Familial Consequence

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.

Mom said I could help.


The Readings for the Holy Family, Sunday within the 8va of Christmas:

Puer autem crescebat, et confortabatur plenus sapientia: et gratia Dei erat in illo.

The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favor of God was upon him.

Once again we find this scary concept that God is growing up.

This is the God that loves us.
That came to be one of us:
Not just with us
One of us.

How can God empty himself so deeply, so fully?

This is a divine mystery.

Yet it stands not alone: for God the Father emptied himself fully in the Son, and the Son created all of life, pouring himself out on the Universe.

And when we rejected his love,
He poured himself out yet more
Becoming infinitely small.
The smallest life humanly known
A cell.
Fully human, fully divine, fully alive.
The Conception of Divinity
The Immaculate Virgin as Ark of the Covenant
Then two cells.
Millions and millions
And Jesus.
Born of his Mother,
Held in Joseph’s arms.

And we ourselves can know this outpouring best
can mirror this emptying
By doing it.

The Letter to Diognetus says, “And if you love Him, you will be an imitator of His kindness. And do not wonder that a man may become an imitator of God. He can, if he is willing. For it is not by ruling over his neighbours, or by seeking to hold the supremacy over those that are weaker, or by being rich, and showing violence towards those that are inferior, that happiness is found; nor can any one by these things become an imitator of God. But these things do not at all constitute His majesty. On the contrary he who takes upon himself the burden of his neighbour; he who, in whatsoever respect he may be superior, is ready to benefit another who is deficient; he who, whatsoever things he has received from God, by distributing these to the needy, becomes a god to those who receive [his benefits]: he is an imitator of God. Then thou shalt see, while still on earth, that God in the heavens rules over [the universe].

This is only possible, though,
In God’s family: the Church
And today, we celebrate the beginning of that family
In Nazareth.

All is sacrifice, 
All is emptying out
And all is Joy.

God grows up.
What is this mystery?

What is the miracle that is sung at Christmas?

That God wets the bed.

That Joseph had to get out of bed in the wee hours (no pun intended, maybe)
To change bedding
To sing the child to sleep
To wonder about waiting for sleep to find him again
Wondering what had happened.

And Mary nursing the child
Life flowing from her breast
to Life himself.

And baby poo stinks.

And the first summer when there were birds
and the child – who made them –
Saw them finally as his eyes
learned to see
other things than Mom’s face
and Not the Mommy

And there was a thing
hidden in the room
that only babies can see
in the dark
and it is scary
and did Joseph have to keep a light?

Or were the stars enough?

Go and help your father.
Me? Really?
This was the first time I’d been asked to help
This was important.

What are you doing here?
Mom said I should help.
Oh. Get down here and help then…

The image ends there…. but God has done so.

And loves us the more for it
And we him.

Merry Christmas