Sunday, 27 December 2009

Feast of the Holy Family Year C

The Incarnation is the momentous event where God chose to clothe Himself in time and space. And close at the heel of Christmas, we meet the living out of the Incarnation as we celebrate the Holy Family of Nazareth.

First of all, the Holy Family being presented as the “model” family fails to give due to the reality that when Jesus appeared in time He did not come with guns blazing. Instead, He entered history and was immediately subjected to the harsh reality of human existence; born in a manger because all the inns were full, soon chased out into Egypt because the king was insecure. Under the spotlight of scrutiny, you can count amongst His ancestors, an adulterer, two prostitutes and a pagan. In the end, the description of the circumstances surrounding His birth or the description of His pedigree might just mask that which is most important: Jesus was born into a family. He did not appear out of nowhere.

At the beginning of creation, God created us male and female. In other words, God created us, man and woman and father and mother. Original sin destroyed what God had intended and so, Jesus being born into a family showed that God willed that salvation should come through the family. We cannot really fathom why God chose this path but we can recognise that the loving relationship between a man and a woman is essential to the proper upbringing of children. Is that not a reason why a woman who is raped often chooses the path of abortion? Because there was no love, a woman might want to reject the fruit of what ought to have been love. Love between man and woman, mother and father is essential to the well-being of the family.

Secondly, in the Gospel, we note that Jesus, the Son of Mary is also the Son of the Father. Jesus Christ's coming to us allows us to go to God the Father. In Him, we have become children of God. In the second reading, we are told that we become children of God not of our making but of His making. There is nothing we do that can ever earn the love of God. The Son of Mary has elevated our status to that of the children of God and so what remains for us is that we want to respond to this unmerited love by living it out with dignity.

We can discern that from the moment of the Incarnation to His birth, God has charted the path of salvation; a path that must go through the family. Here, we note that the model family is not restricted to the one- or two-child family. Instead, the family is larger than that as evident in the description of the brothers and sisters of Jesus. Of course, this is not a description about Mary’s virginity after the birth of Christ but rather a depiction that the family is larger than just the nuclear family. This in itself already gives clue about what the family is about: parents, children and relatives. This is a concept larger than what we usually define of as a family: the “nuclear family” meaning that it basically consists of “father, mother and children”. Cutting away from the family is not good for the development of children. My father and his siblings do not get along but the cousins have no problems with each other. In fact, we help civilise each other.

If the family is necessary to salvation, then, the family is either a cauldron of conflict or a source of strength. The collapse of the Copenhagen’s Climate Change Conference with its concern about the environment is perhaps a reflexion of the failure of Man to address what is crucially important to the “environment”, that is human ecology. In the craze about carbon credit, we speak of justice for the environment forgetting to address what is in the first place crucial to the salvation of the environment. John Paul II highlighted this in Centesimus annus, the encyclical commemorating the 100 years of the first social encyclical of the Church Rerum novarum. He says and I quote: “The first and fundamental structure for "human ecology" is the family, in which man receives his first formative ideas about truth and goodness, and learns what it means to love and to be loved, and thus what it actually means to be a person. Here we mean the family founded on marriage, in which the mutual gift of self by husband and wife creates an environment in which children can be born and develop their potentialities, become aware of their dignity and prepare to face their unique and individual destiny... It is necessary to go back to seeing the family as the sanctuary of life. The family is indeed sacred: it is the place in which life — the gift of God — can be properly welcomed and protected against the many attacks to which it is exposed, and can develop in accordance with what constitutes authentic human growth. In the face of the so-called culture of death, the family is the heart of the culture of life. [CA#39].

The environment and the family are mirror images. In fact, the term “ecology”, which we interchangeably use with “environment”, comes from the Greek oikos meaning the home. We often fail to see the connexion between the home where the family is found and the environment. For the family to flourish, it must mean that the environment be clean and wholesome. But, on further reflexion, note that the destruction of the environment actually mirrors the silent destruction of the family. In our desperation to save the environment, we are actually driving the family into isolation. Is it any wonder why people dare not venture out in the street for fear of snatch theft? Here, your immediate thought is that the environment is unsafe which is why people refuse to venture out. But, the reality is that the destruction of the family will also render the environment unsafe.

Thus, our concern for the environment must begin with the family. Unfortunately, our tendency is to take for granted that which is vitally essential to our salvation. Husband and wife take for granted that money is more important than relationships between them and their children. Children take for granted that parents will always be there until it is too late.

Today when we celebrate the Holy Family, perhaps it is time to re-think Family. We need to simply because our environment is growing more and more hostile.