We’re In This Together

At mass on the Feast of the Holy Family, I was in particular struck by the readings. The first reading, from Sirach, deals with relationships between parents and children:

God sets a father in honor over his children;
a mother’s authority he confirms over her sons.
Whoever honors his father atones for sins,
and preserves himself from them.
When he prays, he is heard;
he stores up riches who reveres his mother.
Whoever honors his father is gladdened by children,
and, when he prays, is heard.
Whoever reveres his father will live a long life;
he who obeys his father brings comfort to his mother.

My son, take care of your father when he is old;
grieve him not as long as he lives.
Even if his mind fail, be considerate of him;
revile him not all the days of his life;
kindness to a father will not be forgotten,
firmly planted against the debt of your sins
—a house raised in justice to you.

The second paragraph here is one that has always particularly struck me, as it emphasizes that honor to one’s parents is not simply a matter of “they have good ideas, so you should listen to them” but rather that parents deserve honor because they are parents. “Even if his mind fail… revile him not,” is something I had cause to remind myself often (though judging from my actions, not always often enough) during the time we spent caring for my Dad’s mother in her last days — a women who wanted things done her way at all times, even as simple things like making coffee and putting things in the fridge became impossible for her to do herself.

The second reading is the passage from Colossians 3 which is nearly the same as the Ephesians 5 passage which was discussed at some length a few weeks ago.

And the gospel chronicles St. Joseph’s unquestioning obedience to God’s direction as he took the Holy Family from Bethlahem to Egypt and from Egypt back to Nazareth.

Somehow these readings brought together for me two very disparate lines of thought I’d had over the last few days.

One is the thought every father gives to how his children will be affected by what he does — thrown to prominence at this particular time as we move into a new house, in a new state. Will this be the house they look back fondly on? Will the large yard and rambling house be the place they spent numerous happy days as children? Will the large rooms they play in now also provide the privacy and refuge that they want as older children and teenagers? Will they be happy here? Or will this be Mom and Dad’s big project that took up time and family finances for years which they just remember as too big to clean, too cold in the winter, too hot in the summer, a big house that always felt empty?

Are we doing the right thing?

One of the intriguing aspects of being a parent is that sometimes one experiences, usually in a moment of extreme frustration, a sudden recollection of some long ago event along with an intense understanding of just why one’s own parents reacted to a seemingly innocent escapade (such as securing the window against potential burglars by means of a whole spool of dental floss) with such inexplicable anger. Yet while these moments bring about a new-found kinship with one’s parents, they also make one realize how distant we are from our younger selves, and likewise from our young offspring. Here we are trying to do what is best for the young lives entrusted to us, and yet much of how our choices will affect them in the long term is necessarily unknown to us.

The seemingly unrelated line of thinking relates to the argument one often hears out of “social justice Catholics” that thinking of salvation and holiness only in terms of the individual is a narrowing of the Gospel message because the human person can only exist in community. There is enough discussion in roughly these terms in actual Church writings that I don’t think it can be totally ignored, but I am at the same time quite sure that it does not mean what salvation is to be achieved through the imposition of The Perfect Government System Which Will Create Love And Joy For All, which is what said “social justice” types often seem to imply it means.

All of these injunctions for how to live our lives relate to living in community at the most granular level: husbands and wives, parents and children, masters and workers, etc. Why? How do these human relationships relate to our relationship with God?

Because as creatures who live in community, our beliefs, our actions and our dispositions are affected by all those others we interact with: family, friends, neighbors, co-workers, strangers, even enemies. As members of the Body of Christ, we constantly affect the other members, often in ways we are barely aware of.

If you’re known around the office as the “guy who goes to church”, yet you’re constantly heard on the phone arguing with your wife or belittling her concerns, your actions don’t merely affect your relationship with your wife, they may well help form (or malform) your coworkers ideas about God, Christianity and marriage. While it is certainly true that it is our own actions that we will be judged for at the end of our lives, those actions are not isolated actions in a void, but actions which affect, perhaps in some cases deeply affect, others’ relationships with God.

In this sense, it is particularly important that we approach our relationships with those we interact with the most, our spouses, children, parents and neighbors, as Christians, because it is often through how we interact with those people that they understand what being Christian is. When we teach love through our actions, even to people who are not Christian or don’t know we are Christian, we teach the nature of love through action. When we teach selfishness or hatred through our actions, we inspire similar actions in others.

Most certainly, others have the choice whether to return love for hatred, or selfishness for love, but our actions are never without effect on others, and as such we are constantly making it easier or harder for others to know, love and serve God through our success or failure in doing so ourselves.

4 Responses to We’re In This Together

  • Thanks for sharing this reflection. The readings almost make me wish I celebrated the Feast of the Holy Family. Almost. The Feast of the Synaxis of the Most Holy Theotokos was beautiful. Surprisingly, we shared the same Gospel.

  • It is difficult to take any Catholic Church teaching regarding marriage
    seriously when you’ve watched the Church tell your wife to divorce you
    because she deserved an annulment, watched that same Church, in
    in five different states with numerous different bishops and clergy
    openly support her public adulterous civil remarriage and see that
    your requests for the Church to hold to account those who openly
    mock a vaild marriage, twice upheld before the Rota after the
    “promised” decision for nuliity was delivered through documented
    corruption and support from the local bishop.

    The feast of the Holy Family is a torturous event for those of us
    who can testify to the corrution we continue to see in the Catholic
    Church.

    I do not need to be reminded about family and honoring my parents.
    I work hard to be a good father and I have tried to live up to
    the faithfulness that my parents 58 years together showed me,
    but the Catholic Church through its corrupt, enabling clergy, certainly
    does. Abandoned spouses are nothing to the Catholic Church unless
    they acquiesce to the violation of their vows.

    That being said, the Catholic Church remains the only “institution”
    with any significant effort to give even barely credible lip service
    in favor of marriage as anything but a joke. God bless her for that
    and may he help our clergy to listen less to theologians, clergy
    and canon lawyers and more to those of us who have the scars
    to show we know what we have seen and heard and watched
    happen to our marriages!

  • “Will this be the house they look back fondly on… or will this be Mom and Dad’s big project”

    When our daughter was just over a year old, we bought a rambling old farmhouse in a rural area. This was a dream of my husband, because his father had done it when he was a kid. I didn’t really agree with it but I went along with the plan. We lived there 3 1/2 years in all, before he decided we’d had enough of the expense, constant repairs, long commutes to work and shopping, etc.

    Although I complained and worried a lot while we were living there, our daughter remembers the place very fondly and still talks about it (she was just short of 5 years old when we left.) And yes, today, sometimes, I actually miss the place too (that is, until I stop to consider how much a 70-mile daily commute would have cost had we been living there when gas went over $4 a gallon!).

    Also, my husband’s earliest memory is of the bungalow-style house in Peoria where his parents originally lived before they moved to the country. He remembers that house very fondly also, even though it was in a neighborhood that was, shall we say, “in transition” and becoming increasingly crime-ridden (that’s why his folks moved).

    My parents had an oil burning furnace in their house. I’m sure they probably cursed it a lot in the early 1970s during the “energy crisis” when their heating oil bills went up. However, I can still remember the rumbling sound it made when it turned on on cold winter days, and I always found that sound comforting.

    My point is that the times and places you, the parents, remember as being stressful and worrisome may still be looked upon with nostalgia by your children, simply because kids see things differently. Where you see a source of high heating bills or unnecessary drafts, they may see a great place for their imaginary friends to hide out!

  • “If you’re known around the office as the “guy who goes to church”, yet you’re constantly heard on the phone arguing with your wife or belittling her concerns, your actions don’t merely affect your relationship with your wife, they may well help form (or malform) your coworkers ideas about God, Christianity and marriage. While it is certainly true that it is our own actions that we will be judged for at the end of our lives, those actions are not isolated actions in a void, but actions which affect, perhaps in some cases deeply affect, others’ relationships with God.”

    exactly, very true.

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