The Readings for the Solemnity of the Holy Family
Et veniens habitavit in civitate quae vocatur Nazareth
And coming he dwelt in a city called Nazareth.
NYC 1990. Working in retail at Christmas I was given a window to do. A 2nd Ave storefront, one block from the UN, was a huge challenge. I turned it over to the folks in the offices upstairs: in the center was a large (4.5 feet) painting of the Blessed Virgin with the Christ Child in her womb. I was at least a decade away from knowing this was the “Virgin of the Sign”. And hanging all around them were images of my coworkers and their families from upstairs. Even then, I knew that “family” was a fungible term in the secular mindset, so I made it clear that any definition of family was allowed. Nevertheless, I received an anonymous memo (remember those?) typed up on the back of my poster inviting photo submissions, telling me that I had once again underscored to this person they were excluded from Holiday because they had no family. My “family” at that time was me and 2 roomies in Brooklyn. If anyone could afford to live alone in the city, they clearly had made that choice themselves.
Family is the smallest unit of Church. Think of how Genesis 2 has a man “leaving his father and his mother” to cleave to his wife. There are no “singles” in this picture. Despite what our culture says today, it’s you and your parents until you’re married either to God or a spouse. If you don’t believe me look at how childish all our single adults are (including myself). The commitment of family, of childrearing, is what makes us adults. We have not “transferred ownership” yet. I say that at 55. We all find ourselves assembling families, even so.
These are the choices we make and choices always have consequences. Some choices are made in a family are not our own, however. My family fits all the stereotypes of dysfunction found in 70s households. Multiple divorces, half-siblings of different fathers – all of whom were absent, a single mother on food stamps, etc. These are the bits I can talk about. There are other bits that don’t need to be in a public blog post (although I take them to confession & spiritual direction). My family is one of the reasons I am broken in the ways that I am: I am one of the consequences of my family’s choices. I also made choices in response to my family: these are my own fault. My choices have consequences for my family too. Every time my parents speak to a church arguing against the traditional biblical teaching on human sexuality, that is a result of my actions in my family.
I’m so thankful for my friends who are getting married around me. They are building solid social cores for their future children. However, there is more for, as someone once said, “it takes a village.” Even a family is not able to stand alone. A “nuclear family” is all primed to explode unless it is solidly embedded within the wider social bedrock of the Church, of a network of friends, and an even-wider mesh of family. So it seems to me that we all (even the “singles”) have an obligation to build this network, to make things safe for these growing families. These networks also require commitment: you cannot build a family in the rootless cosmopolia we inhabit these days. Something must be done to counteract our growing, state0-centered, atomizing, individualist culture of destruction. This something must start with prayer.
The Act of Consecration to the Holy Family arose from a sense in my heart that, for me, the Holy Family had become my own family for all these reasons. The Holy Family had become a refuge for me, a place where I can indulge in that modern fiction: “the family of choice”. It can be contrasted with our given family; or as Armistead Maupin calls it, our “Logical Family” as opposed to our “Biological Family”. I have found over the last 35 years or so, that even the “logical families” I’ve assembled have been just as dysfunction as my biological one. I’ve run away from them as well. They become more disposable as I get rid of each one. In the Church, in Nazareth, I find my true home: coming to myself, I return to the home of my father where even the servants have enough.
Here then, is my true Family, the Holy Family of Nazareth, the root and base unit of the Church. In this family, I find my roots and grow.