Christmas and Family

Every Christmas, we rightly meditate on the Christmas mystery.  The Eternal Word becomes man and is born of the Virgin Mary.  He assumes our human nature for our redemption.  Culminating with His sacrifice on Calvary, He merits for us the grace we need for our salvation by the total gift of Himself.  He conquers death by His resurrection.  He overcomes the power of temptation by His victory over satan in the desert.  He sanctifies labor by His work as a carpenter.  He sanctifies family life in His coming to us through a human family and living a hidden family life for thirty years.

Simply put, Jesus offers His entire life for sanctification.  He is the high priest that offers Himself and His works for our redemption.  Because Jesus is God and man, His human acts are infused with a divine power.  He is the ‘cause’ of the grace we need for salvation.

Jesus is the source of grace that is present in His Church.  He is the head and high priest that sanctifies His body the Church.  She avails us that grace in the liturgy, especially in the Holy Mass where He is made present to feed and sanctify us with His most holy body and blood.  But it is in the entire liturgy that we contact the life of Christ in the most real and tangible way.  The liturgical seasons allow a privileged access to His life, and the Christmas season, in particular, makes present to us His infancy and family life.

Jesus, besides being the source of grace for us, is also the supreme teacher (Mt 23:8).  By His words and example He teaches us the path to sanctity.  John Saward writes, in his book The Cradle of Redeeming Love, “By assuming our infancy, the divine Logos calls us to convert and become like little children.  His circumcision according to the prescription of the Law exhorts us to be obedient.  His efforts at the carpenter’s bench reveal the dignity of labor.  In submitting to satan’s temptations, He warns us that no man in this life is safe from the devil’s wiles.  By withdrawing to lonely places, He shows His disciples the need to give rest to their bodies, to dedicate certain times to prayer and to shun public acclaim.  The thinking in the Word’s human mind and the love in His human heart, displayed in words but also in gesture and silence, are the model to which all men must conform if they are to be holy” (pg. 76).  He is, of course, the moral example for us.  He teaches and reveals to man his calling and dignity.  He reveals us to ourselves.

What is God saying to us about marriage in having His son ‘born of a woman’ raised in a family, the Holy Family?  It speaks of the great good of the family.  We all need one in growing up.  When it is absent, there is a great suffering laid upon the child but also the single parent in struggling to make it.  God’s grace and human kindness can make up for what is lacking, but the point is that there is a wound that needs to be healed in the rending apart of the family.

Today, the family is under attack from many levels.  It seems spouses today are entering into marriage with more and more ‘baggage’ that has to be undone for a successful marriage.  Materialism, selfishness, hedonism, and other predominant themes from our culture distort our thinking and perception of marriage, which is so fundamental to existence.  The sacrificial love that marriage requires is contrary to our fallen human nature, and when society promotes its antithesis, selfishness, the marital union suffers or even collapses.

Today, we see a logical consequence of the unraveling of the understanding of the dignity and nature of man.  As we drift further from God, we become more confused about who we are and how we are to act.  We see this at most the fundamental level in our culture’s understanding of marriage.  This is extremely significant because, as it has been said before, the family is the most fundamental cell of human society.  All of society passes through the cell of the family, and if that cell is in ‘bad shape’ then all of society will be as well.

What happens if society goes so far to try and redefine marriage as to include homosexual unions?  It no longer be-comes a communion of life and love that serves the good of the children, spouses and society, but becomes an institution that serves a human disorder.  By this arbitrary redefinition, the State would be promoting a distortion of human nature.  By a civil recognition, the State is teaching its citizens that this is okay and even good.    But how can the common good of society be served by legally endorsing disordered acts?  Our laws do form our patterns of thought and behavior.

Some would say this is unfair discrimination, much like the civil rights movement fought against in the 50’s and 60’s.  But sexual orientation is not equivalent to race.  Same-sex attraction is an objective disorder and immoral when acted upon.  People with this disorder should be loved and treated with respect and dignity.  They cannot be simply reduced or completely defined by their sexual orientation.  Our sexual preference is only one aspect of who we are; there is much more to us than that.

Marriage is built upon the complementarily of the sexes.  The male and female complete each other.  Neither one exhausts what it means to be a human being.  The differences between the man and the woman are not only at the physical level, but are at the core of the person—how they perceive things, interact with the world, gifts they have, etc.  A marriage brings together these differences and allows a communion to be formed, a communion that serves the good of society, the spouses and children.  

The fruitfulness of this communion, as a result of the sexual faculty of the spouses, is also realized in marriage.  The normal development of the children is promoted by the presence of the mother and the father.  Each, in their own way and with significant differences, fosters a healthy balanced development of the child.  The parents need each other’s help in raising children, and marriage unites the man and the woman while providing for the raising of the children.

Marriage has a purpose and dignity that the State or culture cannot redefine arbitrarily without grave consequences to the common good.  The Holy Family is a witness to the beauty of this gift from God.  The Son of God comes to us through a human family; let us pray that the virtues and devotion we see in the Holy Family may truly be ours as well.  

Fr. Mark Mary, MFVA