There is a liturgical celebration of confusion these days. Last Sunday was a one-day week, it being the Fourth Sunday of Advent. Last Monday was Christmas and this Sunday we have such a wonderful remembering of the family-life of faith and trust into which Mary and Joseph welcomed Jesus. It is also New Year’s Eve with all its memories and hopes.
The community of the Church will come together as a family with its own memories and hopes. We can prepare by looking backward with regrets and with gratitude. We can look forward with fears and hope. Mary and Joseph would have had many chances to exercise these options as well. Fear and doubt are parts of faith and hope. Regret can be an honest response to missed opportunities. There is not much we can do about the past except profit from it and perhaps repair some of it. We prepare for the Eucharist by receiving what is, what has been, and hopefully what will be.
The Church presents us with optional readings for this festival of family. We are offered thoughts about being virtuous daughters and sons who honor God by honoring parents. We hear of putting on the virtues of love and humility. We hear of our being “Children of God”. In the Gospel we will hear of parental love and concern and of childlike obedience. We have optional Psalm Responses singing of the blessedness of dwelling in the house of the Lord and reverencing and trusting the Lord. We have even two options for the Gospel Acclamation. This confusion or better, this abundance speaks of the Church’s reverence for the sacrament of family and the Sacrament of Marriage.
All the scriptural options for this celebration hold up or encourage quite high ideals and virtues for the experience of the Christian family; for parents and children. Mary, so full of grace, yet she did fret, worry and search for her lost little boy. Where was her faith and trust then? Jesus, so compassionate in His later years, seems to be disrespectful toward His parents. It can seem that mere survival of and within families is worth the name “holy”.
Many novels and biographies have been written about family life with its joys, tears, triumphs and usually ending in gratitude for the struggle. I celebrated recently the baptism of my niece’s second child at which two of my five siblings also attended. We three agreed that what was being handed on to the future of our family was what we had, (and not always gratefully) handed to us years ago. Those struggles which seemed “unjust” at the time, now seemed just right.
“It is not good for man to be alone.” Genesis begins the institution of the union of man and woman with these words of God. Since then, creation’s continuance has been the project and holiness of the human family. Biological creation of us is only the beginning of course. A mother gives many kinds of birth and often to her daughters and sons. A married couple has the ordination and blest mission of continuing God’s creation of each other as well. The holiness of the “holy family” results from that family’s entering into the sacred process of creation.
Groucho Marx once joked that marriage is a great institution, if you like living in an institution. Well yes, it is definitely a kind of being committed. The covenant which a man and woman make primarily to God through each other, is to being an instrument of God’s continuing the creation of the spouse. The husband vows to God that he will assist God in bringing out all that will be the woman of his heart. He says to his wife that he will love her into more life, honor who she will become, through life’s journey of sickness, health, good and bad times and ultimately present her to God in a sacred act of surrender in gratitude.
The wife commits herself to this same vocational ordination. Her husband will be more than he ever could be without God’s gracing him through her. She will give her husband life, encouragement, and taming too, so that he will love himself more as his love for her will free her for grateful acceptance of herself in love.
Parenting in the holy family begins with “holy-Spousing”. This creational covenant is initiated by God and follows God’s pattern. It begins with awareness. The husband and wife assist each other in the process of finding out who they really are, what is their truth. This process can take time, but we cannot accept what we do not know. God asks human beings to look around and become aware of creation and of themselves. Spouses do the same, but just as patiently and caringly as does God.
Acceptance will follow from awareness and when the spouses assist God in self-acceptance, then generosity, generativity and the holy family begin. There can be children before self-awareness and acceptance and hopefully these children will facilitate the process.
It is not good for man or woman to live alone, but rather in relationships which will increase awareness, acceptance and so deeper relationships as a result. Those getting married cannot give themselves totally to their spouses, because they do not totally possess themselves. One cannot give what one does not have. They can vow to give the other more of the other and when the other has enough of him/herself, generosity and holiness will flourish.
The readings, like family-life, might be confused, and perhaps this reflection as well, but living in the institution of marriage reflects the love of God in Christ. Jesus came to give us life and when we become aware of and accepting of this love, then what was handed on to us will be handed on within our individual families and the human family as well.
“BLESSED ARE THEY WHO DWELL IN YOUR HOUSE, O LORD.HOW LOVELY IS YOUR DWELLING PLACE, O LORD OF HOST.” Ps. 84 2-3 5-6
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