of events deserve mention. In 2010, Pope Benedict XVI consecrated the basilica and in 2015 it was proclaimed nearly complete. What makes these events noteworthy? Three things: First, the planned completion date is 2026; second, the permit to begin construction wasn’t granted until 2019; and third, the building permit was applied for in 1885.
That’s right, 1885. Actually, ground was broken on the feast of St. Joseph, March 19 1882 and construction has continued – off and on – since then. No one planned for Holy Family to take that long. Various things have gotten in the way – like the Spanish Civil War. Needless to say, the basilica is a work in progress.
This is important to remember because it says a few things that touch on the idea of family and its holiness.
First, good things can be a long time in the making. Holy Family basilica has taken over 130 years already and its scheduled completion date may come and go. Clearly, hitting the date is not the priority; the priority is that things are done well. The same is true for the holiness of the family. Parents are charged with the responsibility of seeing that their children grow in holiness; to do that well they must be holy themselves. Pope St. John Paul II called his childhood home his first seminary. His father was not afraid to pray in front of his children or to live a life in service of God and his neighbor; he did so every day. Obviously this is a long, slow process, but like Holy Family basilica a holy family is built bit by bit, stone by stone, day after day.
Second, things don’t always go according to plan. As the history of Holy Family basilica shows, we make plans but life happens. Few knew this better than St. Joseph. He had plans: Wed Mary of Nazareth, have a family, and work to provide for them. As he came to learn, God had another plan: Be father of the Holy Family. Think of the tremendous responsibility this laid on his shoulders: The very life of the Savior, the Son of the Most High, was in his hands. God was depending on him to keep that child safe from people like Herod. Although fathers and mothers of our own holy families do not have exactly this same responsibility, theirs is still an awesome task. God lays on their shoulders the task of properly raising their children, of keeping them safe from whatever life throws at them and teaching them as Joseph and Mary taught our Lord in his human nature how to get along in the world, what is important and what isn’t, what it means to be married, what happiness is and how and where it is found. As every parent knows, this makes building a basilica seem easy by comparison! But the blueprint for such holiness exists; St. Paul gives it when he urges us to put on heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, bearing with one another and forgiving one another (Colossians 3:12-13).
Finally, the basilica of the Holy Family teaches us that joy is not necessarily the destination but the journey. Every year, millions of people take the time to tour the basilica of the Holy Family in Barcelona. Whether they are watching as the builders add to its structure, marveling as artisans craft the artwork that adorns it, or attending the Masses offered there, the faithful are uplifted and sanctified even though the basilica is a work in progress. The same is true for our families, for they too are works in progress. Every day brings the happiness and sorrow, the cataclysms and quiet moments through which families progress either closer to God or further away from him. Let us pray that our families take every moment of life and find the joy in it; for each moment, whatever it holds, is an opportunity given to us by Almighty God to build up our own domestic Church in virtue, crafting ourselves more and more into what we are called to be – living stones built upon the cornerstone that is Christ.