The mystery of the family

posted December 27, 2014 at 12:01 am
by  Tony La Viña
This Christmas, I recall a philosophical text that has had a profound influence on me, Gabriel Marcel’s essay “The Mystery of the Family” published in the book Homo Viator. This French philosopher seems to me to have gotten it right: the family is “the root of presences too close and too far away to be found in the objective knowledge zone, in the realm of facts”. As Dr. Manny Dy, one of my philosophy professors in Ateneo de Manila explains Marcel’s thinking, “the family is near to me because it evokes a “certain pattern or constellation of which I as a child am the center.”;  “By being just what I am, I am also a judgment on my parents and infinite new relationships will be established between them and me. Yet, the family is also far from me because I am also the link to an indefinite network, stretching back beyond my life, whose origins cannot simply be spoken of as causes of which I am the product, because I am intimately though obscurely and invisibly related to them.”

The mystery of the family is unlocked by the example of the Holy Family. There is something in God’s choice for His plan of salvation of this particular family in the  remote village of Bethlehem. The Messiah came unannounced and was attended only by a few shepherds with their flock and later by the three obscure Magi from the East. The Lord chose an earthly father Joseph who was never a man of importance but a simple carpenter and with the Blessed Virgin Mary, as His mother, who was a simple Jewish woman of no note in her own village. But in all this simplicity Jesus was born to a family which epitomized holiness and devotion to God the Father. It is the model of the highest virtues that every family should aspire for. “We can learn so much from Mary and Joseph, and especially from their love for Jesus. They help us to rediscover the vocation and mission of the family, of every family,” Pope Francis told pilgrims present in St. Peter’s Square for his Dec. 17 general audience.

Although the scriptures tell us very little about the growing years of Jesus, we can assume that He was nurtured by a loving family in an atmosphere of religious devotion. Luke only tells us that Jesus grew “in wisdom, age and grace” and learned from Mary and Joseph. This cryptic passage suggests that Jesus led a normal life through the loving guidance of His earthly family. Perhaps He spent these hidden years of His life helping His father Joseph in their livelihood or His mother in household chores or most likely played with other children in the neighborhood. But there is no doubt that this stage of Jesus’ life was a preparation for His final mission on earth, that is, to do the will of the Father that He suffer and die on the cross to save mankind from the slavery of sin.

The coming of our Savior under the circumstances of His birth tells us how important the family is. The family is not only the core unit not only in sociological terms but to a lot of extent, even in religious terms. Jesus, since the beginning of time, pre-ordained that He be part of a family as the jump off platform of His salvific mission. “His was not an unrealistic family, a fable,” the pope said, explaining that Mary and Joseph are a prime example of how to live the mission and vocation of family life, particularly in the love they had for Jesus. He exhorted every Christian family to make a place for Jesus in their home, because “it is through the love of such ‘normal’ families that god’s son quietly comes to dwell among us, bringing salvation to our world.”

This Christmas season is not only all about gifts, food and merry making and the observance of long held traditions. More than any of these is to welcome Jesus in our family with prayerful devotion and love. Sharing of love and promoting unity and harmony within the family; these are the qualities that give substance and meaning to Christ’s being born in a family. All external trappings of Christmas are secondary to its real meaning – that is, the significance of Christ’s coming into this world. 

Raising a family can be extra challenging these days. This the Mother Church recognizes when it held the recently concluded Extraordinary Synod on Families which was dedicated to address the challenges of marriage, of family life, of the education of children; and the role of the family in the life of the church. This Synodal Assembly will be followed by the ordinary assembly, which will also have the family as its theme and in September 2015 there will also be the world meeting of families. In the midst of this, we can all learn from the Holy Family; its simplicity, devotion to the will of the Father, love and harmony. Advent, the Supreme Pontiff said, is a time of prayerful expectation for the Lord’s coming, and it invites each person to think about how the family, God’s gift since the beginning of creation, is honored and confirmed through Christ’s incarnation.


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