Today we celebrate the feast of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph. Just yesterday we celebrated the birth of Christ, who became man and entered into this world to live like us in all things but sin. And so he too was part of a human family, but of course, a very special one: Mary being preserved from sin by God’s grace and Joseph being, as Scripture tells us, a “righteous man.” They are of course the model for all families.
There is a tradition in the Church regarding the home that they lived in. I was myself not particularly familiar with it until a priest friend told me about it, and I found it very interesting. Whether you believe it or not is up to you; because this tradition is not part of divine revelation, we are not bound by the faith to believe in it. However, the Church has approved of this devotion; it has been authorized by numerous popes and saints.
The tradition is that there is a home in the town of Loreto in Italy which is the original home that Mary grew up in, and that she and Joseph continued to live in after they were married. This is the home in which the Angel Gabriel visited Mary and announced to her that she would conceive a child through the power of the Holy Spirit, and where the Incarnation took place, where the Word became flesh.
The great mystery is how this house ended up in Italy if it originally came from Nazareth. But apparently chemical studies of the materials of the house have indicated that the stones, wood, and mortar of which it is made come from the region around Nazareth in Israel. The legend is that the house remained in Nazareth and was a place of pilgrimage up until May 10, 1291, when it suddenly disappeared. All that remained was its foundation. The locals were baffled. Then it reappeared in a town in Croatia where it remained until December 10, 1294, when it suddenly disappeared again, once again leaving behind just the foundation and the locals baffled. Then it reappeared in Loreto in Italy. Apparently the sites in Nazareth and in Croatia where the house stood were both preserved, and they exactly match the shape of the house in Loreto. Since it “relocated” to Loreto, a church was constructed around it, it became a place of pilgrimage, and a few years ago Pope Francis declared December 10 to be a universal feast of the Church, the feast of Our Lady of Loreto, in honor of Our Blessed Mother. To this day, hundreds of thousands of people visit the Holy House of Loreto.
How did the house go from Nazareth to Croatia and then to Italy? The pious legend is that it was transported by angels. I’m not one to say what God can and cannot do, so if He wanted to move the house and have angels fly it from place to place, He certainly could do so. I’m sure other, more plausible explanations could also be suggested. Perhaps some of it is just legend. But perhaps the house inside the church in Loreto really is the house that the Holy Family lived in. And so it is honored and venerated as a holy place, precisely because of who lived there.
Whether you believe in this or not is up to the individual. But regardless, spiritual fruit can be derived from it. Perhaps a good meditation for prayer would be to place ourselves within the walls of this home where the Holy Family dwelled, and to imagine what life must have been like there. In this house, Mary and Joseph lived, in a very literal sense, Christ-centered lives. There they cared for him as an infant, looked after him, raised him and taught him as he grew up. Certainly there must have been many very ordinary days when not much of note happened. Scripture records none of them. But imagine the peace, the joy, and the love within this house as they lived out the ordinary, daily routine of family life there.
We ought to strive to develop a close relationship with these three members of the Holy Family, in a way that we find ourselves building our own lives, and our own homes, and our own families, after the same “pattern” of life, as well as upon the same “foundation” as the Holy Family themselves did, so that our own homes likewise become places of peace, joy, and love.
Like Mary and Joseph in the home in Nazareth, our lives should be Christ-centered. Every day we should strive to cultivate our relationship with Jesus, and invite him into our own lives and our own homes. Family life is messy and complicated nowadays. And throughout every age of human history, it has had its challenges. But I wouldn’t doubt that the challenges family life faces nowadays is greater than ever before. Our response to these challenges has to be to Invite Jesus into our own family life, to invite Jesus every day to dwell with us in the walls of our own homes.
Let us make a home for Jesus in our homes and in our hearts. Let us strive to imitate the example of the Holy Family today and everyday.