"You shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you odd." ~Flannery O'Connor

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Brief meditation on the Holy Family

The 14th-century Dominican Johann Tauler wrote as follows on the Gospel for today's feast in the Roman calendar for the ordinary form of the Mass:

Herod, the one who pursued the child and wanted to kill him, represents the world which clearly kills off the child, the world that we must by all means flee if we want to save the child. Yet no sooner have we fled the world exteriorly… than Archelaus rises up and reigns: there is still a world within you, a world over which you will not triumph without a great deal of effort and by God’s help.

For there are three strong and bitter enemies that you have to overcome in you and it is with difficulty that we ever win the victory. You will be attacked by spiritual pride: you would like to be seen, taken note of, listened to… The second enemy is your own flesh, assailing you through bodily and spiritual impurity… The third enemy is the one that attacks by arousing malice in you, bitter thoughts, suspiciousness, ill will, hatred and the desire for revenge… Would you become ever more dear to God? You must completely forsake all such behaviour, for all this is the wicked Archelaus in person. Fear and be on your guard; he wants to kill the child indeed…

The worst thing about today's world is how evidently it wants to "kill the child." It does not want God to be its Father, begetting each of us in love; it does not want the Christ Child to be its brother, born shivering in a barnyard stall; it does not want the Holy Spirit to be its comforter and guide, filling it with a life to be poured out in maturity for God and neighbor. It wants to be "grown up," independent, a law unto itself, bending things ever more to its own pleasure and devising. The result is misery, even for those who have many of the world's most cherished goods. The prevalence of abortion, the greatest holocaust in history and set only to expand, is a gruesome sacrament of this evil. The killing of children in the womb signifies the spiritual disorder within; and in signifying that, reliably helps to bring it about.

As Tauler indicates, this "world" is in each of us, if only because of original sin. Even the redeemed must struggle against "the world," within and without, so as to recover their real "inner child" and thus become what God created them to be. I do so daily, often without apparent success. Life for the disciple, if one really wishes to be a disciple, is a spiritual combat. And this, I believe, is the true message of the story of the Holy Family, commemmorated so peacefully in our beloved crèches.

Things have got so bad that I shall deliver myself of another Yogi-ism: in America today, an overtly healthy, intact family is assumed to be covertly dysfunctional. Normalcy, according to the norm of bygone days, is suspect. But consider what the family is for. It is the incubator of human beings, not so much in the physical sense, in which it is dispensable, but in the spiritual sense. It is where we are equipped to become what God created us to be; parents are merely the stewards of that process. But in a world determined to kill the child, the family cannot achieve its purpose well. In a world determined to be "autonomous," the divine and natural law is steadily supplanted by human law. It is we who now decide, by mores and statutes, what marriage consists in; it is we who now decide whether we shall reproduce naturally or technologically; it is we who decide when conceived children will be allowed to see the light of day; it is we who reserve the right to break up a family, ostensibly for the good of its members. In the so-called developed world, the family is increasingly an artifact of convenience at best.

That "kills the child" because we can no longer accept the family as a gift, the way Mary and Joseph accepted Jesus as a gift, and the way all children are gifts. We have done this to ourselves.

Kyrie, eleison.

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