The Holy Family - Family: The way forward

Today’s readings: Ecclesiasticus 3,2-6.12-14; Colossians 3,12-21; Luke 2,22-40.

The family is the natural nucleus to which we all ultimately belong. For centuries this nucleus was very defined culturally and theologically and it constituted an established structure in law. Now in the context of a fluid society the firm points of reference are less found in the social imaginary and more in the individual sphere of feelings, emotions and beliefs. It has become a constant uphill struggle to define, let alone establish meaningfully, what makes a family.

The wisdom of discernment for society and Church alike is a must at such a crucial point of modern civilisation. It is not simply a question of conserving a tradition or grabing a doctrine, nor just to establish what is right or wrong. Our being rooted in the security of a tradition of values is important. But what is more important now is to restore stability in an uncharted territory. The form of family which has always been held to be the backbone of society itself is now at risk and we can no longer dream of homogeneity where the family is concerned.

In this process of discernment, the Scriptures may for many sound anachronistic. At times, and depending on the way we proclaim and interpret the Scriptures in our congregations, we give reason to those who look with suspicion on our preaching. We still tend to be preachy to our communities and in our accompaniment; we still speak of God’s will for the family as if He enacted some sort of blueprint once and for all. Little do we acknowledge that God is also fluid in the way He adjusts to us, to who we are, to the way our needs and demands evolve.

From his letter to the Colossians, St Paul states: “You are God’s chosen race, He loves you, and you should be clothed in sincere compassion, in kindness and humility, gentleness and patience”. Maybe ‘family’ is more about these virtues rather than about the canonical form it should have according to the legalistic jargon which for too long now has had priority over the language of intimacy that is constitutive of family ties. ‘God’s chosen race’ stands for humanity at large, and it is the concerns of what shapes the human family that God has at heart.

At the present crossroad that marks our times, there are evolving truths we cannot ignore or minimise. People today are interested in God more than the Church. They are more interested in spirituality than doctrine. The old Christendom has gone and the societies we are challenged to evangelise, including Malta, are home to a myriad of faiths and world views. Our task is to accompany people on their spiritual journeys, and that task goes much beyond the one-size-fits-all mentality.

Christianity as source of moral teaching is losing ground, especially when our moral teaching consists of telling people what to do or not do. We acknowledge that at the heart of the Church’s moral teaching there is a vision of the family that may be different from the forms and shapes of family in mainstream culture and which we still perceive with suspicion. Many do not live up to the ideal we preach and are simply going their own way, feeling excluded from the Church, or if they still want to belong, they may continue to be nagged by guilt all their lives.

I am not advocating giving up on our teaching or total surrender to whatever gives shape to the lives and behaviour of people. But it’s time we ourselves start facing the questions and challenges people of good will face daily in their authentic search for meaning. The type of family willed by God for His chosen race is surely not the stereotypes dished out to people by our Church tribunals in court sentences about the validity or non-validity of marriages.

God has prepared His salvation “for all the nations to see”. Like Simeon in today’s gospel, there are so many who, from whichever standpoint they look at life, long truthfully for salvation and are really graced to see it and experience it in the manner God makes Himself present in their lives.

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