Fulfilling Family Responsibilities
“And when they had performed everything according to the law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee, to their own city, Nazareth.”
[From “Modern Love: Promises That Can Bend Without Breaking” by Robert St. Amant, in The New York Times, May 8, 2014.]
They have been married for 28 years. Theirs has been a happy life, filled with an intense desire to travel. They both had fulfilling careers: he is a college professor, she is an accomplished weaver and textile artist.
Their near-perfect life came to an end a year ago when they sold their home and moved into an independent living apartment for the elderly. He is only 50. She is 49.
She is the reason they are now living in this situation. A series of seizures and strokes revealed brain tumors. Over time she became more absent-minded and more forgetful. Her lucid periods have become fewer and fewer. After the two surgeries and a painful recovery, he and she talked about the future and what they would do with their lives — but now with the new, sobering realization that they would not live forever.
Her dementia is comparable to mid-stage Alzheimer’s. She rarely steps outside the surety of their apartment; he often has to remind her who he is and that they are married.
He now remembers for them both: (quote)“In the past we’d had fun with ideal questions about the future: (for instance) If we could live anywhere in the world, where would it be? or What would we do with a million dollars?
“(Now) … it was more serious: What will we do if you don’t remember who I am? We agreed that staying together was the most important thing …”
“Sometimes I think about the vows my wife and I made to each other, 28 years ago and then again last summer. But now we’re different people than we once were. Does that make the promise any easier?
“Last summer I said to her: You can trust me. I’ll always tell you the truth about what’s happening. Today I tell her small, comforting lies. Some promises, though, aren’t just things you say or intend to do; they’re about what kind of person you are. That makes it easier to decide what’s right ..”.
“When I look at my wife I still see the lovely younger woman in our photos and in my memory. Sometimes she looks back at me and smiles. Even though she may not know who I am.” (end quote)
Today, we hear about the purification of Mary and the presentation of Jesus in the Temple from St. Luke. More specifically, we also hear about the prophecies of both Simeon and Anna.
As a result of Simeon’s canticle and Anna’s testimony, the Blessed Virgin and St Joseph marveled – but not because they did not know who Christ was; but that they were in awe because of the a way Almighty God was revealing Christ to them. Once again St. Joseph and the Virgin Mary teach us to contemplate the mysteries involved in the birth of Christ.
For instance: the birth of Christ was revealed by three kinds of witnesses in three different ways—first, by the shepherds, after the angel’s announcement; second, by the Magi, who were guided by a star; and third, by Simeon and Anna, who were inspired by the Holy Spirit.
In St. Luke’s gospel, we get a glimpse of the early childhood of Jesus and the Holy Family. When the Holy Family fulfilled all their responsibilities according to their religious observance, they returned to Nazareth. But before their return to Nazareth, we obtain a fuller picture with the help of St. Matthew’s gospel. The Holy Family had to flee to Egypt where they stayed for some time to escape the deadly infanticidal wrath King Herod.
In the different circumstances of his life, St Joseph never refuses to think about or neglect his responsibilities. On the contrary, he puts his human experience at the service of his faith. When he returns from Egypt, learning that Archelaus reigned over Judea in place of his father Herod, he was still afraid to go there. But St. Joseph had learned to work within God’s divine plan. And to confirm that he was doing the right thing, Joseph received an instruction from God to nevertheless return to Galilee.
My brothers and sisters in Christ, just as in Robert St. Amant’s story about the challenges of the married couple in my opening story, today’s Feast of the Holy Family reminds us that (whether an immediate or extended family) being a family is a journey of changes and challenges — and that it is the love of our spouses and children and brothers and sisters and friends that enables us to fulfill our responsibilities and negotiate and survive those changes, and to confront and move on from those challenges, as well as to not refuse to think of how to work within God’s divine plan.
Our belonging to a family means that each one of us – parent and child, brother or sister or friend – reflects for one another – the selfless, limitless and unconditional love of Christ, both in good times and bad – in prosperity and adversity. The Holy Family is a model for our own families as we struggle together to adapt and change and to deal with the many tensions and crises that threaten the stability, peace and unity that are the joys of being a family.
Mary, Queen of the Family, pray for us!