Child Jesus in the Temple, Jan Steen, 1659-60

Translation From the Holy Gospel According to Luke

When Jesus was twelve years old, they going up into Jerusalem according to the custom of the feast, and having fulfilled the days, when they returned, the Child Jesus remained in Jerusalem, and His parents knew it not. And thinking that He was in the company, they came a day’s journey, and sought Him among their kinsfolk and acquaintances. And not finding Him, they returned into Jerusalem, seeking Him. And it came to pass that after three days they found Him in the Temple, sitting in the midst of the doctors, hearing them and asking them questions. And all that heard Him were astonished at His wisdom and His answers. And seeing Him they wondered. And His Mother said to Him: Son, why hast Thou done so to us? Behold Thy father and I have sought Thee sorrowing. And He said to them: how is it that you sought Me? Did you not know that I must be about My Father’s business? And they understood not the word that He spoke unto them. 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. And Jesus advanced in wisdom and age and grace with God and men.

A Message From St. John Paul II’s Homily for the Feast of the Holy Family, 1978

The family of Nazareth, which the Church, especially in today’s liturgy, puts before the eyes of all families, really constitutes that culminating point of reference for the holiness of every human family. The history of this Family is described very concisely in the pages of the Gospel. We get to know only a few events in its life. However what we learn is sufficient to be able to involve the fundamental moments in the life of every family, and to show that dimension, to which all men who live a family life are called: fathers, mothers, parents, children, The Gospel shows us, very clearly, the educative aspect of the family. He went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them (Luke 2:51).

St. Joseph at Work, Modesto Faustini, 1887-90

This submission, obedience, readiness to accept the mature examples of the human conduct of the family, is necessary, on the part of children and of the young generation. Jesus, too, was “obedient” in this way. And parents must measure their whole conduct with this “obedience”, this readiness of the child to accept the examples of human behaviour. This is the particularly delicate point of their responsibility as parents, of their responsibility with regard to the man, this little and then growing man entrusted to them by God himself. They must also keep in mind everything that happened in the life of the Family of Nazareth when Jesus was twelve years old; that is, they bring up their child not just for themselves, but for him, for the tasks which he will have to assume later. The twelve-year-old Jesus replied to Mary and Joseph: Did you not know that I must be about my Father’s business? (Luke 2:40).

The deepest human problems are connected with the family. It constitutes the primary, fundamental and irreplaceable community for man. The mission of being the primary vital cell of society has been given to the family by God himself, the Second Vatican Council affirms. (Apostolicam Actuositatem, 11). The Church wishes to bear a particular witness to that too during the Octave of Christmas, by means of the feast of the Holy Family. She wishes to recall that the fundamental values, which cannot be violated without incalculable harm of a moral nature, are bound up with the family. Material perspectives and the “economico-social” point of view often prevail over the principles of Christian and even human morality. It is not enough, then, to express only regret. It is necessary to defend these fundamental values tenaciously and firmly, because their violation does incalculable harm to society and, in the last analysis, to man. No experience of the different nations in the history of mankind, as well as our contemporary experience, can serve as an argument to reaffirm this painful truth, that is, that it is easy, in the fundamental sphere of human existence in which the role of the family is decisive, to destroy essential values, while it is very difficult to reconstruct these values.

What are these values? If we had to answer this question adequately, it would be necessary to indicate the whole hierarchy and the set of values which define and condition one another. But trying to express ourself concisely, let us say that here it is a question of two fundamental values which fall strictly into the context of what we call “conjugal love”. The first of them is the value of the person which is expressed in absolute mutual faithfulness until death: the faithfulness of the husband to his wife and of the wife to her husband. The consequence of this affirmation of the value of the person, which is expressed in the mutual relationship between husband and wife, must also be respect for the personal value of the new life, that is, of the child, from the first moment of his conception.

Prayer Before the Meal, Jan Steen, 1660

The Church can never dispense herself from the obligation of guarding these two fundamental values, connected with the vocation of the family. Custody of them was entrusted to the Church by Christ, in such a way as leaves no doubt. At the same time, the self-evidence of these values—humanly understood— is such that the Church, defending them, sees herself as the spokesman of true human dignity: of the good of the person, of the family, of the nations. While maintaining respect for all those who think differently, it is very difficult to recognize, from the objective and impartial point of view, that anyone who betrays conjugal faithfulness, or who permits life conceived in the mother’s womb to be wiped out and destroyed, behaves in a way consistent with true human dignity. Consequently, it cannot be admitted that programmes which suggest, which facilitate, which admit such behaviour serve the objective well-being of man, the moral well-being, and help to make human life really more human, really more worthy of man; that they serve to construct a better society.