That is why devotion to the Holy Family is an antidote to some of the sillier notions that have crept into the Church in modern times, even among some of the most intelligent people.
Note how Christ is the link between the Holy Trinity and the Holy Family and how the Holy Family reflects the Holy Trinity, St Joseph, the Father, our Lord, the Son, and our Lady the Spouse of the Holy Spirit, also the spirit of that Holy Family.
Because of the fall of Catholic states and kingdoms, the concomitant decline of lay power in Church and State, and the corresponding rise of the power of the clergy, there are numerous Catholics who now look upon the religious life as a kind of "quasi-clerical" state.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
A nun is NOT (repeat NOT) a kind of quasi-cleric. A nun is a spiritual queen and mother, in imitation of our Lady.
To consider that she is so, is to misunderstand her vocation entirely and to misunderstand the role of the laity in the Church completely.
Our model should be the Holy Family who are the exemplars of the highest vocation and are indubitably the highest of those who dwell in heaven, our Lady being far and away above all others save God Himself.
And need I remind any reader of this very obvious fact:
Our Lady was not a cleric. Since she is a woman she could not be a cleric. Yet she is the highest in Heaven, after God.
In all heaven and earth there is no creature greater than she, not even the very Angels of God. She is the model of royal humility, religious perfection and maternal love. And she was a lay woman - not priest or cleric. Christ the Priest obeyed her as His mother. She is a model for all laity.
But who would dare to suggest that she did not exemplify in her life the highest of all roles that any Catholic Christian can fulfil or that her vocation was not the highest or that her perfection was less than any other, save God Himself?
No true Catholic would ever suggest such.
Yet, she was no cleric. No - not at all. Yet she is the Queen of all priests, of all saints, of all martyrs, of all Christians without peer and without exception.
See how God champions and prizes humility?
Equally, there are few things as odious to God as a proud and arrogant clergy who abuse their sacred office and dignity to oppress and trouble the Christian people. Theirs will be the most awful place in hellfire - above even many an unbeliever and scoffer. For who could so scoff at God as wickedly as a proud cleric?
So beware you bishops and prelates who trade on your office, who are faithless to your charge, who love to lord it over the people and to have the places of honour and the favour of the great at the expense of the humble Christian people. Yours will be the lowest place in Hell. So beware!
If our Lord Himself chastised the Pharisees for such conduct, think how much more He will chastise Catholic bishops who, having the fullness of truth and being ministers of God's one true Church, behave thus. They will be punished worse than the Pharisees!
We do not need to look to the Old Testament Pharisees when we have so many of our own who love to be seen with the great of this world, the Hollywood stars, the politicians, the millionaires and to smile upon their vacuous and superficial opinions, to excuse their immoral lives and even, in some case, to share in the same!
If our Lord condemned the bad Pharisees, how much the more will He condemn evil Christians and especially evil prelates and bishops who betray their office and re-crucify Christ by their faithlessness and desire to be seen with the mighty of the world. Theirs shall be the worst fate of all.
Let us turn away from such boundless betrayal and re-crucifixion of Christ by those very souls whom He has appointed to such high office.
Let us turn, instead, to the wonderful humility of the Blessed Virgin Mother of God.
She was, and remains, a lay woman. Her role was the model both of all religious and of all mothers and of all queens. She exemplified the triple role of the Christian to perfection: to teach, to sanctify and to govern but she did so as a lay woman, not a cleric. She taught by her silence, she sanctified by her prayerful presence, and she governed by her meekness.
Through her, God is telling us that this is the way to perfection.
So, too, the mild and gentle St Joseph. He, like Mary, sprang from the royal race of King David and, according to tradition, was the rightful successor to the Kingship of Judah in the male line, just as Mary was, in the female line. This meant that St Joseph was rightful King and Prince of Judah and that his male adoptive Son, our Lord Himself, was truly King of the Jews in the flesh as well as spiritually.
But unlike our Lord, St Joseph, was not a priest, nor even a cleric. He came from, and headed, the Line of Judah which was the line of kings, not priests. It was the Line of Levi which was the line of Priests and Levites (or Deacons). Our Lady, too, came from the Line of Judah, not Levi.
They were, thus, both models of the laity not the clergy.
It is to them that Christian kings and princes - and all lay Christian leaders - look as their model.
In the ages of Faith, Christian kings and princes and lay leaders had their own proper sphere in the Church and in the State and all were ranged in hierarchy below them, both clerical and lay alike.
This was as our Lord willed it. There was to be a Spiritual sword, that of the clergy, and a Temporal sword, that of the laity, just as a man is both soul and body, spirit and flesh.
If either is missing, the man is dead.
So, too, Church and State.
This is the meaning of the now so little-regarded Catholic teaching on the Social Kingship of Christ.
In the best state, there is both temporal and spiritual in perfect harmony and marriage.
That is why it is such an offensive doctrine to teach the separation of Church and State in a Catholic society. It would be like separating Christ from his holy parents and placing Him in the care of robbers, murderers and thieves.
This is not, however, the merger of Church and State, as some falsely suppose. Each retains its proper sphere. The Emperor does not become a kind of super-priest any more than the Pope becomes a kind of super-king, though each will have some dominion over the estate of the other.
Likewise, too, when a man (symbolising both Christ and St Joseph) and a woman (symbolising both the Church, Christ's Body, and our Lady, who is the typos of the Church) marry, they do not cease to be one man and one woman, each individuals. Marriage joins in love, it does not submerge individuality and sexual difference. Indeed, if it did it would be no marriage.
Just so with the marriage of Church and State: if one submerged the other, there would be no State and no Church but rather some monstrous hybrid.
Instead, the Social Kingship of Christ entails a perfect and beautiful marriage between Church (represented by womankind) and State (represented by mankind).
It is rather, or should be, a perfect balance between the two spheres, between the temporal and the spiritual just as, in a man, there should be a perfect balance between the body and the soul.
Ultimately, the spirit is higher than the flesh but without the flesh the man dies. So, too, the state - and that is our current condition in the modern age. We are governed by "dead" states.
The model, ultimately, is not the Church and clergy alone, nor the Pope and Cardinals alone, nor the PP and his deacons alone. The model has always been broadly that of Pope and Emperor, Archbishop and King, Bishop and Count, Rector and Squire, Curate and Gentleman, Clerk and Yeoman, Sexton and Peasant, up and down the hierarchy of human authority.
The ultimate model is that of the Holy Family: a community of lay and clerical. Christ the Priest is obedient to His mother and to St Joseph, both lay, albeit King and Queen of the Holy Family and also, albeit disenthroned by sinful men, King and Queen of the wider community, that of God's chosen race and people, the Jews, which, in turn, symbolises the Church.
THAT is our model - not just the clergy, alone, with layman acting as no more than quasi-clergy at best. The laity have a distinct role and vocation of their own, as the Holy Family teaches us.
They were also models of the religious life, a life which had already begun in Israel with the Essenes, a community of laity, not clergy.
the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Aser. Married at age fourteen, widowed at twenty-one, she entered the Order of Widows of the Essenes and became a model of religious, waiting upon our Lady and her Holy Child when they came to the Temple in Jerusalem.
Some say that Anna the Prophetess, she who prophesied that Christ Child was the Messiah, was an Essene. She was certainly another model of the religious life.
Those who think of religious as a kind of sub-member of a clerical caste wherein lies all power, spirituality and perfection are in danger of falling into the serious heresy of clericalism.
A particularly clericalist analogy is that one still sometimes hears from a particular type of clericalist priest. It considers the Church as an army in which the bishops are generals, the clergy are officers, the religious are the NCOs and the laity are the foot soldiers.
It is utterly false, untraditional and un-Catholic.
It is also very modern.
None of our ancestors in the ages of Faith would have even recognised such an un-Catholic view of the Church.
They knew better since they could see that emperors, kings, dukes and lay Catholic leaders were no more the "footsoldiers" than were abbots, priors and religious superiors, merely the "NCOs" of the Church.
In any case, in Christianity, we are all the servants of each other and should strive, not for the highest places, but rather for the places where we may be the humblest servant of all. Therein lies holiness and perfection.
The Catholic model strikes a balance between the lay and the clerical, just as our Lord intended it, with a lay leadership on the one hand and a clerical leadership on the other.
The fact that the spiritual "arm" (of the clergy) is overall higher than the temporal "arm" (of the laity) does not mean that emperors, kings, abbots and priors are somehow a lower vocation and intended to be purely and exclusively the servants of the clergy.
On the contrary, emperors and kings expected obedience from the clergy within their domains and had very direct power over them and expected their loyalty and fealty.
Likewise, abbots and priors expected the same of the clergy under their domain.
It is also entirely false to suppose - as the majority of Catholics now do - that abbots and priors were all priests. In the original and traditional religious life they simply were not. Indeed, many of them were not major clerics at all and some were entirely lay.
St Anthony, the father of ascetic monasticism, was a layman.
St Benedict, the father of western monasticism, was neither priest nor deacon.
St Francis of Assisi was not a priest but is thought to have been a deacon since he is depicted in the diaconal dalmatic in some portraits.
Yet no-one can deny that these men were the appointed superiors of the religious communities and orders that they founded. Their inferiors, including the clergy, called them "Father".
Indeed, it is a pity that the title "Father" has, in the English-speaking world, become fixedly associated with the office of priest. This is a mis-development, in some ways. Abbots, priors and lay religious leaders were also called "Father" in the ages of Faith and, even today, on the continent of Europe, only religious clerics or superiors are called "Father"; secular clergy are called by various titles roughly corresponding to our knightly title of "sir" (e.g. Don in Spain and Italy or Hochwurden in Germany. France is closer to us with its Monsieur l'Abbé). Indeed, as readers of Shakespeare will know, that is how Catholic secular clergy were styled in Britain before the Protestant Reformation e.g. Shakespeare's secular clergy like Sir Oliver Martext, Sir Christopher Urswick and so on.
The traditional model of religious life pre-supposes that the superior will NOT be a priest, save in those orders which are expressly clerical, like the Order of Preachers (Dominicans) and the Society of Jesus (Jesuits).
See this from the Holy Rule of St Benedict, a model of balance and religious perfection which has not a trace of clericalism in it:
Of Priests Who May Wish to Live in the Monastery
If a priest asketh to be received into the monastery, let consent not be granted too readily; still, if he urgently persisteth in his request, let him know that he must keep the whole discipline of the Rule, and that nothing will be relaxed in his favour, that it may be as it is written: "Friend, whereunto art thou come" (Mt 26:25)?
It may be granted him, however, to stand next after the Abbot, and to give the blessing, or to celebrate Mass, but only if the Abbot ordereth him to do so; but if he doth not bid him, let him not presume to do anything under whatever consideration, knowing that he is under the discipline of the Rule, and let him rather give examples of humility to all. But if there is a question of an appointment in the monastery, or any other matter, let him be ranked by the time of his entry into the monastery, and not by the place granted him in consideration of the priesthood.
But if a cleric, moved by the same desire, wisheth to join the monastery, let him too have a middle place, provided he promiseth to keep the Rule and personal stability".
Of the Priests of the Monastery
If the Abbot desireth to have a priest or a deacon ordained, let him select from among his monks one who is worthy to discharge the priestly office.
But let the one who hath been ordained be on his guard against arrogance and pride, and let him not attempt to do anything but what is commanded him by the Abbot, knowing that he is now all the more subject to the discipline of the Rule; and in consequence of the priesthood let him not forget the obedience and discipline of the Rule, but advance more and more in godliness.
Let him, however, always keep the place which he had when he entered the monastery, except when he is engaged in sacred functions, unless the choice of the community and the wish of the Abbot have promoted him in acknowledgment of the merit of his life. Let him know, however, that he must observe the Rule prescribed by the Deans and the Superiors.
If he should otherwise, let him be judged, not as a priest, but as a rebel; and if after frequent warnings he doth not amend, and his guilt is clearly shown, let him be cast forth from the monastery, provided his obstinacy is such that he will neither submit nor obey the Rule."
See how wise this Holy Rule is!
The priest shall only take a higher place "when he is engaged in sacred functions", otherwise he shall only have the place dating from his entry to the monastery unless the Abbot or community choose otherwise.
This excellent Rule recognises the grave danger to religious life of a priest or cleric who thinks himself personally above others because of his priesthood.
The clerical state is the more dignified state in the Church but it is not the highest vocation in the Church.
The highest vocation is that of Faith, Hope and Love, the greatest of which is Love, as exemplified by the life of poverty of spirit, chastity and obedience to God, following the so-called "Evangelical Counsels" or Biblical advice on spiritual perfection, the clearest example being the life of the religious who take formal vows of poverty, chastity and obedience.
The Prince and Grand Master of the Order of Malta is a temporal sovereign, a religious superior and Grand Master of the world's oldest religious order of knighthood, the Order of St John of Jerusalem. He is not, however, a cleric. He is a religious layman. He has jurisdiction, like an abbot, over all the churches and chapels of the Order as well as the clergy of the Order. This is the traditional model of a religious superior.
But it is not just religious who must lead this life. We all should strive to do so within our state in life. Thus for the married Christian a life of poverty means a life dedicated to one's obligations to family, friends, the poor and to others, no matter how rich we are; chastity in our married state; obedience to the law of God and to our lawful superiors in accordance with the laws of God.
We should all beware the 3 concupiscences which the Fathers warn us of: the Concupiscence of the Eyes, the Concupiscence of the Flesh and the Pride of Life, that is, love of wealth, love of pleasure and love of power and worldly might.
The antidote to these are poverty, chastity and obedience, according to our state in life, whether emperor, king, abbot, prior, layman or cleric.
We are all called to this life just as we are all called to the Christian roles of prophet, priest and king, although not all ministerially.
The ministerial priesthood is neither the most powerful, nor the highest, nor the best vocation in the Church. Because of its special place, it is, however, the most dignified.
The highest vocation in the Church is that of Love; and to that vocation any and all must aspire.
Those who achieve it the more shall be the greatest in heaven.
The best example, among creatures, is, of course, our Lady: a Queen, a Prophetess, a Religious and a Mother - but a laywoman, not a cleric.
And let us never forget it.