We all recognize the words of that jingle of a song that repeat incessantly: ‘We are family’. These are words that remind us of every person’s need for a base community that they call home or family. For most of us, the biological unit we call our family is at least the starting point for our search. When it works, it is a comfortable, affirming and ultimately empowering place where we receive the nurture that enables us to grow into mature and self-giving adults.
But when it does not work: watch out, disaster hits, or at least, the maturity and growth which do not materialize are translated into a search for a place called home and a new kind of family.
In Leo Tolstoy’s masterful novel Anna Karenina, he begins his story with a powerful sentence that signals the opening theme in this complex book. This is how he begins it: “All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” With his genius for writing clearly, cogently and deeply he signaled the first and most important theme that he will develop throughout the narrative. As it unfolds, we see every kind of unhappiness tearing apart family after family: each in its own way.
While the importance of family is all through the scriptures, we find Jesus almost redefining family when His own family came to visit with Him. When told that His family had arrived to meet with Him, He responded: “Who is my family? Anyone who does the will of My Father is father and mother, brother and sister to Me.” Clearly the Lord was trying to enlarge the concept of the family. Family need not be biologically linked but could be a community of those seeking to do God’s will. For anything to rival the biological family it must work on many levels at once. So, a Soccer team may call itself a ‘family’ but its focus is too narrow and limited. The new family of disciples that Jesus envisioned has many different levels that work to create a community of love with people who freely subscribe to the ethics and mores of the Lord and the Kingdom of God.
One must be careful, however, and not cheapen the whole concept of the family. Family is not considered by our teaching as a mere association of like-minded individuals, but a union created by God with the purpose of generating new life and providing the spiritual and personal environment where children can grow as they see their exemplars of growth, better known as parents, teaching them by example. By doing this, they actually develop into a loving and self-sacrificial relationship that is spousal and of great depth.
While the family as we know it, created by God, can generate analogies of family, these grow from the primary experience of the biologically linked experience.
Only the addition of faith and its links can rival that primary understanding.
The need for community grows organically from this. We are radically communitarian. To rip someone from his primary community, such as happens in the punishment of exile, is to practically condemn someone to death. We feel security with others. We feel acceptance and that comfortable feeling of being at home. It even has organic effects within us. When we are in a safe nurturing community, our health blossoms and our joy know no bounds. But when we are radically alone or in a hostile environment, sickness and loss are just around the corner.
That is why the Church is so important. As Christians, we live a radically communitarian faith. Even our concept of God as Trinity is in the form of an ongoing self-giving mutuality that is both one and diverse. God is a Community of Love!
The Church mimics this interplay of forces and persons that make for the gifts of Sacraments and the orientation of our journey together toward the Kingdom (i.e. Community) of God.
One of the saints pithily put it thus: No one goes to heaven alone. You go with the others that you helped to join you in bliss.
In these pandemic times, when we socially isolate for our own survival, it is a salient fact that this is an anomaly. It can never be a permanent way to be. In this pandemic we have seen a significant rise in murders, rapes, child sexual abuse, addictions, and other spiritual and secular sins.
We need others. Our Christian faith understands that.
We are family.
And this is God’s will for us.