Monday, 30 December 2019

Holy Family 2019

We skipped pretty quickly from the Holy Innocents to the Holy Family this year. The Gospel is out of sync with the sequence of events. This Sunday, the flight supposedly took place after the Epiphany whereas, only next Sunday will the Magi come-a-calling on the Child King. There is a temporal discrepancy.

Not only have we a chronological anomaly, we also have to navigate a minefield of political correctness when it comes to specifying what constitutes a family today. We are being subtly instructed that in keeping with the times, the family should modernise as in the comedy series “Modern Family”. Even, the holiness of the Holy Family has been deconstructed because the clichéd platitudes about its holiness have nothing to do with the vicissitudes of a struggling family. So, there is a usual pitch that the Holy Family is neither “holy” nor is it “a family”. Mary was pregnant out of wedlock. Joseph was a celibate and Jesus grew up to be a hippy. Clearly, such characterisation reflects our modern dysfunctionality. We are flawed in such a depressing despair that in a manner of speaking, misery loves company and hence we tend to gravitate to those who share our defects. In our case, the family is a messy affair and so, the Holy Family should mirror us more than we resemble it.

As Frankie Valli, the frontman of the Four Seasons, way before so many of us, sang in Grease, “We take the pressure and we throw away. Conventionality belongs to yesterday”. Conventionality is tied to the operative word “yesterday” which is translated as outdated or outmoded. We live in such an unconventional time that the exception has become the rule. What this signifies is this: the conventional has become rather controverted that the contrary is now elevated to the status of a new rule. In other words, the abnormal has now become the new normal.

Perhaps this is a reflexion of a loss of vision that does not dare look high enough but searches amongst the debris and detritus of our broken dreams to find the best possible “live and let live” scenario so that we can get on with the messiness of life? It appears that good is not good enough. A good example is a new movie starring our ageing and maybe fading movie-icon Will Smith called Bad Boys III. The good is bleh whereas the bad is now the new good.

This crisis of conventionality, in which convention forms, defines, characterises us, is possibly a crisis of faith—symptomatic of the loss of faith. We no longer believe that good is good enough that we search for alternatives to plug the deficiency of the “good”. A sad truth is, we no longer believe in the nobility of the true, good and beautiful.

Even then, any description of a family, if it were to make sense, must come from a protocol which is not dependent entirely on us to specify or prescribe. It is a given. Yes, our social setting contributes to how the family is represented but its structure is not solely to be based on our reality. It must come from somewhere—a place which is tried and tested. If it were to depend on us, should we not allow for a lot more abuses and exploitation? The very fact that we stand against the exploitation of women and children is because the Church found her voice to speak against it from a convention, not of her making but of her receiving it from God through revelation.

Who we are is shaped by Sacred Scripture! Listen to the 1st and 2nd Readings. All the brokenness within the family that we encounter does not disprove the truth of Sacred Scripture but instead proves it. How? The exception to the rule does not always mean that the exception is the rule. Let us take a rule: Killing is wrong. Sometimes killing takes place and can be “justified”. For example: self-defence. But what happens when “killing” becomes rampant, so rampant that it has become normal that it does not shock us anymore. In this moment, does it imply that killing is now condoned? What this represents is that we have so lowered the standard and have become jaded to what has always been wrong that we now accept the wrong as not that wrong anymore. If everyone steals stationery from the office, then it must be alright to steal. That is exactly the situation in our country. Corruption is so widespread that it is built into the cost of doing business here that it does not even register a blink on our moral radar.

The family unit, its structure is under siege because the unconventional is attempting relentlessly to impose the alternatives as valid and amoral options. In the unconventional, the family is not a God-given but instead it is a lifestyle option that is assisted by the availability reproduction technologies.[1] Unfettered choice is the basis for our “individuation”. I am basically my choices. How I prefer my family to be is up to me. 

In the Holy Family, it was not their “personal preferences” that brought the family into being but rather personal freedom that gave birth to it. The true meaning of freedom is that even when confronted with the absence of choices, one can still choose, that is, the act to choose. So, both Joseph and Mary, in the face of this massive responsibility with almost no viable alternative chose freely to cooperate in God’s plan. At 12, even though Christ disobeyed His parents in remaining in Jerusalem, it was not an expression of His personal preference but rather He freely chose to obey a higher calling. After the incident, He eventually returned home to be placed under the care and supervision of both Joseph and Mary.

We need to rehabilitate the family because it is a God-given unit for the good of individuals and society. To do so, we return to our exemplar in Sacred Scripture. The Holy Family is model for us not because they are perfect. However, they give us a framework for how God chooses to work with us, with humanity, even in our brokenness. The first convention has to be a father and a mother. Here, we have them in the life of Jesus—a loving and nurturing Mother and a providing and guiding Father. If the family is called the domestic Church, then, there is a hierarchy to its structure whether we accept it or not.

Of course, the 2nd Reading, wife to obey husband in these days and age may not fit our convention but take a look at it again. Obedience is balanced with self-sacrifice. A man who dares to command a wife’s obedience must be a man who dares to sacrifice himself for her and his family, following the model of Christ who gave His life for the Church whom He so deeply loved.

This flows into a relationship whereby authority is respected not as a right to rule but as a service in whom leadership is entrusted. One of the issues we all face today is the absenteeism of fathers and its ramification can be seen in the deterioration of our societal system. When we use a term “by law”, we imply that there is a convention associated with how we do things. A father’s role, because he is not a mother, a nurturer or a carer, is to provide for the condition whereby social conventions can be exercised. Manners are to be taught by fathers especially when we interact in society. One of the roles for a father is to teach his sons how to be men in the world. But today all and everything falls under the purview of the mother. Where are the fathers? This in no way questions the efficacy of what a mother can do in exceptional circumstances. Rather, we are trying to understand the meaning of the hierarchy of service within the unit of a family with both a father and a mother.

Providing is not restricted to material providence but also a kind of leadership in prayer and service. If fathers send their children to Sunday school but are not at all involved in the faith, be prepared for the children to defect in their faith. They follow your bad example. Furthermore, some parents look at child-rearing as a responsibility to prepare them for the adult world. Whilst that may be true, their more profound duty is to prepare the children for heaven.

Finally, for the family to grow in holiness, parents must take back their role as father and mother and not relegate it to technology. How many of our parenting skills have been taken over by our mobile gadgets? The price to pay is still in the future. For now, the family needs Christian parents who are examples for their children to imitate. It is not easy to be virtuous parents. For example, if parents have a rule about the use of mobile device, then the rule must also apply to them as well. Good habits will save a lot of heartaches in the future. The Holy Family stands as a beacon for us because they understand the trials and tribulations of what it means to be a family especially in a world of unconventionality. With them, we are never alone. Their holiness came from them being a family that loves, sacrifices, supports, challenges and prays for each other. We can imitate them.

[1] All a man or a woman needs is to pay a surrogate woman in Thailand (?) to be implanted with a fertilised ovum possibly purchased online or be impregnated with the man’s seed.