My Dear Sisters and Brothers! Today the Church worldwide observes the feast of Jesus, Mary and Joseph, the feast of the Holy Family of Nazareth. The dangers which the Holy Family faced, as we could hear in the Gospel of Matthew, led that family eventually to “settle in a town called Nazareth.” An observant reader of the Gospel can conclude saying that the Holy Family returned to where everything began. In that little town of Nazareth the Archangel Gabriel brought Mary the Good News that the dawn of salvation was at hand, that she was to conceive the only begotten Son of God. In that town of Nazareth the heaven touched the earth when “by the Holy Spirit Jesus Christ was incarnate of the Virgin Mary and became man.”
Those who have been blessed to visit Nazareth can recall the magnificent basilica of the Annunciation which preserves the significance of the place where the Incarnation occurred. The words “Here the Word took flesh” inscribed on the altar there overwhelmed me and brought me to my knees at the mystery of God made man. However there was something else which overwhelmed me during my visit to Nazareth. There is nothing, no monument, which commemorates the domestic life of Jesus, Mary and Joseph. The impression which I have treasured ever since is that the Holy Family was a real family. It was a family which, in their social insignificance, protected the greatest treasure “deposited” here on earth: Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
The same cardinal Ratzinger a few months after his election to the See of St Peter beatified Charles de Foucauld, whose centennial anniversary of the martyrdom was commemorated a few weeks ago on December 1. Charles depicts a human being of our time. Raised in a French catholic family, at some stage of his life he distanced himself from the faith. Later reflecting on his teenage years he wrote: “I remained twelve years without denying or believing anything, despairing of the truth and not even believing in God. There was no convincing proof. At 17 I was totally selfish, full of vanity and irreverence, engulfed by a desire for what is evil. I was running wild. I was in the dark. I no longer saw either God or men. There was only me.” In his early twenties he wrote: “I sleep long. I eat a lot. I think little.” However while away from God Charles was given a grace: “I found myself in the company of people who were highly intelligent, highly virtuous and highly Christian.” The exposure to those Christians made Charles visit churches of Paris where, still an unbeliever, he prayed: “My God, if you exist, allow me know you!” God listened to the prayer of that unbelieving but churchgoing young Frenchman. Charles wrote: “I have lost my heart to this Jesus of Nazareth, crucified 1900 years ago and I spend my life trying to imitate him.” He went to the Holy Land twice, the first time as a noble pilgrim, the second time he came as a beggar. He arrived to Nazareth where he offered to be a servant in the convent. He worked and prayed there for three years as the last destitute. While in Nazareth he discovered and accepted a vocation to the priesthood and was ordained a Catholic priest. However that vocation discovery was another enlarging heart experience. The man who lost his heart to Jesus of Nazareth acknowledged to his relatives and friends: “My recent retreats for the diaconate and the priesthood have shown me that this life of Nazareth, my vocation should be led not in the Holy Land, so greatly loved, but among the sickest souls, the most lost sheep, the most abandoned people: this divine banquet, of which I have become a minister, needs to be presented not to my brothers, to relatives, to rich neighbours, but to the most lame, the most blind, the poorest, to the most abandoned people who most lack priests.”
My Dear Friends in Christ! Blessed Pope Paul VI, who consecrated the Basilica of the Annunciation in Nazareth in 1964, spoke of Nazareth as a model of what the family should be, a community of love and sharing, the perfect place for raising children. It is also the school of our Christian way of life, where we grow to share generously our joy coming from believing in Jesus Christ.