Reflection by Fr. Ed Ondrako, OFM Conv.

Feast of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph

“Your father and I have been looking for you with great anxiety” Lk 2: 48b

Sir 3: 2-6, 12-14; Col 3:12-21; Lk 2: 41-52.

Today’s Gospel unfolds many truths. What does Mary’s parental anxiety mean? Your father and I have been looking for you. What does Jesus’ reply mean? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?  Mary and Joseph did not understand Jesus. He went down with them to Nazareth and was obedient to them. The event is pulled together with: “Mary treasured all these things in her heart.” What does it mean for Mary to treasure all? What does Mary teach by treasuring? What is in her heart?

Think of the event. “Your father and I have been looking for you.” Think of Joseph and this marriage? Is it a marriage? Were Mary and Joseph married before the message of the Angel? Scripture says: the Angel Gabriel was sent to a virgin Mary engaged to Joseph. “Hail full of grace… the Lord is with you.” Much perplexed, she pondered the greeting. “Do not be afraid Mary… you will conceive in your womb, bear a Son and name him Jesus… The Holy Spirit will come upon you and the power of the Most High will overshadow you… The child to be born will be called Son of God” (Lk 1: 26-35).

Ponder the Apostles Creed: Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary. Ponder the Nicene Creed: “…For us men and for our salvation, he came down from heaven and by the Holy Spirit was incarnate of the Virgin Mary and became man.” Et incarnatus est de Spiritu Sancto ex Maria Virgine, et homo factus est. The Gospel and Creeds[1] invite us to “ponder” with Mary.[2] To ponder is to receive with Mary, to dwell upon the message of the Angel Gabriel, the account of the Shepherds at Bethlehem, the question: “Why? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” To ponder with Mary is to assent, to develop, to reason upon, then to believe from love and reverence. St. John Henry Newman states: reasoning first, and after, believing.[3] To ponder with Mary after the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem tugs at our hearts: “Your father and I have been searching for you in great anxiety.” “Why? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” Imagine Mary’s thoughts.

To ponder in her heart raises more questions. What is Joseph’s position in this marriage? Sirach sets the stage: “The Lord honors a father above his children, and he confirms a mother’s right over her children. Those who honor their father atone for sins, and those who respect their mother are like those who lay up treasure.” Sirach does not answer the question of Joseph’s position in this marriage.

Mary made a vow of virginity. Was Mary able to contract matrimony without compromising her vow of virginity? Did Mary and Joseph contract matrimony before the message of the Angel Gabriel? Bl. John Duns Scotus answers. The absolute vow of virginity of Mary precedes the Annunciation and the Annunciation precedes matrimony with Joseph. Mary was enlightened by God regarding the entire mystery of the Incarnation! The special command from God was to contract marriage with Joseph to safeguard the dignity of the mother and Child. Mary was able to consent to marriage without including, even implicitly, the intention to consummate it. As guardian and witness to Mary’s Virginity by the Holy Spirit, Joseph is bound also with the same vow.[4] The vow of virginity does not take away from the marriage of Mary and Joseph as a true marriage. Their sanctity sanctifies the bond.

By calling Joseph, “your father,” Mary indicates that Joseph is far more than a custodian. Joseph is co-proprietor with Mary of the “Fruit” which matured in her womb. Mary shows that both are co-responsible for Jesus. Joseph acquired full dominion over the body of his Spouse and she over his body. He too gave his perfect consent to the procreation of children and to assume the responsibilities of marriage. Joseph has rights over Jesus and duties towards him from the matrimony itself. The final end of marriage is reserved to God insofar as the conception goes. The proprietary, responsibility, custody, etc., belongs to Joseph. Joseph’s marriage to Mary compared with other marriages is part of the plan of God. Duns Scotus helps us to understand that in this marriage it is certain that the use of marriage according to the marriage contract will not be asked for.[5] Mary did not retain in her power even the use because it is certain that use is reserved to the Holy Spirit.[6]

Ponder the “Fruit” of her womb. Joseph has a proprietary dominion over Mary, and to Another, is given the use of marriage. The Holy Spirit is the Other—who has been given the use by the will of God. The fruit of Joseph’s proprietary dominion is also the Holy Spirit’s “Fruit.” [The fruit of any possession reverts to the owner.] Joseph is the proprietor of the “Treasure.” Joseph became the proprietor of the “Field” where the Treasure was hidden. This proprietorship holds even if the treasure was hidden in that “Field” by Another, i.e., the Holy Spirit.[7] As such, Joseph is co-proprietor of this “Fruit” of her womb.

To Duns Scotus,[8] the marriage of Joseph and Mary is a true marriage with a distinction between the dominion and use of matrimony. Those who receive the sacrament of matrimony know that by natural law, marriage includes the finality of marriage, i.e., the procreation and education of children, the goal and means, consummation of the marriage. Marriage indissolubility is created by the contract.  The mutual consent of two wills, the reciprocal gift of their bodies, creates a matrimonial bond which is indissoluble. Sadly, if conditions are placed on the vow as only temporary, or physical union according to my pleasure alone, or impeding procreation, the marriage is null and void.

How well are matrimony and the family understood? The Church knows post-Christian culture and offers compassion with hope by an annulment. May the Feast of the Holy Family reveal its “secret:” Christian families long to be a holy family! The truth is: the parents need to be united indissolubly, or children cannot be educated, protected and nourished properly. As the anxiety of Mary and Joseph over the boy Jesus was lifted, may the anxieties in our lives find a lift. May we “treasure all in our hearts!”

In Celebration of My Golden Jubilee Year of Priesthood, Fr. Edward J. Ondrako, O.F.M.Conv.


[1] John Duns Scotus’ critique about the Franciscan tradition in theology and Catholic theology, in general, is that both give a large place in theory and practice to the mystery of the Church as body of Christ and participation in fellowship with divine Persons. Duns Scotus recognizes this as containing truth, but imprecise, misleading, and dangerously attractive. See Duns Scotus, Prologue to the Ordinatio, III, qq. 1-3, n. 174), ”…the adequate object (integral subject or ‘center’) of theology is not Christ, but something common (univocal) to the Word, about whom articles (of the Creed) primarily pertain, and to the Father and Holy Spirit, with whom the remaining theological truths deal.” P.D. Fehlner, “Neo-Patripassionism from a Scotistic Viewpoint” (2006), 38-39.
[2] Duns Scotus, the subtle or Marian doctor who ponders deeply with Mary, revises a less than precise formulation of a metaphorical description of theology as a whole with a center, a mathematical metaphor, that is employed to illustrate metaphysical truths. This has everything to do with the Catholic definition of matrimony.
[3] J. H. Newman, “The Theory of the Development of Doctrine,” Sermon 15, February 2, 1843, University Sermons.
[4] Duns Scotus, Ordinatio, IV, d. 30, q. 2, n. 5 (Vivès 19, 279a). This reassurance is before Mary promised to Joseph.
[5] Duns Scotus replies to the Fathers who celebrate marriage according to the common law, when there is no certainty that the use of the marriage act will follow on the contract (Ordinatio, IV, d. 30, q. 2, n. 7 (Vivès 19, 279a).
[6] Ordinatio, IV, d. 28, q. un., n. 8 (Vivès 24, 378b).
[7] R. Rosini, Mariology of John Duns Scotus, tr. P.D.Fehlner (New Bedford, MA: Academy of the Imm., 2008), 111-3.
[8] Duns Scotus is distinguishing metaphysics from our natural experience that requires metaphysical guidance.  Our metaphysics studies the light that is trans-experiential and perfected as it merges with charity.

Fr. Edward J. Ondrako, OFM Conventual
Research Fellow Pontifical Faculty of St. Bonaventure, Rome
Visiting Scholar, McGrath Institute for Church Life
University of Notre Dame
December 26, 2021

You may like the following ...