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Deacon Kyle Eller: The Holy Family can help us heal family brokenness

On the Feast of the Holy Family, I was pondering, in preparation for a homily, how marriage and family are at the center of God’s plan for the human race and salvation history. 

Deacon Kyle Eller
Mere Catholicism

From Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden at the dawn of creation to the culmination of history and the Wedding Feast of the Lamb, it’s no coincidence that marriage forms the bookends of the Bible. From Old Testament to New Testament, the Scriptures inspired by God turn frequently to the image of husband and wife to illustrate God’s relationship to his people. Among those passages, none are more dear than the frequent references Jesus makes in the Gospel to himself as the bridegroom and the church his bride. 

In Catholic social doctrine, we find the family as the basic cell of society, its protection and support something we hold as essential to the common good. The pro-life teaching of the church holds the family to be the “cradle of life,” where every child should be welcomed and embraced and where those who are suffering or near death should find love and care. 

If we go to Pope St. John Paul II’s Theology of the Body, rooted in Scripture, there again we find marriage, as an icon of the Trinity and of a love that is free, total, faithful, and fruitful. 

Much more could be said, but let’s rest on that Feast of the Holy Family. In the midst of the Octave of Christmas, it proclaims that God, when in the fullness of time he chose to take on our humanity for the sake of our salvation, chose to be a baby, conceived in his mother’s womb, and born into a family, where Scripture tells us that the incarnate Son of God was obedient to his mother and his foster father and grew up in love and obedience, advancing in “wisdom and age and favor before God and man” (Luke 2:52). 

As the Second Vatican Council taught, Jesus, true God and true man, not only fully reveals God to the human race, he “fully reveals man to man himself” (Gaudium et Spes, 22). The Holy Family is a revelation to us of what our families ought to be. 

It’s nearly impossible to think of these things in 21st century America without thinking of the unprecedented catastrophe that has befallen marriage and family over the past several decades — the attempted Great Unmaking of this fundamental reality, fundamental in the fullest sense of the word, a primary foundation of human existence. We have, in countless ways, flung wrecking balls into the base that supports civilization and human life and then wondered why the walls around us are crumbling. I can’t think of it without mourning the profound harm that has been caused by all this, harms I believe we won’t be able to fully apprehend until all is revealed in the Last Judgment. 

Those are hard truths. The more deeply they confront us, the more we may feel harsh judgment, condemnation, and shame. But I think to really heal and make genuine progress and follow God’s will, we need to hear them in the opposite way, as an invitation to mercy for ourselves and for others. 

It’s really hard to swim upstream of culture, to conclude that what most of our society takes for granted and blesses as good and right and a source of human happiness is instead a mistake, even if it is often well-intended, and contributes immensely to human misery. 

No one among us can claim to have been unscathed by all this. All of us have suffered wounds, and hurt people often hurt people. Practically all of us, definitely including me, have at some point, to some degree, bought into some lie of the culture destructive to marriage and the family, compromised with it, spread it, acted on it, been complicit in it, been lured by its false promises, convinced we meant well. 

None of us, in other words, has clean hands and can look at the shipwreck and stormy sea around us saying, “Hey, that wasn’t me! I had nothing to do with it.” We all have a share in it. And there is a grace in that, which is that we can’t justly approach these things from a sense of superiority or self-righteousness. We can only take the hand of Jesus, who reaches down to rescue us from drowning, and offer the same helping hand to others. 

That’s why I think the Feast of the Holy Family offers such great hope of healing. In that “icon” of the Holy Family we see simple virtues lived: faith, hope, self-sacrificing love, mercy, gentleness, humility, fidelity, peace, respect, service, docility to God’s will. 

This isn’t some breathtaking novelty in the spiritual life or some heroic summons to go and slay dragons, unless they be the dragons in our own souls, which are fierce enough. This is a path we can all see clearly, and a path which, with the help of God’s grace, is within everyone’s capability. This is doing the dishes, graciously pardoning wrongs, choosing mercy instead of anger, loving someone faithfully when it’s difficult. 

The love of the family is meant to be something like a ray of the love of God. When we truly live out the simple virtues of family life, we become a ray of that love in this hurting world, radiating out to others. Family life well lived becomes a kind of witness to the Gospel, a form of evangelization. 

In a world that is ever more divided and angry, isolated and radicalized, simply living in an ever deeper way the call of St. John Paul II — “family, become what you are” — becomes a way of helping to heal ourselves and the world. 

Sts. Mary and Joseph, pray for us! 

Deacon Kyle Eller is editor of The Northern Cross. Reach him at [email protected]