Thursday, December 30, 2004

MH - Reflections on the Holy Family

It’s easy to overlook the Feast of the Holy Family in the liturgical calendar, especially in a year like this where it falls on the day after Christmas. But those of us fortunate enough to hear the homily given at St. Agnes last Sunday by Fr. John Zuhlsdorf were treated to a treasure trove of information and points to ponder. I can’t begin to do justice to all the points he raised - I can do no better than to share them with you and incorporate them into my thoughts.

Fr. Z spoke of the importance of the family unit. Of all the ways in which the Savior could appear, God demonstrates the importance of the family by choosing to have Him born into a human family consisting of a man and a woman. Not only does this therefore represent the perfect form of family, in its construction it also mirrors the three in the Holy Trinity. The family, therefore, must be understood as a creation of God Himself.

Then there was the oft-misunderstood passage in Colossians 3: 18 – 21 where St. Paul speaks of the need for wives to be “submissive” to their husbands. (“Wives, be subject to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord. Husbands, love your wives, and do not be harsh with them. Children, obey your parents in everything, for this pleases the Lord. Fathers, do not provoke your children, lest they become discouraged.”) These four verses are part of the optional “longer” form – were they read in your parish on Sunday? A lot of parishes omit them, so as not to “offend” anyone in the congregation. Well, we read them, and Fr. Zuhlsdorf spoke to them.

Where critics focus on the “submissive” portion, often accusing St. Paul of misogyny, they generally overlook the following clause, where husbands are admonished to love their wives. Fr. Z speaks of this love as a sacrificial love, a love dedicated to the spiritual improvement of the other, a love which causes the husband to sacrifice, to work, to protect and defend his family. This sacrificial love, which exists not exclusively but uniquely in the family, mirrors the love of Christ for His bride, the Church, and as such is instrumental in the implementation of God’s plan for the family.

It is the love of Christ's sacrifice on the Cross, the love of St. Joseph's protection as he whisks his family into Egypt to save them from Herrod. It is the love of which St. Therese writes when she says "true love grows by sacrifice and that the more thoroughly the soul rejects natural satisfaction, the stronger and more detached its tenderness becomes." All in all, a pretty tall order to which St. Paul calls husbands, don't you think?

Now, to me this explains to a great deal the importance of the attack on the family. We all know how marriage is under attack today by homosexual activists, those who advocate polygamy, and more. Understanding the importance that God placed on the family helps to explain why this is a source of danger to liberals. Tear down the family, and you tear down the building blocks of society as we know it, the foundation upon which so many of our mores are constructed.

As parents are separated or drawn away from their children, you eliminate them as first teachers of their children (and, of course, their first obligation as teachers is to teach the Faith). You eliminate the role that fathers play in the lives of their families as supporters and protectors, and we certainly see how the male has been replaced by the government. We see the absence of the male in so many black families. We see the dignity of the man being stripped away. Likewise, woman, are often forced by our economic system to choose between career and family, or are told they can “have it all.” Increasing numbers of stay-at-home moms point to the widespread failure of this attitude. Add to that our increasingly materialistic consumer culture, which calls on us to reject any form of sacrifice in favor of instant gratification. Not just "have it all," but "have it all now!" Is it any wonder that such concepts now seem quaint and antiquated?

Eventually, by redefining and tearing down that perfect unit, we can proceed with tearing down the dignity of man through abortion and euthanasia. Without the stability of the family, human beings become statistics, units of commerce, measured in a utilitarian way. With no one to care for them, protection for the unborn, the sick and the elderly drifts away.

I’m sure none of this is new to most of you. But it never hurts to have a potent reminder, and this is what Fr. Z provided in his homily.

This brings us to a TV program called The Christmas Show Christmas Show which was broadcast last week on the Bravo and Trio cable networks. The show contained some fascinating highlights from old Christmas shows (among which: clips of the elves from Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer doing commercials for General Electric, and brief excerpts from the original 1950s TV broadcasts of Amahl and the Night Visitors), and provided occasionally insightful commentary into the effect television has had on our culture’s perception of the Christmas celebration. But overriding the entire production was a smirking, cynical, mincing distain for the family.

Traditional portrayals of the family unit were met with arrogant, know-it-all condensation. An eye-rolling “give me a break” attitude was reserved for celebrities who tried in the face of reality to present a united family in front of the cameras, even though they might all go their separate ways once taping stopped. Everyone from Judy Garland to Andy Williams to Bing Crosby came in for their share of scorn.

Look, we all know how corny these shows could be (diabetics should be especially careful when watching some of them). Sure it was good business to show yourself as a good family man (or woman), and especially in those days any hint of scandal could result in poisonous, career-damaging publicity. But at the same time these shows understood something about what America expected and considered important in a family, and they felt an obligation to present it. Maybe it was as fake as the bleached corn flakes they often used as imitation snow, but at least they tried to hold the family up as something other than an object of sarcastic ridicule.

The Holy Family represents a model for emulation; the perfect family unit. Not all of us come from such a family, and best efforts occasionally fall short. Nonetheless, there can be no question that this is the model which God created for us; it is the love which God has for us that is reflected in the love family members have for each other, and it is the model to which we should aspire.

It explains why those who want to change society aim first for the family, for as the family goes so goes everything else. And it explains why we must fight for the family, and keep on fighting – in this upcoming new year, and always.

For those interested in learning more about Fr. John Zuhlsdorf, he is moderator of the Catholic Online Forum.

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