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About The Book
The Holy Family
Model Not Exception
Paradoxically, the Christological and Trinitarian dimensions, far from overly spiritualizing the family, in fact, enhance its roots in creation from the Incarnation of Christ, so that it becomes more rather than less human.
 - Page 299

The communion of love between the Father, Son and Holy Spirit is the source from which love in the human family springs, according to contemporary Catholic Theology.  The Holy Family, from the Middle Ages in Europe, was considered the earthly Trinity but because there was no conjugal intercourse it was considered the exception.  In her book, Shivanandan argues that Christ is the model for all human love in His conforming to the father’s will.  The Holy Family, with Christ at the center is, therefore, the model for all baptized human families.  Shivanandan traces how the family as a communion of persons came about and is lived in Western culture along with distortions which affect it today.


Until the role of Joseph as husband and father and a philosophy of the person and communion of persons, both of which matured in the 19th and 20th centuries, were developed, a full understanding of the Holy Family and by corollary the human family as a communion of persons imaging divine Trinitarian communion could not come about.  Central to the author’s theme is the understanding of the human person as gift and his/her fulfillment as self-gift to God and/or another human being, especially according to the teaching of St. John Paul II.  The Holy Family witnesses both to celibacy for the kingdom and human spousal love.


In the central portion of the book, the author spells out what it means to be a communion of persons both in the Holy Family and human families.  The person, both as man or woman, is in a unique relationship with God.  Sexual difference, while intrinsic to the person made in God’s image, never obscures the equality of his/her being a person whose freedom is fundamental.  The spousal relation, while giving different roles to man and woman, must always respect, especially, the personhood of the woman.  Similarly motherhood and fatherhood have distinct gifts and tasks.  The bodily nursing of the infant by the mother in imitation of Mary, is particularly emphasized.  The importance of the child is stressed since our destiny is to be adopted children of the Father.

The human person is the only creature who engages in both sexual congress and nursing at the breast face-to-face.  Both are profound interpersonal encounters and the foundation of communio.

- Page 209


A pivotal chapter spells out the importance of Presence/presence;  of Christ’s presence in the family and of bodily presence of family members to each other. A chapter is devoted to how the Church’s teaching in the encyclical, Humanae vitae helps to bring about the communion of persons.  Far from being a barrier to spousal love, it enhances it, although not without effort and a certain suffering.   The two final chapters consider Lumen Gentium’s universal call to holiness and sin and conversion.  While sin is the usual path of man and woman after the Fall, Christ’s redeeming power in the sacraments enables weak human beings to surmount their weaknesses and live the full measure of the communion of persons in the family; in other words to be holy families like the Holy Family.


The book has particular relevance in our culture today, confused as it is over the identity of man and woman and marriage.  Women seek to become like men in order participate in society, regarding their feminine gift of fertility and nurturing as detrimental. Some men, on the other hand, seek to become women.  This book, following John Paul II, shows a better way that both affirms women’s legitimate desires to be honored as human persons first and, at the same time, calls for a true appreciation of masculine gifts.  Without mutual submission to the Creator of the Universe, who is a Communion of Love, men and women cannot find the communion of love they so desperately seek and which is essential for their own flourishing and that of children and families.   The Holy Family is, indeed, the model not the exception. 

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