Sunday, January 8, 2012

Feast of the Holy Family

Colossians 3:12-17 / Luke 2:42-52

To be human is, among other things, to be familial. Being part of a family is not something that comes to us by accident or happenstance. It is not something that arises merely by our personal preferences. To be sure, that we find ourselves related to these or those persons can be, if a result of birth, beyond our choosing, something that "happens" to us. Likewise, if we find ourselves related through marriage, then those relations, those family bonds, do arise from our choosing. However, the fact that we come from and form families is simply part of being human. It is something bound up in our very nature, and no one can be said to be fully or successfully human who is not, in this particular way, in a family. Indeed, if we find ourselves deprived of the ordinary, natural bonds of family, then we will, as a drive of nature itself, seek to form something to imitate or replace it.

Family life is more than being in a society, although a society can be for us a kind of family. Families are, by their nature, bonds at once outside of our choosing and the result of our willing. They embody what is deeply physical about human persons, the acts begetting and being begotten, of bearing and being born, as well as those quite natural and physical patterns of attraction and care we share with other social and familial animals. At the same time, human families are deeply spiritual in nature, and arise from our capacity to chose, to pursue our hopes and dreams, to set aside our preferences for the good of those we have chosen to love or whose life itself has arisen from that love.

Even when families are at their worst, when these bonds, both of the body and of the mind, produce in us not joy and flourishing but rather pain, sorrow, shame, or regret, we cannot simply be quit of them. So deep is being in a family knit into our nature that, whatever we might want to be the case otherwise, our families will remain our own, their delights and successes in some sense ours, and their pains and failures as well, just as our glories and pathos belong to them. As the book of Proverbs reminds is, the father of the just rejoiceth greatly, let thy father and thy mother be joyful, and let her rejoice that bore thee.

It is no surprise, then, that the eternal Word, Son of the eternal Father, begotten before the ages, should, in choosing to take to himself our human nature, by that very choice also elect to take to himself a human family. Since being human means being familial, and since human flourishing cannot be had apart from the family, the Word made flesh, too, bound himself in obedience not only to the will of his heavenly Father, but also to Mary, his mother, and Joseph, her spouse. Yet, in so doing, he also brought to himself the shame of his family, the lineage not only of glory, such as David's fidelity or Solomon's wisdom, but also of shame, such as David's orchestrating the death of Uriah or Solomon's moral decline in his later life. Indeed, all of the family of Adam and Eve, the whole of goodness, and moreso the whole of wickedness and rebellion, which marked the human family, became, in the Incarnation, the family history of God himself. More than that, his taking on even the darkest corners of his family was not so much shame for him as delight for them, for just as their shame became his, so too his glory and victory became rightly and truly theirs.

This, then, is our task as Christians, not only to produce and promote Christian families, although that is surely to be done, but more than that to be, for our families, a source of joy, hope, and love. Whatever the brokenness, whatever the disappointment that our families may be to us and to themselves, indeed however we too may have disappointed them, we are empowered, by grace, to draw them up to the victory of Christ even as we are drawn up by his grace. This is the deep truth of the Holy Family, the truth that is no less effective for a single Christian in a family of unbelievers as in a Christian family of great faith.

In Nazareth's home all virtues grew
And grace produced its fairest flowers,
O may such grace and virtue sweet
Shine forth in every home of ours.

No comments: