Recently, someone I care very much about like my own flesh and blood was put through some unnecessary things by family. Now, ‘family’ … I want to explore that word a little. Family, as we are typically...
Recently, someone I care very much about like my own flesh and blood was put through some unnecessary things by family. Now, ‘family’ … I want to explore that word a little.
Family, as we are typically taught from the time we’re old enough to have a little bit of an understanding is usually a couple parental units, maybe some siblings, even for the really fortunate ones, some aunties, uncles, a horde of cousins, and even grandparents. However… Family isn’t just limited to DNA and genetics in common. For those of us – such as yours truly – who grew up in a highly toxic environment, that word, ‘family,’ has a more frightening meaning than what was originally intended by God Himself when He designed the blueprints for Creation.
The Catechism points out the way family was instituted by God:
The Christian family constitutes a specific revelation and realization of ecclesial communion, and for this reason it can and should be called a domestic church. It is is a community of faith, hope, and charity; it assumes singular importance in the Church, as is evident in the New Testament. 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. In the procreation and education of children it reflects the Father’s Work of creation. It is called to partake of the Prayer and Sacrifice of Christ. Daily prayer and the reading of the Word of God strengthen it in charity. The Christian family has an evangelizing and missionary task. The relationships within the family bring an affinity of feelings, affections and interests, arising above all from the members’ respect for one another. The family is a privileged community called to achieve a ‘sharing of thought and common deliberation by the spouses as well as their eager cooperation as parents in the children’s upbringing.’ – CCC 2204-06
So, what’s a person to do when they grow up with a skewed understanding of that word? Well, as a close friend once pointed out, we who grew up in toxicity have a tendency to ‘collect’ family members. This means we find rare souls we’re comfortable with sharing all the ins and outs of our lives with someone else and we kind of adopt them as a sibling or even a parent or an auntie or uncle. Biologically, I have three brothers. Not related to me, there’s a lot.
Where our physical families fail us, our Heavenly Family loves and treasures us all the more. God, the Head of the First Family, loves us that much to send His Son to come get us and bring us to Him.
Now, having stated all that, I draw your attention to the Gospel Reading (told you there was method to my madness).
In the Reading, we learn that St Joseph was hesitant to take our Mama into his home. Now, pausing that for a quick second to highlight something: They were already married, but not living together yet. Culturally back then, when a couple was married, the husband would build a home for them to live in, and sometimes it could take awhile – I think a year? Maybe longer? I don’t remember. Anyway. So, Mama and St Joseph weren’t living together as yet, and she’d become pregnant by the Holy Spirit with our Beloved Lord. St Joseph found out and wasn’t too keen on this at first, because he didn’t understand what had happened.
Can you imagine, Reader, yourself in that scene? I can.
Mama comes to visit him one day, and she’s visibly pregnant, and poor St Joseph is not only shocked by this, but understandably has scores of questions. ‘What happened… How on earth… what… why… I don’t get it… We haven’t done anything…’ Poor man was probably completely gobsmacked, spluttering at the news like he’d been splashed in the face with some ice cold water (y’all remember the ice bucket challenge from a few years ago? I imagine he had about the same reaction, but Mama’s news was his bucket of ice water dumped on him). Hence his response to not wanting to shame her, but wanting to put her away in divorce quietly.
But, God in His cleverness and His Divinity, He’s got all things worked out (as it says in Romans 8), and one night not long after this shocking news (I like to believe it was that night, honestly), God sent an angel – probably St Gabriel – to St Joseph in a dream to let him know, ‘Whoa. Don’t you dare divorce her. She didn’t do anything wrong. It’s all okay. That little Baby she’s carrying, He’s going to save you all. That little Baby, He’s from God. Conceived by the Holy Spirit. Don’t be afraid of this. Now, go and be a Dad and just know that things are going to be fine.’ He was told that he and Mama would name the Baby Jesus, which means ‘God will save,’ because He was sent here to save us all from our sins.
To reunite all His children scattered and led astray by sin, the Fahter willed to call the whole of humanity together into His Son’s Church. The Church is the place where humanity must rediscover its unity and salvation. The Church is ‘the world reconciled.’ She is that bark which ‘in the full sail of the Lord’s Cross, by the Breath of the Holy Spirit, navigates safely in this world.’ According to another image dear to the Church Fathers, she is prefigured by Noah’s ark, which alone saves from the flood. – CCC 845
To really make sure St Joseph understood that this was legitimate, the angel quoted Isaiah 7.14, ‘Behold the virgin shall be with Child and bear a Son, and they shall name Him Emmanuel (‘God with us’).’ What a wild dream that must’ve been for St Joseph, right? I promise you, with everything I am, God wants to get your attention, He will by any means necessary, as He did with St Joseph. Now the neat thing to note here, is because he was such a righteous man, he didn’t hesitate to do what God told him to do. He got up and probably ran over to Mama’s house and apologized for his hasty reaction, they likely discussed everything in detail – and I’m sure she filled him in on her own Visitation when everything happened and our Beloved Lord had been Conceived. He probably shared with her, too, about his own encounter (probably with the same angel), then from there she packed her stuff, hugged her parents and went to start her life with her husband and new Little Baby coming.
Reader, let’s think about this whole situation. God isn’t subtle when He’s trying to really get our attention. God has a tendency to make a big point out of a few little things if there’s something He wants us to know but we aren’t seeing it for what it is.
Now, with the case with Mama and St Joseph, it’s vastly different than a lonely person needing a parent, or someone who just wants to be loved by family and were saddled with abuse instead, so when they start to break away, they start to ‘collect’ family of their own, so they have someone to love and be loved by in return.
And yet… Our Beloved Lord, the Embodiment of Love, Himself, came to be with us, to ‘collect us,’ if you will, to be loved by Him, the Father, and the Holy Spirit – the First Family – so we would know what love is and how to love in return.
‘Filial adoption, in making us partakers by grace in the divine nature, can bestow true merit on us as a result of God’s gratuitous justice. This is our right by grace, the full right of love, making us “co-heirs” with Christ and worthy of obtaining “the promised inheritance of eternal life.” The merits of our good works are gifts of the divine goodness. “Grace has gone before us; now we are given what is due … Our merits are God’s gifts. – CCC 2009
Our Beloved Lord collected for Himself a couple that He later gave to us as parents to not only model our own parenting of our own children by but to show us what real authentic parental love is in human form. The case with the person that went through some serious stuff this past week, their situation was pretty dire. In a moment of weak faith, this person reached out to other people to pray. Myself included. The first thing I did was pray for their safety and the safety of their people they were with. I remember in that moment, too, I thought about St Joseph and what he went through, at the initial shock of learning about Mama and our Beloved Lord’s impending arrival through her.
Not unlike St Joseph stepping in to be a human parent to our Lord, the person in the initial part of this article that I mention is stepping in to be a parent themselves to people who aren’t related to them. And has people who aren’t related to this person being parents to this person, too. Sorry for the vagueness here, but I have promised I’d keep this entire thing as confidential as I could. This person is facing some pretty ugly things as a result. Unnecessary, to boot. However, this person, against all odds, is getting up, dusting themselves off, and showing how it’s done. St Joseph and Mama probably had people gossiping about them. I’m not sure Nazareth is all that big of a town, to be honest. (Having grown up in a small town, myself, I know that if you sneeze on one end of town, you’re dying of cancer-infested herpaghonasyphillaids on the other end, and it’s only about a ten-minute drive end-to-end.) We all know how humans are. We see the tiniest bit of what we believe to be a scandal, and we run with it.
While the Gospel isn’t clear on that part, and as a Deacon friend once told me during another discussion about our Lord and His Childhood, ‘If it’s not pertinent to our salvation, then it’s not going to be in the Bible. Some things, Rea, you just have to accept on faith and leave it at that.’ I often wonder what their lives were like that the Bible doesn’t talk about but at the same time, honestly, I’m sure it’s not any different than what we, today, go through, which is likely why it isn’t included, because it’s not really pertinent to our salvation. But, that’s my overly curious writer’s mind that likes to venture off into those shadows of, ‘but...’ and those questions oft-times come up and my mentor loves to give me the age-old (and exasperating haha) answer of, ‘Because.’ ;) Which I am inclined to believe is his way of saying, ‘Let it go, kiddo, let it go.’
We have a tendency to forget that St Joseph, and Mama, were both very, very real human beings with very, very real difficulties, struggles, and concerns. Sure, they were righteous (St Joseph) and full of grace (Mama), but that doesn’t mean they were perfect and without their own natural human reactions to when things went down. The Bible even tells us at the Visitation, when St Gabriel came to Mama and gave her the news, that she was ‘greatly troubled’ (Luke 1.29), but that doesn’t mean she chose fear and ran screaming for the hills. She chose, instead, to hear him out, what he had to say, and immediately her mothering instinct kicked in: ‘Oh, boy… Well, this is certainly a game-changer… Talk about a surprise turn of events! How am I going to make this work? How do I provide for the Second Person of the Trinity?’
As is the case with St Joseph.
Sure, like I mentioned earlier, he was pretty gobsmacked about Mama being pregnant and he knew he wasn’t the father, but God sent an angel to talk to him and explain what was going on. So, rather than follow through with the divorce, he opted instead to choose to hear God out and go with what he was commanded to do.
The Annunciation to Mary inaugurates “the fullness of time”, the time of the fulfillment of God’s promises and preparations. Mary was invited to conceive Him in Whom the “whole fullness of deity” would dwell “bodily.” The Divine Response to her question, “How can this be, since I know not man?” was given by the power of the Spirit: “The Holy Spirit will come upon you.” – CCC 484
To the shepherds, the angel announced the birth of Jesus as the Messiah promised to Israel: ‘To you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, Who is Christ the Lord. From the beginning He was ‘the One Whom the Father consecrated and sent into the world,’ conceived as ‘holy’ in Mary’s virginal womb. God called Joseph to ‘take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit,’ so that Jesus, ‘Who is called Christ,’ should be born of Joseph’s spouse into the Messianic lineage of David.’ – CCC 437
Even though your own blood family may treat you horribly, we are given a whole Family that loves unconditionally. It’s like this: God knew that your family wouldn’t be very kind, much to His heartbreak. He came and said, ‘Listen. I know that your family is treating you the opposite of what I’ve instituted families to be, but here. I will give you a much better Family to look to for advice, for love, for care, and for a model of what a family should be.’ In my own situation, my childhood was savagely abusive. But, God in His Mercy, gave me a Mama (the Blessed Mother), He gave me four PROPER father-figures (St Joseph, my two favourite priests and my mentor), and a whole parish of family. A Mom-figure who I can laugh with, turn to for a good piece of Catholic advice when I need a Mom to turn to, a big sister in Him that I’ve been able to turn to about things that I have experienced that I don’t quite understand but was encouraged to talk to her about. A Bible study full of Moms that I’ve enjoyed being around and learning from.
God is witty, He is clever, and He is thorough. He had all of this – ALL. OF. THIS. - mapped out before He started even creating the first anything in the universe. But we lose sight of that. We lose sight of our own identity as a result.
The Divine Image is present in every man. It shines forth in the communion of persons, in the likeness of the unity of the Divine Persons among Themselves. … All men are called to the same end: God Himself. There is a certain resemblance between the unity of the Divine Persons and the fraternity that men are to establish among themselves in truth and love. Love of neighbour is inseparable from love for God. – CCC 1702,1878
Whenever we think, ‘All is lost and hopeless,’ we need to look to the Holy Family and see how they handled things in the face of their own dire situation. I’m certain when they fled to Egypt during Herod’s reign of terror, they were probably terrified, but they still pushed forward.
Just like the person I mentioned at the beginning of this article, and their situation. Understandably, this person had reached out to me and was very upset, and needing a listening ear. Not to be met with adversity and hate. They needed to be met with love and that’s what I did. I was there to listen, not to offer unsolicited advice. Not to yell, judge, or hurl nasty insults. Because this person sees me as family. And family, Reader, should be loving. As is the example that St Joseph gives us, even 2,000 years later. His example is timeless. He stepped up and he did what he was commanded to do: to raise a Child that wasn’t his. Because of him doing this, he taught us, ‘Hey, it’s alright if you’re not related to the person needing you to come alongside them and take them under your wing. Genetics don’t make you family. LOVE DOES.’
In what way do you think a family should be? Are you willing to be a family to someone who needs one, and if so, in what way?