by Clemens Pater
When traveling with family, decisions are sometimes more complicated. “Where should we go to eat?” “There are 5 DVDs; which one should we watch?” “We are ready to go to Church; where are your shoes?” Even the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, had some human challenges. The Sacred Scriptures relates one of their family crises as they were on the way home from Jerusalem to Nazareth (Lk 2:41ff.) Where is Jesus? I thought he was with the family. We must go back at once and find Him! While living closely with others has its challenges, that unity, unconditional acceptance and love, is a beautiful part of life.
There is a societal heresy that may be called “the cult of the Individual.” It proposes that the individual person is the ultimate arbiter or decider of reality. A corollary of this egocentric phenomenon finds its way into the sphere of the spiritual, declaring that my relationship with God does not require religion or Church. I can even establish my own set of beliefs, my own creed.
The Catholic Church teaches, the central unit of all society is, not the individual, but the family. The family is “the original cell of social life.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 2207). “The human person needs to live in society. Society is not for him an extraneous addition but a requirement of his nature.” (CCC, No. 1878) The family – and marriage at its core - is the unit of society whose integrity and mutual love is sufficient for the foundation of culture and community.
We can even see how the family helps us to understand something about God. Human beings are made in the image and likeness of God. From the first book of the Bible we learn, “In the image of God, He created him; male and female He created them. (Gn 1:27)
In a similar way, the family can be said to be an image of God, the Most Holy Trinity. God has revealed Himself as a Trinity of Three Persons. He is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; three distinct Persons but one God. This Trinity of Persons is an eternal and living communion – or unity - of love.
So also, the Catechism teaches, “The Christian family is a communion of persons, a sign and image of the communion of the Father and the Son in the Holy Spirit.” (CCC, no. 2205)
Meditating on the Divine Mystery of the Most Holy Trinity, we can begin to see God’s plan for the connectedness and communion which he has chosen to give shape to the world, namely, the family. He created male and female, and established their complementarity as husband and wife: physically, psychologically, and also spiritually. Marriage of one man and one woman works, not by chance, but by design. Family is capable of supporting society. Family can teach us about, and bringing us more closely to God, who is a Trinity and communion of life and Love.
Our spiritual life also involves us with others. While it is true that Jesus invites each individual to a personal loving relationship with Himself, this extraordinary friendship incorporates us into the Church, and requires us to love one another as Jesus has loved us (Jn 13:35). We do not remain cozy in the bosom of the Lord, but rather, He sends us out: Go, make disciples (Mt 28:19).
The Creeds which we profess – for example, at Sunday Mass – are not our own unique invention. They are an expression of universal truth, a precious deposit of faith established in the Councils of the Church, and in Her Magisterium, Her official office of teaching.
To the Church is entrusted the mandate of keeping the moral law. Those principles, which are in accord with the very nature of man, safeguard us from what Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, Pope Benedict XVI, once called the ‘Tyranny of Relativism,’ wherein each individual would be free to establish his own preferred set of truths.
The Creeds are not my own. The Sacraments are not my own. They are the heritage of the Catholic Church. Because I am called by God to live in a communion of life and love, rather than a dictatorship of individualism, the truth is not defined by what suits me today.
The family, an image of the Most Holy Trinity, is the central building block of all human society. There the life of the individual is received and nurtured; there the innate dignity of each person is formed, affirmed, and enhanced in a communion of life and love.
How I would like to return to my childhood and attend the simple yet profound school that is Nazareth! How wonderful to be close to Mary, learning again the lesson of the true meaning of life, learning again God’s truths….
May Nazareth serve as a model of what the family should be. May it show us the family’s holy and enduring character and exemplify its basic function in society: a community of love and sharing, beautiful for the problems it poses and the rewards it brings, in sum, the perfect setting for rearing children – and for this there is no substitute.
Address at Nazareth by Pope Paul VI, January 5, 1964 (Found in the Church’s Office of Readings for the Feast of the Holy Family)