Today’s liturgical readings—especially the Gospel—highlight, among other themes, the importance and dynamism of the mission of the Christian family. This is significant in light of the recent Synod on the Family, and because of our pilgrimage of faith within Advent and Christmas of this holy Jubilee Year of Mercy.
By “mission of the Christian family,” I am referring to its three-fold baptismal priestly, prophetic, and kingly calling: to be holy; to proclaim and witness to the truth about Christ and His word (John 14:23); and to be an instrument of love and mercy in our world so much in desperate need…(see Lumen gentium, or LG, 9-13, 31 and Familiaris Consortio, or FC, 50-64 for roughly equivalent explanations of the mission of the Church, shared by its laity and the domestic Church, the Christian family).
Mary, a “type and outstanding model in faith and charity” (LG 53), also is a type of the Church (LG 63). As such, she reflects the three-fold mission of the Church—and therefore of the domestic Church. Her words at the Annunciation, “May it be done to me according to your word,” from today’s selection in the “Alleluia,” echo the reference to Christ in today’s reading from Hebrews 10, “Behold, I come to do your will, O God.’“ This sacrificial self-offering underscores the core meaning of the baptismal priestly calling of holiness of the Christian family—self-oblation and corporate familial self-giving through prayer and the sacraments (FC 55, 62). In a special way, in this Holy Year of Mercy, the Christian family must seek forgiveness from God and each other and contemplate the face of mercy in the Sacrament of Reconciliation (Misericordiae Vultus, or MV, 4). In today’s Gospel Reading (Luke 1:39-45), Elizabeth proclaims that Mary is blessed among women, and blessed also by believing that what was spoken to her by the Lord would be fulfilled. Her tenacious trust in and loyalty to God’s will is the baptismal priestly model to which the domestic Church must aspire.
In the Gospel reading, the Virgin Mary also illustrates the prophetic calling of the domestic Church by bringing Jesus to others, i.e., to Elizabeth and the unborn infant John the Baptist, and then proclaiming His power and salvation in her subsequent Magnificat in Luke 1:46-55 (just beyond the reach of today’s Gospel reading). The third calling of the Christian family’s three-fold mission—to advance the kingly reign of love—we see as well in our readings. In Luke 1:39-45, Mary exercised empathy and compassion toward neighbor in her fearless and other-centered journey to Elizabeth, six months into her pregnancy. “Showing mercy” (from rahkam and Ἔλεος), practically the equivalent of “having compassion,” is the virtue—grounded in humility—most supremely demonstrative of charity. Pope Francis also specifically beckons us to exercise this virtue during this Year of Mercy: “Jesus affirms that mercy is not only an action of the Father, it becomes a criterion for ascertaining who his true children are. In short, we are called to show mercy because mercy has first been shown to us…” (MV 9)
What gift can the Christian family—including each of ours, and any family, to the extent possible—give this Christmas to the Christ Child? As the magi did, so too our families can each (try to) give Him three gifts. The first is the baptismal priestly gift of itself—of dedicating ourselves as a family, by sacramental grace and prayer, to loving Christ and keeping His word. The second is the prophetic gift of bringing the truth about Christ and His teachings to others. And the third is the kingly gift of loving neighbor especially for God’s sake. In offering this, our families will exercise great compassion, first on members of our own, but also on others most in need—even enemies.
The sacrifice of our wills, our passionate effort to share Christ and His words, and our compassionate love for Him in our neighbor, at home and far away—inspired and guided by the Mother of the domestic Church—will transform our families, our culture, and our Church. This can be our gift to the Christ Child during this Advent and Christmas season and Holy Year.
Mark Koehne teaches moral theology for Saint Joseph’s College Online.