Feast of the Holy Family Reflection
Dreams and violence; A young family fleeing from the violence of despotic leadership to become refugees in a foreign country. This is a story that is all too familiar in our world today. A story that for too many ends in rape, torture, rejection, exploitation, and even death. As we celebrate this beautiful feast today, we should perhaps remind ourselves of that same refugee, Jesus the Nazarene, who points to his followers and says, “Here is my family, my mother, my brothers, and my sisters.”
Blood is thicker than water is often used as a reminder that family bonds are more important than temporary relationships with friends and the world out there. When we say that “blood is thicker than water,” we are using the term “blood” in the same sense as “blood relations,” or people in our immediate family. Typically, it is used as a means to shame family members who side with friends over their parents or siblings or as a threat against interlopers and those outsiders, those others out there.
Holy Scripture affirms something quite different, however. “The blood of the covenant is thicker than the water of the womb.” This means we have the whole thing back to front. The “water of the womb,” our family relationships, are secondary to the “Blood of the Covenant.” It is only by redemption through Blood that reconciliation, purification, sanctification, and union with God can become real. We can only call ourselves blessed in terms of the foundational relationship with God. It is only when we start from God’s totally vulnerable and free love that we also learn the Way to Love in Truth.
When Jesus states that no one can be a true disciple of his unless he or she first hates father, mother, wife, husband, children, brothers, sisters, and even his or her own life, the harshness of that statement sounds a rather dissonant note. How can family, which is itself a sacred concept, be negated? Today as never before, we see how the family is under threat and needs all the defence that we and the church can give it. Yet family ties can become idolatrous when we allow these demands to get in the way of the higher dictates of love and respect within our common destiny as the human family.
For all its sacredness and importance, the natural family must always be subservient to a higher family, the family of charity. Jesus, himself, clearly affirms this when he says, “Who is my mother, and brother and sisters? Those who hear the word of God and keep it!” This is God’s project and the blueprint for our own journey into the Heart of Love.
We all belong to many families. Many kinds of relationships bond us to certain people and separate us from others. Blood, ethnic origins, language, gender, country, city, religion, political affiliation, ideology, a shared cause, a shared enemy, a shared neighbourhood, a shared history, or even shared wound, divide us from some persons and form us into a certain natural family with others. Nature, temperament, and circumstance spontaneously form us into various cliques.
All these families are good, up to a point. It is not good to be alone, so the Creator says. We “need a helpmate” … stable primary relationships, neighbours, an ethnic, cultural, and linguistic family, political parties and all kinds of groups to bond with for support. Natural families and other cliques are, in themselves, healthy both psychologically and sociologically. It can be good to be loyal and dutiful to our blood families, to fight for our language and culture, to be proud of our ethnic origins, to band together with others for political purposes, to work for our city and neighbourhood, to cheer for our local teams, and to meet as women in feminist circles even as men to go off together to beat drums and tell each other their warrior stories.
Yes, all of this can be good … but only when it is prepared to step aside at each and every place where it finds itself blocking fundamental love and respect and the needs of the larger community. All groups must ultimately be subservient to the family of humanity and to the non-negotiable demands of love and respect. When membership in any group blocks God’s project, it becomes, at that moment, idolatrous.
When we find ourselves living only for “My family, my country, my church; I am for them, right or wrong – shared cause, and shared gender easily become idolatrous. “How can I respect or work with those who are so uninformed?” There is the tendency to rationalise lack of respect and charity by appealing to family, and to some group loyalty, party affiliation, ethnic or language group, gender, cause, or shared wound, which is often used to justify a certain smallness of mind and heart.
This is the process by which we exclude others and create those scapegoats that make us feel so much better about ourselves. This is idolatry. Family is sacred, but, unless these relationships submit and are moulded to the higher call to love and respect, it becomes the golden calf. It is then that we follow our own ambitions away from God’s blueprint for our lives. This other road leads to much suffering, sadness, and ultimate despair.
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- 24th Sunday Reflection: New Penitents of Repentance - September 10, 2021