Sunday, December 29, 2013

Dress, Direction & Docility

Feast of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph

Picture: cc katie swayze

Sisters and brothers, do you ever watch people playing soccer? And if and when you do, how do you tell whether the people you are watching are really serious players? How do you know whether they actually belong to a regular soccer team? Or whether they are just a bunch of guys who play recreationally? When you watch people playing soccer, how do you tell the serious players from the weekend warriors? The true professionals from the rank amateurs?

Actually, it’s not too difficult, right? One obvious tell-tale sign is, of course, their dress. If the soccer players you’re watching actually belong to a serious team then, chances are, they’ll all be wearing proper uniforms. In contrast, the recreational players, those who just meet occasionally, at the neighbourhood field or playground, typically wear whatever they like. How then do these teams tell themselves apart? Well, that’s easy. The guys on one team leave their shirts on. The others go bare-bodied.

But dress is not the only way to distinguish the serious soccer teams from the individuals who play for fun. Another way to do it is, of course, to consider the direction of movement. Usually, serious players are able to truly play as a team. They’re able to move as a single unit. To flow in a single direction of play. And, of course, this requires of each player the ability and the readiness to always do only what is more advantageous for the team as a whole. Instead of being focused only on one’s own individual interests. For example, even though he may have a chance at goal, a player may still choose to pass the ball to a teammate who has a better chance. Isn’t this what makes the difference between a true team player and an individualist? One is always moving only in the direction of the rest of the team. The other is out only for his own individual glory.

But in order to do this–in order to move more or less fluidly as one unit in a single direction–the team must submit to some form of leadership. To some form of guidance. Whether it be in the shape of a captain. Or of a coach. Or a team manager. Or even all three. This docility to leadership and guidance is a third characteristic of a serious team.

So dress, direction and docility. These are some ways by which we may distinguish a serious soccer team from a bunch of recreational players. And, strange as it may sound, what’s true of soccer teams is true also of holy families. When we look closely at our Mass readings today, we find that a holy family can be recognised by the same signs that indicate a serious soccer team. Dress, direction, and docility.

Consider what we find in the second reading. Notice how the reading begins by describing what is expected of the members of God’s chosen race. Of God’s adopted family. Of which, of course, we are all members. Notice how the expectations are described in terms of dress. You should be clothed, we are told, in sincere compassion, in kindness and humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with one another; forgive each other as soon as a quarrel begins. Not only that, but over all these clothes, over all these virtues, to keep them together and complete them, we are also to put on love.

But how exactly do we do all this? How do we go about dressing ourselves in these virtuous external behaviours? Only by first internalising something else. Let the message of Christ, in all its richness, find a home with you. In other words, we are able to put on Christ only by first letting him enter into an intimate relationship with us. By sharing with him our deepest dreams and aspirations. As well as our most distressing struggles and anxieties. This is how we truly become members of his family.

Now notice, sisters and brothers, how it is only after having described what distinguishes the wider family of God, that the second reading then goes on to focus on the conduct that is expected of the individual members of particular families. Of wives, of husbands and of children. All of which should make clear to us, that this feast we are celebrating today remains deeply relevant to everyone of us. Regardless of whether or not we are married. Or whether or not we actually have children of our own. Or whether or not we may consider ourselves members of a conventional family. For whatever may be our current status, we all belong to the family of God. To God’s holy family. And one key characteristic of this family is how it dresses. It’s proper uniform is the love of Christ.

But that’s not all. Because it is clothed in the love Christ, this family is also distinguished by a particular direction of movement. Always towards God. Even if it means having to sacrifice one’s individual preferences. Isn’t this what we find in both the first reading and the gospel? In the first reading, the focus is on grownup children, who are encouraged to set aside their own personal concerns in order to respect and honour and support their aging parents. Especially if their parents may be suffering diminishment of some sort. And children are asked to do this, not just for the sake of the parents themselves. But also, ultimately, because this is what pleases God. Who honours the father in his children, and upholds the rights of a mother over her sons.

In the gospel, the spotlight shifts from children to parents. Here we find blessed Joseph struggling with the demands of fatherhood. Continually, he is asked to move from one place to another. First from Bethlehem to Egypt. Then, from Egypt back to Israel. And, while on the way back to Israel, he has to change his intended destination from Judaea to Nazareth. But although Joseph’s geographical destinations may keep changing, he is actually always moving in the same spiritual direction. Consistently, he sets aside the dictates of his own comfort and aspirations, in order to do what is necessary to protect Jesus. A child who is not even really his own. Repeatedly, Joseph chooses to place the child’s interests above his own. And, in doing so, Joseph keeps moving in the same direction. Always away from self-absorption. Towards absorption in God. Always away from self-glorification. Towards the glory of God, expressed in the common good. In what is more beneficial for the whole human family.

And this ability to keep moving in a single direction–away from self towards the will of God and the good of others–comes about only with docility. Only when one is willing to keep submitting oneself to God’s direction for one’s life. In the words of the response to the psalm, O blessed are those who fear the Lord and walk in his ways!
So these then are the distinguishing characteristics of holy families. Like serious soccer teams, they can be recognised by their dress, their direction, and their docility. Sisters and brothers, on this Feast of the Holy Family, if we were to observe ourselves in the mirror. Much as how we might watch soccer teams on a pitch. To what extent will we be able to recognise the signs of a holy family? What is our dress? What is our direction? How docile are we, today?

1 comment:

  1. O Lord, as the New Year 2014 begins, on this first day of the New Year, please lead me along YOUR WAY, keep me close to You and never let me be parted from you.

    Like Our Blessed Mother, whose feast we celebrate today, teach me to be docile, to be obedient to Your Will, especially when Your will differs from what I want and will.

    I remember this phrase from an old French priest - "to love is to obey" and how very true.

    Out of love for You, Lord - teach me to obey the promptings within my heart - Your Voice within me. Grant me the courage to dare to trust You more, despite my doubts and the darkness within my soul.

    Let me always FEAR You and You Alone and walk only in Your ways.

    May I learn docility & obedience like Our Lady did, so as to remain in Your Love and live in Your Love and Ways.

    Lord, May YOU INCREASE, as I decrease.

    Seeing IS Believing
    1 January 2014 4.45pm