If the Holy Family is prototype of what every family should be like under God’s guidance, then the trials and the arduous circumstances in which they worked out their salvation ought to be content for our mediation. And what we find with the events surrounding the birth of Christ – before and after – is a series of gut-wrenching trials that rendered the next day – and even the next moment – ever so uncertain for that young holy couple.
Due to the Roman census, St. Joseph not only had to leave his home in Nazareth but he also had to leave his employment and income as well. He had to register his family, the Holy Family, in Bethlehem; about a two day journey from his residence. Upon arriving in the town of Bethlehem on Christmas night, God did not lay out the red carpet, as many would naturally expect. Instead, St. Joseph was met with even more uncertainty as he desperately tried to find room and board for Mary and the soon-to-be born Christ-child.
Eventually, the Holy Family made their way in the outer skirts of Bethlehem. Tradition has it that they found an abandoned grotto. Indeed, it could very well have been a place of last resort for a homeless man or a poor traveler. But this is precisely where our Lord wanted to be born.
As tough as this was, the hardest trial was yet to come. Soon after the birth of Our Lord, St. Joseph was instructed by an angel flee to Egypt for safety. After all, King Herod had dispatched his soldiers to kill the new born Messiah. And off the Holy Family went during the night! The interesting thing is, the angel did not say how long they would have to stay there. All he said was that they were to, and I quote, “Stay there until I tell you.” Now, if you can imagine the practical concerns and anxieties this would cause St. Joseph and the Blessed Virgin Mary. They were to go and live in a foreign country. Early Christians have them staying in Egypt anywhere from two and half years to seven years.
In any event, St. Joseph and Blessed Mary had to totally rely on God for their safety, food, employment and housing. During their sojourn in Egypt, these things were by no means guaranteed. Indeed, their exile, and the circumstances surrounding it, was not unlike what thousands, if not millions, of families in 2012 have to endure in our struggling economy. Foreclosures and unemployment are becoming more common. People are concerned about the future of country. And I suspect that if the U.S. economy suffers from the so-called “fiscal cliff” we keep hearing about, many more Americans will be riddled uncertainty.
However, there is something even stronger than the guarantee of safety, food, employment and housing; and that is a childlike trust in God. But this childlike trust can only be tested and called forth by its opposite, namely, uncertainty. "Virtue," St. Catherine of Sienna said, "is acquired and made perfect only by means of its opposite." How else can an unshakable trust in God be summoned forth and made to grow?
A man who knew not what tomorrow would bring and what it meant to be on the brink of death a number of times was St. Paul. Yet, he managed to transcend the usual worries about the basic necessities of life. Through grace, he even conquered the natural fear of death. To the Philippians, he wrote the following:
“Have no anxiety at all, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God … I know indeed how to live in humble circumstances; I know also how to live with abundance. In every circumstance and in all things I have learned the secret of being well fed and of going hungry, of living in abundance and of being in need. I have the strength for everything through him who empowers me.”
To repeat, it is a child-like trust in an all-loving but all-powerful Father that enables a person to enjoy peace even in the midst of adversity and uncertainty. This habitual dependence on Divine Providence and the security it brings can only be strengthened and developed through uncertainty and adversity. All of the Saints underwent this spiritual boot camp. The unconditional trust we had as children in our parents has be relearned as it pertains to our relationship with God in the adulthood years. As adults, we tend to have nostalgia over our childhood years. It was when life was simple and carefree. Perhaps, there was a certain happiness in that childhood simplicity because we knew that we needed mom and dad’s help and we didn’t seem to care.
That kind of dependence is what our Lord encouraged when he said, “Amen, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.” Regarding this childlike disposition, Fr. Edward Leen writes this:
“Confidingness is the permanent quality of the child spirit. The little one does not fret against, or resent, its dependence … It depends on them (the parents) as naturally as it breathes. There is in the child a complete absence of self-consciousness or reflecting back on itself … Its life is grappled to a life outside its own … This transition of the center of gravity of its existence outside of itself is the source of utter confidence and fearlessness … It is in striking contrast to the subjectivity and self-preoccupation that marks the adult. That life is not calculating.”
This childlike disposition towards our heavenly Father not only is a condition upon which we enter into the kingdom of heaven, it is a virtue that can get us through the greatest uncertainties of life. This is what St. Joseph, the Blessed Virgin, St. Paul and all of the Saints were trained in this way.
As for us, when the acquisitions of employment, housing or revenue are by no means a guarantee, trust in God can truly reach perfection. And when a childlike trust in God resides in the soul even amid great uncertainties, there is no greater freedom on earth to be had. Indeed, is far superior to the comfort that comes with material prosperity. No doubt, both are blessings from God but the former is, by far, to be preferred above the latter.
* Catholic News Agency columns are opinion and do not necessarily express the perspective of the agency.