Celebrating family in COVID-19

Quiet Storm by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II, 30 December 2020
The Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph.

Trying to relax a day after Christmas, I felt so good watching the limited BBC series at Netflix called “JAPAN with Sue Perkins”. It is so unique that it presents the Land of the Rising Sun in a different perspective by this spunky and bubbly British journalist not afraid to admit her prejudices then be rectified in this short documentary.

At the same time, Ms. Perkins presents us with the latest trends in Japan, others are good while others are not so good especially its aging population with falling birth rates and many Japanese men delaying or not getting married at all.

One solution the ingenious Japanese have found are “wives for hire” – a growing business that offers women who act as wives to unmarried men who present to their aged parents as their “wives”. One man explained to Ms. Perkins how his elderly mother enjoys more in spending time together with a “family member” like a “daughter-in-law” than just with a care-giver. They tend to converse more freely and joyfully about so many things as a “family” — at least for a day.

That is how important a family is! That is why it is called the basic unit of the society from which springs forth life itself – biologically, emotionally, and spiritually.

That is why Vatican II rightly inserted in the Christmas Season the Feast of the Holy Family to remind us of the deep character of the mystery of the Incarnation that the Son of God came into the world to save us through the family, through the husband and wife of Joseph and Mary.

It is a great reminder to us in this time when family is quickly disintegrating and maybe in a funny twist, we have in the COVID-19 pandemic a great opportunity for us to go back to our family.

Photo by author, entrance to the Flight to Egypt Cavern Church in Cairo, 2019.

Human family a creation by God, a call from God

Since the very beginning, men and women have always banded together not only as a family we know of today, a nuclear unit of father, mother, and children. It was really more of an extended family like a clan or a kin who lived together as siblings and cousins, uncles and aunts along with neighbors who all would have been in and out of the house.

Some peoples like the Hebrews do not really have the term cousins where everyone is a brother or a sister, a kin; hence, we find in the gospels Jesus being told of having brothers and sisters.

To understand this is to think of our own concepts and terms in our extended Filipino family. Like the word pinsan for cousin. When I was in kindergarten until elementary, every summer some cousins would come home to the province for vacation. We would all sleep together on the sahig (floor) with banig (local mat) like puppies or kittens together — that is, magkakapisan usually in the old house or bahay na matanda of our grandparents.

My nieces, 2017.

On the other hand, uncles and aunties refer to their nephews and nieces in Filipino as pamangkin, from the expression “para namang akin” that literally means “just like my own child”.

Both pinsan or cousin and pamangkin or nephew/niece express togetherness, of being one as a family.

But in the Bible, we find something deeper in this banding together of peoples as families sharing joys and sorrows, work and play but also coming together as a creation by God as well as a call from Him.

See how in the Ten Commandments that only the fourth commandment carries a promise from God to underscore the importance of family life and of our parents: “Honor your father and your mother, that you may have a long life in the land which the Lord, your God, is giving you” (Ex.20:12).

In the assigned first reading for the Feast of the Holy Family from the Book of Sirach we find the author elaborating and reflecting further on this beautiful nature of the human family that is divine in origin and orientation. We find at its first part the emphasis on children honoring and obeying their parents, the father and mother. This instruction is then capped by a touching reflection on the solemn duty of taking care for an aging parent with all the respect and patience due him/her. Likewise, we find at its conclusion something that echoes God’s covenant, of the need to be kind and merciful to everyone especially those in need.

Kindness to a father will not be forgotten, firmly planted against the debt of your sins — a house raised in justice to you.

Sirach 3:14

In the second reading, we find several challenges to every family to be kind, merciful, forgiving and peaceful because we are “God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved” (Col.3:12). That is our identity as children of God our Father, making us members of His one, big family.

This is something many families have seemed to have forgotten due to so many concerns in life like the need to earn money, pursue one’s career that is interspersed with breaks that sometimes costly to family members like separation or migration, by choice or by circumstances.

This is one value that we hope to recover at this time of the pandemic when most parents and children are all working and studying from home. May families take this opportunities to renew their ties with one another, to pray anew together and renew or adjust their visions and dreams where they may all grow to maturity in Christ.

Photo of my mom with my two nieces, 2017.

Purifying our family in Christ

One beautiful thing that is so outstanding with the Holy Family is the fidelity of Joseph and Mary to God through temple worship, of how they sincerely and dutifully strive to fulfill all obligations stipulated by the Laws that we find reflective of Jesus in his adult life when He would come to attend synagogue worship.

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… and to offer sacrifice of a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons, in accordance wit the dictate of the law of the Lord. Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon… and Simeon blessed them and said to Mary is mother, “Behold, this child is destined for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be contradicted — and you yourself a sword will pierce — so that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.”

Luke 2:22-25, 34-35

Part of the good news of this feast is for us to realize too that the Holy Family was not spared of problems and trials just like us. In our gospel today, Simeon assured Mary of her heart being pierced with a sword, of facing trials and conflicts to happen like when Jesus was lost only to be found a day later in the temple when he was 12 years old. It must have caused too much stress and worries to Mary and Joseph.

Or when Jesus finally left home to begin His public ministry when people, including relatives thought he had lost his mind in His preaching!

And finally, when He was crucified. It must have been a terrible experience for the Blessed Virgin Mother.

No family is so perfect to escape trials and conflicts but the Holy Family teaches us something so perfectly valuable that can help us resolve our many imperfections in our family — of remaining in God, of being rooted in Him who is our identity as family, as a person.

The Presentation of Jesus by Mantegna from wikipediacommons.org.

It is in the family where we first encounter and experience God, both His presence and His “absence” if we may call that.

There are times when we feel so close, so near with God especially when everything is going so well with our lives when we have everything; but when the going gets rough and tough, sometimes that is when we feel too far from God or He is totally nowhere around us.

What a paradox that it is both in the family where we first experience love and care but at the same time where we also first taste our pains and hurts, and disappointments.

But between those two extreme realities of life, that is also when we find the conviction that God is real, Who is one with us in our joys and sufferings, never leaving us.

It is during those moments when the sword pierces our hearts when we discover who is inside us really, the ones most valuable to us, the ones we look up to, the treasures we have always kept and cared.

Sometimes, it is only when the heart is pierced by the sword do we find the treasures we keep inside.

This Christmas amid a pandemic, may we find anew the more important we need in our hearts — not things but persons we care most, who remind us of our identity as blessed and beloved. This pandemic period is the most opportune time for families to resolve conflicts, face trials in the light of Jesus Christ through prayers and openness to one another. Let us not take it for granted. See it as a blessing in disguise when we are finally able to heal all those festering wounds in us that have eaten us up as persons, families and Christians.

How sad that families often compete for material things that can always be easily superseded; but if we compete for kindness, for understanding, for love, for forgiveness, then nobody loses, everybody wins.

Sometimes, true peace in the family happens when we are willing to disarm ourselves of our natural defenses so we can carry or hold Jesus into our arms like Simeon, or like Mary when our heart is pierced with the Word to expose Jesus within who is love and mercy. Amen.

Photo from Aleteia.com.

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