Every year, the Sunday after Christmas is the Feast of the Holy Family, with January 1 as the Solemnity of Mary, the Mother of God. The Church places this feast shortly after Christmas, and near the beginning of the new year, not only because it naturally follows Christmas but also because of the centrality of the family as what the Vatican II Council called “the primordial society” upon which every other society is built.

As the Council said, the family is the first place “where different generations come together and help one another grow in wisdom and harmonize the rights of individuals with other demands of social life; as such it constitutes the basis of society.” Gaudium et Spes, (1965) 52; see Catechism of the Catholic Church 2207-2208. The Council also declared that the Christian family is also a “domestic church” where the light of heaven is first learned, lived and shown forth to the world. See Lumen Gentium (1965) 11; Catechism 1655 – 1657.

The idea is not that marriage and family life are always easy, peaceful or comfortable. Training for great things is rarely easy; and training to be sons and daughters of God, to live forever in divine love, is no different. Rather, as the great Christian writer G.K. Chesteron explained in his 1905 essay “On Certain Writers and the Institution of the Family,” family life is ennobling precisely because it involves struggle, sacrifice, and accommodation of other people’s interests. It is thus an adventure of advancing boldly into an uncertain future with a determination to make love triumph over all forces opposed to it.

As he pointed out, in the modern world, people can more easily move away from challenges that they find difficult, by for example switching neighborhoods, jobs, or friends. But, in good family life, a couple and then their children are committed to seeing this adventure through to the end regardless of what happens. That is the courageous way of love.

Jesus emphasized the importance God places upon families by the fact that He lived with the Holy Family for 30 years before His three years of public ministry. He understands the joys and sorrows, the hopes and fears of family life. And, with Mary, Joseph and all the saints throughout the ages, He wishes to make each family a place where the kingdom of God is present on earth, preparing the way for the gathering of all nations together in the family of God.