Consecrated to the Heart of the Redeemer under the patronage of the Theotokos and Fr. Gerard Manley Hopkins, S.J.

29 December 2012

Holy Family Matters Worth Considering

In the beginning of the rite for baptism of a child, the priest or deacon asks the child’s parents two questions that seem unnecessary.  The second question is, "What do you ask of God's Church for [Junior]?"  Obviously not a haircut or college tuition!  
I don't prompt the answer beforehand.  Some people aren't sure how to respond.  Why are they here?  Family tradition?  The expectations that "this is just what we do"?  To make sure that the kid's OK "if, God forbid, something should happen" (as if God would turn His Face on him or her)?  It's a question worth asking not only in the ritual itself, but before and after the baptism.
The first question is, “What name have you given your child?”  We already know that answer, too; but posing the question reminds us that, in the poetic story of creation (cf. Gen 2:18-20), the man named the animals God made for him.  During the Name Game, the man was seeking a suitable helpmate.  At last a fellow human person was mystically presented and found suitable, and he named her “Eve.”  He named her: the privilege of naming a creature usually suggests some measure of authority over it or care for it.  Authority and care thus characterize the spousal union.

The stories of creation illustrate a marvelous use of words.  The man is named Adam, which originates in the Hebrew ‘adamah, “earth”; Eve comes from [c]hay, “life,” and firstborn Cain is a play on qaniti, “I have produced.”  The woman actually declares, “I have produced a man with the help of the Lord” (4:1).  From man’s beginnings we recognize that children are a gift from God in which parents cooperate.  The Church treats specific questions regarding the conception of children in light of God’s design of sexuality exercised within marriage.  It is far from arbitrary.  The act through which man and woman uniquely are bound together within the marital context provides material for the Creator to work with—the spouses’ own bodies, made fully available to each other and to God.  An offering of the body necessarily includes the soul, and presumes a partnership of the whole of life.  Children have a right to be born into, and nurtured by, a total, faithful, permanent, and generously fruitful partnership.

Can God work outside of that ideal context?  He certainly does; I don’t have to tell you that.  Not every child is conceived or born in marriage, or by natural means.  Not all spouses exercise fidelity, exclusivity, and openness to new life; not every marriage is marked by mutual respect and affection, all the time.  We are all afflicted by original sin and the resultant tendency to sin: the confusion of the emotions, the clouding of the intellect, and the weakening of the will.  The sad history of the human race testifies to this.  As our pastor's late grandmother used to say, “There’s smoke in every kitchen.”  And yet the cooking continues, as it must, until the last day.

Through the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, salvation came to the human race.  We therefore look to them with gratitude, and strive to imitate their virtues.  Perhaps the primary virtue is perseverance—perseverance in forming children in the ways of purity, kindness, and honesty, and seeking such formation for ourselves in the process.  Another virtue is detachment, “letting go” of the outcome in children’s lives.  With great care we form our children, and in time we must recognize their freedom.  To the consternation of His parents, Jesus' freedom seemed to come early; but with Mary and Joseph’s detachment He proceeded according to His Heavenly Father’s plan.  We recall that the virtuous pursuits of many saints met emphatic opposition from their closest relatives and friends.  How often have poor formation and excessive parental attachment thwarted solid vocations to marriage, consecrated life, or priesthood?  In this and every other respect we can only move forward; so resolve with me today to repent for our sins and to advance joyfully in the Way marked out by the Holy Family.

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