The Holy Family, the Christian Family, Your Family
Silly fads and a bad idea
A “fad” is something many people get swept up by and think it is terrific in the moment, but later look back on and laugh at themselves (and everyone else!) for having been so taken away by something that now looks either silly or terribly wrongheaded and unfit to survive the test of time. From my parents’ generation there were things like pet rocks, mood watches, bell-bottomed jeans, and disco. From my generation it was spiked hair, skinny neckties, and giant portable radios (“boom boxes”), among many others! After that I lose track, thankfully. But you are no doubt already thinking of your generation’s fads even as you read this.
Regular folks aren’t the only ones who are prone to fads, though. Intellectuals often become “fashion victims” as well, perhaps not so much to fads in clothing or music but certainly to ideas. One of the more recent intellectual fads we’ve seen in our time is called “species-ism” (adding an “ism” to the end of a word is almost always a sign given by intellectuals who want to notify us of some bad idea we’re ostensibly acting on). On this view, the speciesist is a certain kind of bigot who automatically assigns more inherent value and dignity to human beings than to other kinds of beings, animals or even plants and trees. Just because we’re the most powerful beings on the planet, thinks the speciesist, just because we ourselves happen to be the human sort of being, we think we’re the best of all! But this is perhaps just as bad as white people saying they are better than non-white people, or Americans thinking we are better than Italians, or men thinking they are better than women, and so on.
That’s what these intellectuals are accusing us (and each other) of: bigotry of species. It certainly is the case that we humans in our fallen nature are prone to all sorts of bigotry. And if we think merely that having more power or intelligence makes us more dignified than the animals, then maybe those facts also would make some human beings worth more than other human beings. But thinking that would indeed be a grave error. All beings have their own inherent dignity. But if it’s true that the human being has more value and worth than other sorts of beings, it isn’t just because we’re more intelligent or more powerful.
The Dignity of the Human Race
Our Christian faith teaches us that human beings are an order of magnitude more worthy than the animals or the plants for two reasons: because like God we possess a rational nature (by our very nature we not only know things but understand things), and especially because we possess the nature that God Himself took unto Himself in the man Jesus, the Anointed One (Christ). Our faith teaches us that God thought up the idea of humanity, and brought each one of us into being by nature with this great destiny of sharing in the divine life. God even made the animals and the trees in some way to imitate his own nature. But he did not become one of them. The Lord Jesus himself said “Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows” (Mt 10:31).
To be is to be in a family
While it is true that the animals and plants belong to biological “families”, we use the word “family” when applied to them as a kind of analogy: we ourselves know what it means to be a part of a family, and thus we ascribe “being in a family” to plants and animals. But without the inherent familiness of human persons, the idea of family would make no sense when applied to the other creatures. Again, our Christian faith tells us that we are made “in the image” of God, “after Our [God’s] likeness”, and that we were made to exercise “dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth” (Gen 1:26). But this “dominion” doesn’t mean merely “having power over” the other creatures. It means that in our nature we were made higher than those creatures for a reason, and that reason is to become like God Himself and to share in his Divine Life. But the Divine Life is not a life lived as a solitary person. Our faith teaches us that God is a family of persons so closely knit together that they have the very same Being, the same single act of existing. The life of God is the life of perfect and total love between the Persons of the Holy Trinity, and this kind of love means true community, total mutual giving and receiving, each holding nothing back from the other, each receiving joyfully and with total thanksgiving everything the other has to give.
The Salvation of the Family
This is why God comes into the world as a member of a family. Because being part of a human family is the most fitting way that God can show us the familial nature of his own life. Thus, it is the way God shows us that human families are essential to the pattern and story of salvation. For we are saved, not merely alone as individuals, but as part of a family, a Church, meant to worship God and love the other as God loves. The message of the Incarnation is that God comes not only to heal the individual of his personal sin, but also to heal human families and the family of the human race itself of the alienation and abandonment that sin brings, and ultimately, of the alienation of the entire human family from the Blessed Trinity. God comes, in short, to make us a part of his own family. In Christ, we become “adopted sons” (Gal 4:5-7; Eph 1:5)) of the Father by being made “brothers” of the Lord Jesus (Mt 28:10; Rom 8:29), the Father’s Only Begotten Son.
In the Holy Family of Nazareth God has shown us the source of the healing of the human family. No matter the sins and grave mistakes we’ve made in our own marriages and families, no matter the injustices we’ve been subjected to by the sins of our fathers and mothers and the sins and failings of the generations of earthly families into which we were born, in Christ, God signals to us that we are not destined for failure and alienation, but for radical inclusion in the Family of God.
This is why the Church places before us this great High Feast of the Holy Family on the first Sunday after the Mass of Christ’s Nativity (Christmas): bound up in the “tidings of great joy which shall be to all people” (Luke 2:10) is the announcement of the birth of God into the human family, the announcement of the salvation of the human race as the salvation of the family.
- Fr. Hagan