This week, the Catholic Church celebrated the Feast of the Holy Family – so often an occasion of trial for those Catholics who are not living in officially approved families of Mom, Pop, kids, pets and picket fence. Subjected year after year to the same -old, same-old shallow sermons on the joys of family life, single people, the divorced, childless couples and queer Catholics can easily find that this Sunday is a very pointed reminder of how easily and thoughtlessly we can be excluded from the Church community. Most of the standard preaching on the Holy Family though is entirely misguided – the true nature of the Holy Family is very far from a celebration of the modern, but inappropriately named, “traditional family” .
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Two items that came to me this week reminded me of this. My colleague Martin Pendergast sent me a link to the Holy Family reflection by Archbishop Vincent Nichols of Westminster, with the observation
We had a good Pastoral Letter from +Vincent Nichols for The Feast of the Holy Family – no ‘family-values’ ranting, thank God!
Martin is right. Although there are the usual references to children, there is no prescriptive definition of “family”. It is perfectly possibly for those who need it, to read this statement as inclusive of families of all kinds. There is is also an important expansion of the concept of family, one that has important implications for the community of the church, and for those of us who for one reason or another feel on the margins of the church family:
The family of the Church, too, has a deep, human wisdom to share. It is intertwined with the stories of our families. St Paul describes so much of it in that second reading we have heard. Today we think about how to share and build our family wisdom. By doing this we strengthen the very foundations of our society. We need time together. We need to listen to each other’s experience. We then come to appreciate the wisdom that is part of our family tradition, something to be passed on in love.
All the members of a family also need to practice respect for each other. Yes, we respect each other in our differences. We may rejoice in those differences. At the same time we strive to keep up a shared standard of behaviour.
The challenge, of course, is that the institutional church does not create the structures for us to listen to each other, or to learn from the experiences of those it officially disapproves of. I would be fascinated to learn of any plans the Archbishop may have to listen to, and learn from, any organised groups on the margins, particularly the LGBT community in his own diocese. Where there are no formal structures in place, we must create our own – such as those provided us by the internet.
The second item gets much more to the heart of the matter, totally dispelling the myth of the “Holy Family” as supporting a conservative ideal. This was placed as a comment to a post on John the Evangelist / Beloved Disciple by John, a Catholic priest who writes his own blog at “Suffer the Arrows“:
May I offer a different perspective, combining thoughts on the Beloved Disciple and the Holy Family? So often, when we think of the Holy Family, we think of a neat little unit that conformed to all social expectations. But that is not the case at all. Joseph, Mary, and Jesus, based on the evidence of the Scriptures, were a family that would have confounded their neighbors. Mary was pregnant before she lived with Joseph. Joseph accepted this situation and still brought her into his home. Jesus was an only child. None of this was “normal” in their society. And then Jesus in his public pronouncements asked “Who is my mother and my father and my brothers” and answered that a new family was what mattered: the family of those who hear the word of God and keep it. This family is based on relationship to the one Father. Finally, on the cross, Jesus entrusts Mary to the Beloved Disciple and he took her into his home. Again, the notion of family is expanded.
For we who are gay, our families include our bio-logical families, but they also include what Armistad Maupin calls our logical families – all those whom we love, all those who have entered our hearts. The deconstruction and reconstruction of the family that was done in the Gospels opens for us the possibility of seeing family in an expansive, inclusive way.
For this reason, whenever I preach on the Holy Family, I include the Beloved Disciple – and then make mention of all those who are family, whether they be related by blood and marriage, or by conscious decision to be accepted as family. The Gospel, read on its own terms and without speculation points us well beyond the merely biological family.
- St John the Evangelist, the “Beloved Disciple”: December 27th (Queering the Church)
- Jesus’ Family Values: A Sermon (Shuck and Jive)
- The Gospels’ Queer Values (Queering the Church)
- The Queer Bible: Beyond Family Values (Queering the Church)
- Traditional “Family Values”; “Traditional Family” Values. (Queering the Church)
- What Constitutes a “Family”? Empirical Study Finds A Wider View (Queering the Church)