Today’s feast and the readings chosen for it by Mother Church invite us to think on the characteristics of family life from the Christian point of view: the family life of a man and woman who have dedicated their union to Christ for God’s glory, for their own fulfilment and salvation, and also that of any children the Lord may give them. It is a community of faith, hope, and charity; a domestic church.
Notice, first of all, the absolute importance of family for us Christians: the very Son of God could not enter into this world other than by being born into a family. One parent homes are not of God’s choosing, and, apart from special circumstances which cry to God for special grace, they are not able to provide what God wants for each and every child. Joseph and Mary were never to have sex our faith teaches, but Joseph was essential for the birth of Jesus: the family of God had to be made up of a man and a woman. Homes of the same sex are not Christian families; they can be state-approved homes, but not acceptable Christian families. Notice here that God the Father, when requiring that His Son be born as man into a family made up of one man and one woman, was not just following an arbitrary rule or law of His own making, He was doing it for the true and essential human good of the Child to be born. Moreover, because this Child was to be a blessing for the whole world, not just for the Jewish people, God wanted His Son to be born into the family of Mary and Joseph for the guidance of the whole world. This fact of the supreme importance of the family for the good of children is not disputed among the great Abrahamic religions of the world; nor, on the other hand, do governments of the free world dispute the families’ role and function for the good of society in general. Nevertheless, governments yield easily to popularity pressures: they seek to promote not only what is good for the people but also, and at times, primarily, what is likely to be for their own good at the next election, as we see today when they pretend that same-sex unions can be accepted as a home suitable for children alongside the Christian family of man and woman. Consequently we base our appreciation of the nature and role of the family not on any politically correct or humanistic view but on the inspired teaching of the Scriptures, the infallible teaching of Mother Church, and the example of Our Blessed Lord’s divinely human childhood.
In every body made up of several parts, the overriding requirement is that of unity. Without unity, such a body cannot function aright and will fragment. That is why, St. Paul in his letter to the Colossians, when telling them how to give glory to God and how -- in modern terms -- to give good press to the Faith, spoke of that one basic and supremely important need for unity in family life. There was, of course, much else that he could have said about family life, but at this point in his letter there was no opportunity for anything more than what was absolutely necessary, and so he wrote (3:18-21):
Wives, be subordinate to your husbands, as is proper in the Lord. Husbands, love your wives, and avoid any bitterness toward them. Children, obey your parents in everything, for this is pleasing to the Lord. Fathers, do not provoke your children, so they may not become discouraged.
Let us just look at that. I think that everyone will agree that for men in general, their weakness -- their Achilles’ heel so to speak -- in relations with women and in family life, is a tendency towards violence, together with an excessive love of, and absorption in, work at the expense of personal relationships. We hear and see the truth of this proved time and time again in the paper, on the TV, and in our local and personal experience. It would be strange then, wouldn’t it, if Paul, writing in order to preserve and build up unity in the family, gave guidance to married men that is so pertinent and precise -- love your wives and do not be harsh with them -- and then was to be very far out in his prescription for women? His words to them are just as clear and incisive as those words of advice he gave for men; in the name of Jesus, he told women then, and the Scriptures still proclaim his teaching to women of today: “Wives, submit to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord.” Submit, that is, when it is necessary, so long as it is “in the Lord” and for the Lord: submit for co-operation, that is, not for servitude.
Now, our everyday experience confirms Paul’s teaching also in this respect. Modern day feminists cannot abide the thought of ‘submitting’ to men because they look at it from their own individual and personal point of view and interpret it as servitude, refusing to see it from the viewpoint of the universal Church and of the individual family in which it is intended as co-operation for the overriding-good of unity. Such women see themselves as rivals to men, not as complimentary to them; and even if the man were their husband, their love for him as a person would not be able to overcome their confrontational attitude to men in general. Moreover, because they set themselves up as rivals to, and independent of, men, they frequently feel bound to try to prove that they can do manly work every bit as good as men, claiming the right to be boxers, footballers, business tycoons, lorry drivers, front-line soldiers, etc. There is no doubt that they can, indeed, do many manly things; but -- not actually being men -- it is not surprising that they do not always succeed in doing those things as well as men. There are other situations where they are able to do traditionally manly work as well as men do, but only at the cost of a certain loss of their own femininity. A woman can drive a lorry, dig coal, fight in battles, but what sort of a woman will result from such choices? The assertion of women’s rights is all to the good, for it is the teaching both of Mother Church and the Scriptures that man and woman are of equal dignity and worth in God’s eyes; but the demand for equal rights carried to that extreme which would claim total equality in every respect, will only result in a society where there are fewer and fewer authentic men and women, and more and more human beings of no particular character: men without spirit, unwilling to accept, take on, responsibility, or again without strength of character; and women of no particular grace or beauty other than that of their body endowed with a power which is not quite able to match up to their ego.
Paul’s last bit of teaching on family life concerns the young:
Children, obey your parents in everything, for this is pleasing to the Lord.
Christian parents should never be embarrassed by this their right to obedience from their children. Children who obey their parents gain a blessing from the Lord, because, Paul tells us, such obedience is pleasing to the Lord, and that is because it is for the good of the children. You cannot be a good parent if you try to abdicate your God-given right to obedience from your children. Children, -- young people especially -- should note that they have to show obedience to their parents out of love for the Lord, “It is pleasing to the Lord”; and so there can never be any question of children obeying in what is sinful. No Christian version of little Oliver Twist would ever go out stealing for his parents, for such obedience would not, could not, be pleasing to the Lord.
The last admonition is addressed by Paul to fathers because of their tendency towards violence in general, but today we know that it applies equally to possessive and domineering mothers:
Do not provoke your children, lest they become discouraged.
Every aspect of Christian family life is ordained towards the good of the children: parents in their attitude towards their children are neither to spoil them by releasing them from their duty of obedience nor are they to embitter them by harshness. And their own personal, mutual, relationship as husband and wife is likewise, in the first instance, for the good of the children, and has to be regulated with that end in view. Family unity is absolutely essential, therefore the husband must love his wife and renounce all forms of violence, and the wife must respect her husband and be subordinate to him “in the Lord” when and where family unity, peace, and cohesion, requires it. Their personal fulfilment and sanctification as disciples of Christ and children of God go hand in hand, and are to be attained through that mutual fulfilment of, and submission to, God’s will; the nostrums of modern psychological or social theoreticians can in no way sound the depths of human nature or the splendour of mankind’s destiny. It is strange that whereas modern society in the West recognizes, with St. Paul, man’s tendency to downgrade love, it is unable and unwilling, frequently indeed afraid to accept the equally noticeable tendency for women to downgrade respect.
Finally, let us have a look at the behaviour of Mary and Joseph in the Gospel. I will just bring out one or two points for you to note. First of all, Mary and Joseph both teach the Child obedience by themselves being obedient to the Lord and the Law:
When the days were completed for their purification according to the Law of Moses, they took Him up to Jerusalem to present Him to the Lord, just as it is written in the law of the Lord. When they had fulfilled all the prescriptions of the law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth.
Notice that Simeon blessed both Joseph and Mary, but in the matter of the Child’s Personal destiny it was Mary alone he addressed: Mary’s dignity was not in any way lessened or compromised by her subordination to Joseph in family matters.
Finally, try to imagine the joy of both Mary and Joseph when they began to see the fruit of their personal sacrifices:
The Child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favour of God was upon Him.
The development of the Christ Child is meant to serve as a model for the nurturing of all Christian children: they are to be gradually filled with wisdom and endowed with grace as their spiritual development goes hand in hand with physical growth.
People of God, bring up your children in a truly loving Christian family atmosphere in accordance with the teaching of Jesus. A true home, both earthly and heavenly, can only be attained by walking in the power and holiness of the Spirit, along the path prescribed for our well-being by the God and Father Who made us, and trodden -- for our example and encouragement -- by His Son Who loved, died, and rose again, for us.