On a recent internet phone conversation with my parents back in Nigeria, my dad began by asking me, “How are you doing?” I replied, “Fine.” He was obviously okay with my answer. We then talked for over 20 minutes about all that was going on in our lives. Then he handed the phone to my mother who began by asking me the very same question, “How are you doing?” I answered again, “Fine.” But she responded, “You are not fine. You sound sick.” Once again she was right. I was sick and just recovering from a severe flu from a few days back. She could tell from my voice that I was not as fine as I said I was. It amazes me how I can fake good health with my father but cannot get past my mother.
In the divine order, there are things that a mother brings to a family that a father just cannot bring and there are things that a father alone can bring to a family. Both fathers and mothers bring certain complementary instinctual skills and abilities to the family in the divine plan and the survival of the family depends on how we can get in touch with this divine order written in our very nature as male and female, respect that order and live according to that order.
St. Paul reminds the Christians in Colossae about the virtues that must exist in every community if that community is going to survive and not self destruct. They include kindness, humility, gentleness, patience, forgiveness “as the Lord has forgiven them,” and love. Beginning with the family, the very cell of society and the domestic Church, and extending through the Church, the mystical Body of Christ, all the way to the national and global society, these virtues are critical for the survival of any community. But these vital virtues do not exist as they should in the larger society if they are not inculcated and practiced in the family. The well being of the family is indispensable for the well being of each and all in the society and indeed in the world.
In addition to these virtues, the divine order established by God and inscribed in each human person must be observed for the sake of the family’s survival. The Book of Sirach teaches that “God sets a father in honor over his children and a mother’s authority He confirms over her sons.” In this divine order, the virtues flourish as the son “takes care of his father when he is old, grieving him not as long as he lives, even if his mind fails.” The father is not set above his children because he is the wisest and most prudent; but he receives the authority and power by divine order. Likewise the mother has authority over her children and the children have the obligation of love and respect primarily by divine order. By recognizing the divine order and living by it, the family flourishes, sins are atoned, prayers are heard, and God provides material and spiritual riches.
The Gospel passage shows the Holy Family of St. Joseph, Mary and Jesus surviving the murderous rage of King Herod. How did they successfully escape the power of such a successful murderer whom history tells us murdered his own wife and children when he sensed they were a threat to his throne? The Holy Family survived simply because they all recognized and respected the divine order in the family. It is by so living in accord with this order that God saved them, not by eliminating the threats from Herod or Archelaus, but by interiorly illumining and directing the minds of the members of the Holy Family.
It is St. Joseph the head of the family who is instructed what to do in a dream and he acts on the authority that he has as head of the family and takes Mary and the child Jesus to Egypt. Notice that he does not ask Mary, “Mary, do you want to go to Egypt?” But, once he was instructed, he “rose and took the child and his mother by night and departed for Egypt.” Notice also that Mary respects the divine order by obeying the words of her husband St. Joseph and departing for Egypt with him. She did not hesitate to say, “I am the Immaculate Conception and the Mother of God, why shouldn’t I be the one to say where we should go? After all, I was the one who received the message of the Incarnation from the Angel Gabriel. How am I sure that this angel’s message is trustworthy!!” On the contrary, she too humbly recognizes and accepts the divine order in the family as well as the headship of St. Joseph in the family. Lastly, we see the infant Jesus, filled with trusting dependence on His parents, allowing them to flee with Him to Egypt and to stay there as long as God wills. At a later age, Jesus will even subject Himself in obedience to Mary and Joseph. Every member of the family is thus saved and return to Nazareth after the ordeal is over only because they recognized and followed the divine order that God has established in every family.
My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, to say that the family today is under attack is an understatement. Each and every one of those threats against the family are really attempts to deny any natural divine order in the family. The evil of abortion pretends to give parents authority over the life of the unborn, denying the infant in the womb the chance to live and contribute to the family and the society at large. The various forms of abuse and manipulation amongst family members ignore the mutual virtuous relations among persons that reflect the divine order. Lastly, the attempt to redefine marriage to include persons of the same sex grossly falls short of that basic complementarity that God has established in marriage. Such threats and others like it really cause harm to the family members, the family itself and indeed, to all society.
Most of the attempts to stem the threats against the family have been focused on changing the conditions outside the family. Political and legal avenues have been explored to enact laws that safeguard the nature and mission of the family in society and the Church. This is very necessary. However, no matter how convenient or inconvenient the social climate may be to the family’s existence, the family will face threats of self destruction if its abiding divine order is not recognized, revered and respected. Like the case of the Holy Family, let us not forget that God knows exactly what each family is going through as well as the things that threaten their existence. God does not eliminate the threats but chooses to illumine the hearts and minds of families that live in accord with His eternal order for family.
As we celebrate the Feast of the Holy Family today, we recognize that the light of the world, Jesus Christ, who enlightens every mind, has been born into a human family. We pray that His light shines on all families in the world today and make them aware of the divine order present in their midst. May the grace of God move all families to respect, revere and live by this order always. By so doing, we will save many lives, many families and indeed, many societies.
Glory to Jesus!!! Honor to Mary!!!