Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Homily for the Eighth Day of Parish Novena 2016: "Experiencing God's Love and Mercy within the Family"

Preacher: Fr Simon Yong SJ

Let me start with a Jesuit joke and it is not related to the homily but to my stress. From this joke, you obviously will recognise from which section of the Society it comes. The Novices look holy but they are not. The Scholastics[1] do not look holy and they are definitely not. The priests do not look holy but they are. Well, your parish priest does not look holy but I believe he is. Why? The internet in this parish, if at all, does not exist. I am writing homily and I waiting and waiting for connexion to do research. My computer crashed because the connexion had been so bad that the automatic update could not be completed which resulted in a corrupted computer registry. I am not sure how he handles this frustration but I told him if I were him, I would have slit my throat or drank Paraquat. You know, we are already short of priests and whilst I accept that stress is part and parcel of this road to holiness, I guess this is not a stress needed for holiness. Sorry if I sound like I am complaining.

Sometimes in a moment of annoyance friends have said: “What do you know? You are not married and you have no children”. The lack of first-hand experience of marriage and child-bearing apparently disqualifies me from advising families. Today, I am venturing into the territory of speaking without first-hand experience on the topic of God’s Love and Mercy Within the Family.

Firstly, the absence of evidence is not the evidence of absence. I am not married but I do come from a dysfunctional family. My father… My mother…  Running through the back of my mind, what has remained with me over these years is the experience of Confirmation camps. Gearing up for Confirmation, our youths stand at the cusp of adulthood. And yet, their emotional resources are fairly limited. Their wherewithal to engage the adult world suffers from some form of privation. It is almost as if when young people reached the age of 16 or 17, something in them is broken. The kids will be asked to write letters to their parents and likewise parents to their kids. Tears galore when both receive letters from each other. Something seems to have gone wrong when the kids make their transition from the “tweens” to the “teens”. Perhaps that is normal because we too may have gone through similar difficulties in our growing up. Or is the process presently more complicated and can we do something about this?

The family can be a reality which people take for granted. It is the smallest unit in the make-up of a society, the bedrock of the Church. Without the family, there is nothing to talk about. Listen to one of the Prefaces for Marriage.

Here I quote from an older text[2] our Roman Missal[3]. This prayer emphasises the relationship between marriage and baptism, whereby marriage and within the context of marriage, the openness to life enriches both the human family and the Church.

“By this Sacrament Your Grace unites man and woman in an unbreakable bond of love and peace. You have designed the chaste love of husband and wife for the increase both of the human family and of your own family born in baptism. You are the loving Father of the world of nature; You are the loving Father of the new creation of grace. In Christian marriage You bring together the two orders of creation: nature’s gift of children enriches the world, and your grace enriches also Your Church”.

The Church’s future is inextricably tied to the future of the family. The breakdown of the family unit threatens the future of the Church: No family, no Church.

Thus, the Church’s future is key to understanding how our family must be healthily formed. Of course, you can think, “Err, you mean the family’s existence is only for the service of the Church”? Surely that sounds utilitarian as if the family as a unit itself is not good enough. But, think of it this way: No family, no Church. No Church, no Eucharist.

We are not merely an interconnected web of relationships. But, as an organism, any severance of a relationship will have a corresponding effect on the whole. The health of the family is the health of the Church. This is not health from a well-being sense of the word. But rather health as in using the analogy of sin, health is freedom from sin, freedom to be what God has intended for us: eternal life.

If the family unit is sine qua non for the future of the Church, then we ought to remember that the devil will want to destroy that which is the basis for the future. And the array of Satan’s forces is phenomenal. The family is under siege from such issues as the redefinition of marriage by blurring the natural lines of distinction between man and woman and the breakup of marriage through divorce. According to local statistics, 95% of the cases for annulment come from sacramental marriage[4]. What is the purpose of a sacramental marriage? If you follow St Paul’s teaching in the Letter to the Ephesian—a sacramental marriage is the best image for the reality of Christ faithful and fruitful love for His Bride, the Church. Paraphrasing Spiderman’s Uncle Ben, “With great honour comes great responsibility”.

Does that give you an inkling that for whatever cogent reasons adduced for marriage breakups, the Devil is there to make sure that the institution of marriage is destroyed? The adage “Strike the shepherd and the sheep will scatter” is not restricted to the shepherd alone. Destroy marriage and you harm the future of the Church[5].

The Confirmation Camp experiences have remained with me all these years that many of the children are experiencing the lack of family as family. On top of this is basically time. Economics being the prime reason why family time is basically functional time; functional as in providing food and shelter. But as a child grows he or she will have accompanying psychological or spiritual and not just material needs. For about 10 years or thereabout, your children will do what you tell but at a certain age they become miniature adults with their own minds. If you have not been there for them, they will not be there when you finally have the time. From my pastoral observation, as a child matures two distinct developmental processes may be observed in them.

Firstly, if your child is a girl, she is growing up in a world that is broadly masculinised. You may think that I am speaking rubbish because girls regular excel over boys in many areas of life which are open to them. The contrary that this is the age of the feminine is more evident because in school, girls consistently top the boys. This sounds great if you think emancipation or liberation or freedom has arrived for girls to be who and what they want to be. But, this freedom just means that girls have become more boy-like in behaviour especially when war is waged against their gender-specific biological functions. For example, Silicon Valley consider the maternal duty of child-bearing to be a disadvantage and an inconvenience. Some companies have offered to freeze their female employees’ ova so that later, possibly like Anna the Prophetess, long after her child-bearing age, these employees, if they choose to, conceive via artificial means. In the meantime, women can compete like men. I am told that some girls chase after boys nowadays and it is considered to be normal.[6] The point is, no matter how we want to suppress this naturally-given functions, the minute a girl conceives, her biology takes over. In short, nature teaches a girl to be a woman. The instinct to nurture and to protect is in-built by nature for women.

Secondly, if your child is a boy, he is probably growing up in a world without men or in a world where men do not know how to be strong men. Our idea of a strong man seems to have been left behind with the brutish Neanderthal whereby strong men do not cry and they thump their chests. Perhaps, against this rather uncivilised caricature of what it means to be a man, a softer metrosexual is a reaction to this overly macho image. Boys are not hampered by biology when they have to make the leap from boyhood to manhood. They need to be mentored in a manner of speaking by men. In short, the bridge to sociability, that is, to taking their place in society, is crossed by fathers mentoring their sons. The responsibility to nurture and to protect is acquired from society for men. Fathers teach sons how to be men.

These processes reveal to us the undeniable distinction that allow both boys and girls to come to maturation[7]—through nature because woman are formed by nature and through nurture because men are formed by society. The processes themselves are wrought with danger because physiologically, psychologically and spiritually, the child is undergoing change and sometimes changes they themselves do not know or understand.[8]

Thus, the family is crucial for a child’s development and they need the sense of security that through these changes, there are people, notably father and mother to care for them. The tears of the camp reveal a kind of emptiness or the lack of presence which the young feel when it comes to this painful project of growing up.

Unfortunately, children’s access to the world is no longer mediated through the social networks of the family unit. The World Wide Web enables them to know even someone from as remote a place like Tierra del Fuego at the tip of South America. They learn much more from outside the family. And if the family is one where there is no support, no security where speaking out can be accepted or rejected in love, it is possible to drive further into the ground whatever that needs to be processed.

Have you ever encountered children of holy moly parents who leave the Church? It does not follow that a “good couple” will end up as a “good family”. What needs to be done is that good couples must find ways and means to foster good family. And this is a time-consuming endeavour. It requires a reprioritisation of the family unit. Many a times material comfort becomes the measure of a happy family. We mistakenly buy into the mantra that the more we have, the easier it is to create a happy family. Many from the Confirmation Camp are children of doctors, engineers and successful professionals. And they have a lifestyle many of us can only dream of. Parents misguidedly believe that they can buy love through the providence of material goods. How wrong they are?

I say this because I am uncomfortable about this and yet I somehow doing it. How often do we bring our tablets to the eating table? Or the mobile phone is constantly at the table sending out the subtle message that there might be something more important than the family which is present. This is just an example of how are we are from the family ideal.

To conclude, the experience God’s love and mercy in the family requires an honest reappraisal of our concept of the family. What are the conditions necessary for the possibility of this experience? What is needed? If you desire to experience God’s love and mercy in the family, then begin by shoring up your marriage. If it is good, make it better and if it is better, make it the best so that your children may grow in the security of a loving marriage. And if your family is struggling with issues of relationship, seek help and shame should not prevent you from reaching out. Building up a good Christian family is at the heart of the Church’s evangelical mission and it is also a participation in the work of salvation that Christ chooses to give the world.

[1] After 1st vows, philosophy, theology, ordination and before final vows. A priest can be a scholastic even 10 years after ordination.
[2] The newer text is more succinct. For you have forged the covenant of marriage as a sweet yoke of harmony and an unbreakable bond of peace, so that the chaste and fruitful love of holy matrimony may serve to increase the children you adopt as you own.
[3] Written around the time of Charlemagne in AD8th century.
[4] Marriage between two baptised is raised to the honour of a sacrament. So what is shocking is that we are dealing with marriage breakdowns between two Catholic and not simply between two baptised.
[5] I am not really concerned about the Church’s future per se but she is the vehicle of God’s salvation. Without the Church, how is Christ’s salvific mission to continue?
[6] In this climate where femaleness is rejected, we have opened the Pandora box to the acceptance of sexual behaviours which were previously considered harmful to society. The denial of femaleness has made it easier for man to fall in love with man or woman with woman. Furthermore, when the consequence of the sexual relationship between male and female is removed by contraception, then it does not take long for taboos against more extreme behaviour, like between a father and daughter, to be considered as old-fashioned.
[7] Women are promised the false freedom of contraceptives whereas men are promised the false pleasure of pornography.
[8] Women are destroyed by the Pill and men warped by pornography.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Terms of Use: As additional measure for security, please sign in before you leave your comments.

Please note that foul language will not be tolerated. Comments that include profanity, personal attacks, and antisocial behaviour such as "spamming" and "trolling" will be removed. Violators run the risk of being blocked permanently. You are fully responsible for the content you post. Please be responsible and stay on topic.