I had a bas-relief of the Holy Family in my office, hung on a shelf that stood in front of my table.
Friends gave us this holy object.
Even so, I would always find means to acquire a representation of the Holy Family.
A statue of the young Jesus together with Mary and Joseph was among the first religious figures that I ever saw.
And, like the madeleine that as a child Proust dipped into his tea, they evoke past worlds, which more often that not reappear in memory wrapped in beauty and innocence.
Such was the world of the Holy Family.
Luke tells us that the Child Jesus went down to Nazareth with Joseph and Mary, “and was obedient to them,” and there “grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men.”
Peter Paul Rubens presents Jesus and John the Baptist as infants in a crib together, under the watchful eyes of Mary, Joseph and Elizabeth.
The illumination falls mostly on Mary and the two babies, and just mutedly on Joseph and Elizabeth. Raphael depicts the Child Jesus playing with a lamb while Mary and Joseph – baldish and leaning on his staff – talk to him.
As there in the work of Rubens, as well as of Michelangelo and the others, here Mary wears a red tunic.
In iconology, red symbolizes youth, beauty, love.
Rubens, Raphael and Michelangelo and the others give us stylized depictions of the Holy Family – done in a grand, rich and exuberant manner.
It seems to me that they use an other-worldly light, perhaps in consonance with the subjects of their paintings.
We yearn to be with God and journey towards another home – a higher, truer place – and yet God wants to be here with us, has in fact come to live with us in the shambles that is this world.
Hence, the journey is done inside the house, within its rooms, among the furniture, the tables and chairs, the walls lined with books, the piano, the chest of drawers, inside the kitchen and dining room, among the china and the silver.
The journey is a recession into the innermost places, through the home and its rooms, to the heart.
And in this Nazareth shows us the way.
The thought of Jesus, Mary and Joseph going about their duties in their humble dwelling, spending day after day together in mutual assistance and fruitful activity and constant prayer inspires me to value every conversation in the house, and every movement, and pause, as well as the silence that embraces every family member and household article, a silence that listens, in which at night, after the words have been said and treasured, the table has been cleared, the last cup put back in its place, as we go to bed and a small dog barks in the distance, we rest – in the words of a writer – on the promises, we lean on the everlasting arms.
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