The Holy Family

December 22, 2021

These three paintings of the Holy family tell as much about the artists as their subject. They have thought (and surely prayed) about God made human in a human family. Unusually, Murillo has Joseph holding the baby but ready to hand the Child to his moth-er: all three breathe love. Martini knows all too well the look of a surly adolescent, arms folded, and projects that on to Jesus—though the Gospel mentions only Mary as voicing exasperation (and who could blame her? Her child has nonchalantly absented himself). William Hole has done his very best to guess what it would actually look like when the maturing Jewish teenager learned the skills of a carpenter. There needs to be a 4th picture here—and it’s your imaginative guess as to how best to portray the Holy Family.

In this imagining our brains are at a disadvantage—the gap of two thousand years and a different culture; but with the Holy Spirit inspiring us our hearts can make the jump. To imagine the Holy Family, centred on God’s love incarnate, is to be encouraged to do all we can to improve human relationships, and especially with those nearest to us, and especially in these days when morale is low and tempers frayed by lockdown. And that ideal is encapsulated for us in Jesus’s own words: “Love as I have loved you” (there’s a world of meaning in that “AS”).

In family relationships—and indeed in all relationships—what is deadly is conveying contempt of the other person (often just by rolling one’s eyes!) What builds up is con-veying that “you matter to me more than your shortcomings matter”. We matter—infinitely– to God, as the crucifix above the altar reminds us. So, mattering to each other can become, as it were, second nature to us. Let’s return to our imagining of that Nazareth scene (with the Holy Family safely back from the Temple!)…

Tom Shufflebotham SJ

Art by Estaban Murillo, Simone Martini and William Hole, via Wikimedia Commons

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