9 Oct 2011
“Each year [Jesus’] parents went to Jerusalem for the feast of Passover” (Luke 2:41) (+)
Adam was spending the day naming all the creatures in the Garden of Eden when he realized he was alone as a human being. Then came the very last creature and he named it "frog." He spoke to the frog in his loneliness and asked it if it had any ideas as to how he could not be so lonely. To Adam's surprise, the frog opened its mouth and replied, "Rib-It!", then the rest was history … Eve was created, marriage began, children would follow, and eventually we would gather together on the second Sunday of each October for the Feast of the Christian Family.
I think it’s important for us to realize that our picture of the Christian family is often times more defined by the likes of The Family Circus cartoon than it is by the Bible. Last Sunday’s cartoon, for example, showed the father rolling on the living room floor with his four young children who are all smiles while the mother is off in the kitchen getting a meal ready so that everyone can sit down together at the table. Into this idyllic and pleasant picture the little girl says to her mom, “Boy Mommy, we’re sure glad you picked out Daddy!” This is probably close to how many would imagine the perfect Christian Family.
But surprisingly, you won’t find pictures like this in the Christian New Testament. You won’t even find much of anything in the Gospels about the Christian family. Jesus simply does not dwell on the topic. As a matter of fact, the biological family is greatly overshadowed by the family of faith. Even in the Entrance Hymn of today’s Mass we hear the slide from one to the other because there just aren’t a lot of verses devoted to the idea of the family. My reading is about the biological family, and then you follow right after with a reading about the “family of faith.” Jesus is not a family man, and we have talked often about this in our Bible study group. As Jesus began His ministry there was ten-sion between Him and the rest of His family. They come to believe, but early on it was tough going.
Or consider today’s Lesson from the Epistle to the Ephesians. This letter is considered to be written after the death of Paul. His name lends legitimacy to the writing, and this was a common practice in the ancient world. In other words, it wouldn’t be like today’s laws against plagiarism. And one of the reasons it is argued that this is written after Paul is because of this very selection on the family. It just wasn’t a topic that was crucial to Paul. He was all about the “family of faith” and not about the biological family. His concern was to build-up the church, not to give “Dear Abby” advice about how to run a household.
And on top of that, is the selection from Ephesians on the Christian family all that up-lifting anyway? It basically says that children must obey their parents and that parents should not provoke their children. This is a far cry from the Family Circus cartoon. There’s not a single use of the word love in the whole discussion. Instead, the admonition about the Christian family is reinforced by, of all things, an admonition about slaves and masters. That’s the thematic connection for the Christian family? The slave-master relationship? I don’t think we’ll find these verses on any Mother’s or Father’s Day cards, but we have to use them today because there are just not a lot in the New Testament about the Christian family.
So the Christian family is really an extra-biblical idea so don’t let anyone try and tell you that God has defined the family in just one particular way. That’s their preferred Family Circus imagination; it’s not Christian revelation. An emphasis upon the family does come about, but it’s only once the earliest Christians realized that Jesus wasn’t coming right back for them, and that only takes place toward the very end of the New Testament era. It was only then that Christians started to talk in a religious way about the family. It was always a practical reality for them, but now it also took on a spiritual reality, and ever since then, the church has valued the Christian family as one of the strongest foundations of our lived faith. It is often called the first church, a place to learn of God, and prayer, and love. This is why every year we are asked to read about the story of 12 year old Jesus and His family Passover trip to Jerusalem. The Holy Family practiced their Jewish faith on a regular basis, and it was in this kind of a faith-filled childhood that the young Jesus began to get His religious footing.
A week ago Friday I sat in on a very interesting 90 minute Philosophy of Religion class during Parents’ Weekend while visiting Kristin. They were discussing arguments for and against belief in God. And the professor did an excellent job of engaging the students and asking for their perspectives on the ideas of great thinkers. Most of the comments from the students, though, focused on religious beliefs in the afterlife. What I didn’t hear was any kind of talk about a relationship with God here and now. They were talking about the philosophical idea of a god, but there was no mention about any real connection with God. This is the difference between Philosophy of Religion and faith, and I understand this, but it also implies that a lot of these young people may not have been exposed to a lived faith in their homes. Dissecting the idea of God is a lot like dissecting a frog in high school biology. You can learn a lot by doing it, but the frog dies. The Philosophy of Religion is going to have a real hard time making a Christian, but a Christian family does it naturally by the choices it makes and the example it sets. A Christian family practices the faith together and makes it real. It transforms the idea of God into a relationship with God. And that gives faith a chance.
The Christian family isn’t defined by how it looks, but by the way it acts. May all of our families be places of a lived faith. It is the practice of our faith that gives it a chance to have a meaningful voice in our lives, and the Christian family is where this practice usually begins and where it is nurtured. May all our families be Christian families, and for this we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen. +
Fr. Randolph Calvo