There Is A Purpose and A Place For Our Masculinity and Femininity - Holy Family
Our local newspaper, the News Journal,recently carried extensive reporting on violence in West Center City. St. Peter’s Cathedral and School sit on the east edge of this neighborhood, which is statistically the city’s most dangerous. The reporting was fairly comprehensive but of course inconclusive because nobody knows really what to do.
Part of the reason for that could be seen in the series: nowhere was it able to state clearly the critical role of family breakdown and fatherlessness, out of wedlock birthrate approaching 100%. And rest assured that no blame was laid at the door of the sexual revolution.
Understandably, nobody wants to beat up on victims of poverty, discrimination, social breakdown and the impact of I-95 tearing apart a neighborhood and lots of other questionable decisions made in the halls of power.
But the truth remains that nearly every perpetrator of violence in our city is the son of a single mother. We cannot deal with the issue if we will not name it. The News Journal could demonstrate it, but it could not name it. We must – in as humane and compassionate a way as possible – but we must name it.
We need to be careful to notice that this is not merely an African-American phenomenon. It is rapidly eroding Hispanic and working class white communities. Marriage is disappearing from the bottom half of our socio-economic ladder and is becoming a luxury of the well-to-do and well-educated.
As a priest with a parochial school to tend, I noticed one other thing in the series. No one interviewed in the articles or writing them seemed able to imagine that an alternative to the public schools might be a good idea. Last spring there was a series on fixing the schools. At the time Sr. Donna said to me plaintively, “but we’re already fixed.” Yet those in power (and newspapers are part of the power structure) could not see or name the value of any alternative to the system that is in place.
It is the Sunday of the Holy Family and that of course is why such things are on my mind. In the Holy Family we see a simple model of God’s intention for human flourishing. The Holy Family is obviously a special case, but God manifests himself in human history in the midst of a family, of a tiny human society based on the biological reality of male and female. There is a purpose and a place for human sexuality; there is a purpose and a place for our masculinity and femininity. There is to be a place for children and there is a purpose in giving them a mother and a father.
And so when the Word becomes flesh, he does so in a family setting, affirming the beauty of creation and raising it to a new level, as the marriage of a baptized man and woman raises the natural beauty of marriage to a Sacrament.
Therefore, at this Christmas time in an era when marriage is under such stress and ideological attacks, we must first as Christians see and reaffirm its beauty and necessity. As we open our eyes to the beauty of the child in the manger, we open them also to see Mary and Joseph and the family unit before us.
Not everyone marries and has children of course. For some marriage turns catastrophic, human sin being what it is, and it is at that point that Pope Francis’ language of the Church as a field hospital comes into play. For others, the opportunity does not come, not least because suitable partners can be hard to find in a troubled culture. Some choose singleness, and of course in the Church we anticipate that some will choose the vowed discipline of celibacy. But most are called to marriage and parenthood, and their vocation serves the good of all. When the vocation of marriage collapses, disaster results, as we can see even if the News Journal could not quite manage it.
When we labor at marriage and parenting and grandparenting – and ‘aunting’ and ‘uncling’ – as we must at any vocation, God provides blessings to go with the challenges. When all people, whether married or not, parents or not, value the institution and gift of marriage, everyone is better off.
We can see all this – and on this day and in this season we need to be attentive to it. But what can we do?
First see: Marriage and the family are good; collapse of marriage and the family are bad. ‘Keep it simple, stupid’ goes the wisecrack, and in this case we need to keep it really simple.
The Church does not have a corner on all truth – only that necessary for salvation – but increasingly the Church is and must become a zone of truth in a world of mendacity. So we must say what we see. This is a matter of faith, understanding the truth of God and remembering that it alone can make you free.
Second: Look at the Holy Family and see the embodiment there of God’s love for the world. All is not lost; it never is. The family is not a lost cause because God in his mercy keeps coming to us and finds ways to avert the worst consequences of human sin. And Jesus, Mary and Joseph had to make their way through a sinful world and an oppressive political system. They faced all manner of trials. Losing Jesus for three days when he was 12 was among the least, and in the end a sword will pierce Mary’s heart at the cross. But from the trials of the Holy Family God brought to the world liberation from its self-destruction. It is never the case that all is lost; remembering this is a matter of hope.
Third: Work hard at building and strengthening your own family, whatever your situation. The Christian virtue of charity starts with loving those closest to us. We cannot very effectively love the whole world, but we can work at love in the close quarters of the family. Love is never just a matter of feelings; it is the hard work of care, as in the maternal warmth of Mary and the fatherly courage and resourcefulness of Joseph.
As is always the case when Christians are faced with a challenge, we start with faith, hope and love.
And then there is prayer, which is not a matter of wishful thinking but of working with God, drawing near to him, so that his will might be done here on earth where we need it so badly. So let us make our own this prayer from the final report of the Synod of Bishops on the Family:
Jesus, Mary and Joseph,
in you we contemplate
the splendour of true love,
to you we turn with trust.
Holy Family of Nazareth, grant that our families too
may be places of communion and prayer,
authentic schools of the Gospel
and small domestic Churches.
Holy Family of Nazareth,
may families never again
experience violence, rejection and division:
may all who have been hurt or scandalized
find ready comfort and healing.
Holy Family of Nazareth,
make us once more mindful
of the sacredness and inviolability of the family,
and its beauty in God’s plan.
Jesus, Mary and Joseph,
graciously hear our prayer. Amen