Recollection Material for September 2021: The Family and the Community, A Challenge and a Blessing
Sirach 3:2-6, 12-14
Today it is very common to hear discussions on change of paradigm. Possibly one of the areas where this has been given in a radical and forceful way is the family territory, and in all the areas of human coexistence as it can also be the religious community. Actually, the model of classical family is put in opposition to all types of models, from solo-parent families to those pairs that have been labeled DINKIS (Double Income no Kids), i.e., those who refuse to have children. In a changing unstable socio-economic panorama, the reality of the family and the religious community need to be redefined and reconsidered, starting from the Gospel basis and the Christian principles. We deal with a territory where dialogue is urgent, so much so in its internal dimension, i.e., within the communities and families, as well as outwards, in the definition and formation of what is a family or a community. And in both areas, family and community, we encounter numerous challenges, but also enumerable blessings. Therefore, it is necessary to pause and meditate on them.
Return to yourself.
Let us dispose ourselves to live this day of recollection, putting aside the dispersion, acknowledging the blessings that we receive from all those around us and with whom we share our life as in family:
The human family that does not live by faith seeks peace on earth in goods and advantages of this temporal life. In contrast, the family of God whose life is regulated by faith, lives in the hope of the eternal goods promised for the future. He uses the temporal realities of this earth as one who is in a foreign land. Help us, Lord, to love one another in our family and to walk like pilgrims to the City of God, through Jesus Christ our Lord (ciu. 19, 17 –paraphrase).
Your voice is my Joy.
With heart well disposed, with serenity, I read slowly the following words from the Book of Sirach 3: 2-6, 12-14, savoring them and allowing myself to be touched by them.
2 For the Lord sets a father in honor over his children;
A mother’s authority he confirms over her sons.
3 He who honors his father atones for sins;
4 he stores up riches who reveres his mother.
5 He who honors his father is gladdened by children,
and when he prays he is heard.
6 He who reveres his father will live a long life;
he obeys the Lord who brings comfort to his mother.
7 He who fears the Lord honors his father,
and serves his parents as rulers.
8 In word and deed honor your father
that his blessing may come upon you;
9 For a father’s blessing gives a family firm roots,
but a mother’s curse uproots the growing plant.
10 Glory not in your father’s shame,
for his shame is no glory to you!
11 His father’s honor is a man’s glory;
disgrace for her children, a mother’s shame.
12 My son, take care of your father when he is old;
grieve him not as long as he lives.
13 Even if his mind fail, be considerate with him;
evile him not in the fullness of his strength.
14 For kindness to a father will not be forgotten,
it will serve as a sin offering.
The firmament of the Scriptures.
The text that we meditate on from the Book of Sirach is inserted into the first reflections of said biblical book, where the relation between the wisdom of God and the life of man is presented. In the preceding chapters it has spoken of the importance of the fear of God, how a wise man ought to be prudent and sincere, insisting particularly on how wisdom helps a wise man bear tribulation. After these general counsels, the book applies wisdom to concrete cases of daily life, beginning with family life. In this way the sacred author makes a lapidary affirmation in v.2: “The Lord sets a father in honor over his children,” that serves as a synopsis for all that he will develop afterwards, as much in the first part of the text (vv. 3-7) we reflect on, as in the second part (vv. 12-14). Literally the text would be: “Because God ‘exalts’ (‘distinguishes’, ‘magnifies’) more the father than the sons.” This statement has an exhortatory function, since the verses 3 to 7b present four consequences or “blessings from God,” that are the fruit of honoring the father. In fact these blessings are constructed in parallel, since vv. 3 &4 begin with the same words, literally “who honors his father” to present two blessings or benefits of such action, while v. 6 refers to v. 2, since it invites the son to imitate God, who “exalts” the Father, using the same expression in both verses. The four blessings are very significant, the author of Sirach emphasizing an element very proper to the theology of the Old Testament, which is the expiation for sins (vv. 3 & 14. The first consequence is the expiation for sins (v. 3). The blessings that follow we find them in v. 5: literally, “he shall be gladden by his children” and on the day he prays, his prayer shall be heard. The fourth blessing is that he will have long life (v.6. literally: “great extension of days”). Curiously, the text does not exclude the mother, thus, one can see that it is a late text of Alexandrian Hebrew Literature. In this way, there are two advantages in respecting (literally “exalt” v.4) the mother. In the first place, to accumulate treasures (v.4), and in second place, to be “rest” (literally) for the mother, to listen and obey the Lord (v.6).
All these blessings shall be a reality if v. 7 is fulfilled, i.e., if the son serves his parents, as if they were his masters and the son the slave (literally interpreting the text), emphasizing by this the total submission and surrender of the son towards his parents.
The second part of the text (vv. 12-14) presents four other virtues that are necessary to practice with the father (the mother is not mentioned in this second part). In this way, one is invited to care for the father in his old age, and throughout his life, not to give him any sadness (v. 12). V. 13 insists in not to dishonor (in the translation ‘not to despise’), using the word contrary to what it had used in vv. 5&6. This same verse invites to be indulgent (literally to have patience) even if the father has lost his mind.
The conclusion in v.14 cannot be much richer, since whoever does work of mercy (with piety) to the father (and the mother implicitly, because it was present in the first part of the text), shall expiate for sins, and his actions shall not be forgotten, i.e., it will have recompense from the part of God, an element that has great resonance above all in relation to the New Testament: “In truth I tell you, as long as you did it to one of my least brethren, you did it to me” (Mt.25:40).
The family experience of St. Augustine had without doubt definitive influence on his own reflection around the Christian family. The fact that he grew up in a family with a pagan father (conf. 1, 17) and a Christian mother (conf. 9, 17) made him realize the importance not only of the figure of the mother as transmitter of the faith, but also the importance that faith can have in the configuration of the family. His mother St. Monica was able to win over all of them to Christ, beginning with her husband Patricius (conf. 9,22) and following with all and each one of her sons, who did not follow the tracks of the father, but hers following Christ.
That is why, for St. Augustine the family is above all the territory to transmit and share the faith, possibly not with many words, but, yes, with the example of one’s own life (conf. 9, 21). St. Augustine reminds that the commitment of Christian parents is not only to beget and care for their children, (b. conjug. 9, 9) but also to instruct them in the faith, since the family is called to become a domestic Church.
For this reason, St. Augustine exhorts the head of a family or a community, that he be concerned for the faith of all those who are under his roof and depend on his authority. He is responsible, and he shall not be innocent if he allows, by his own negligence, that someone under his authority strays away from the faith. In this way, St. Augustine shows that whoever is placed at the head of a family (father, mother, or prior of a community), is called to be an epi-scopus, someone who watches and tends for the faith of those entrusted to them. Thus, St. Augustine exhorts the faithful that just as he, inside the diocese of Hipona and in the Church he is the epi-scopus and must be vigilant for the faith of his flock, in the same way he who has authority in the family or the community cannot be unmindful of the faith and the Christian life of his subjects, because in some way he is also responsible for being the epi-scopus, or superintendent.
The bishop (epi-scopus) receives this name because he watches from above, because, with his vigilance, he cares for the faithful. Everyone, therefore, in his house, if he is its head, should correspond to him the office of bishop, i.e., of being vigilant over the faith of his constituents, to avoid that anyone of them may incur in heresy, maybe the wife, or the son, or the daughter, or including the servant who was bought in such great price (s. 94).
Among the domestic (or communitarian) virtues emphasized by St. Augustine were patience and prudence. St. Augustine gives us the example of St. Monica who did not argue with her husband Patricius when he was angry. She knew to find the more adequate moment to approach her husband for dialogue. In our families and communities we are called to imitate the prudence and the patience of St. Monica in the resolution of daily conflicts.
Another virtue that St. Augustine emphasized is the choice of words, knowing that a word may seem innocent, but it can cause much good or much evil. St. Monica knew to reconcile quarrelling parties, avoiding inopportune or nasty words ((conf. 9, 21). St. Augustine learnt this well, as St. Posidius points out in Vita Augustini, inviting to avoid murmuring, i.e., to speak bad about the absent members, as requested by a poster placed in the monastic Augustinian refectory:
Whoever by his words desire to gnaw at the life of those absent, Let him know that he is unworthy of this table (Vita 22, 6). Thus, St. Augustine will say this adage: “Love and say what you wish” (exp. Gal.57).
To these virtues could be added fraternal correction, service, promptitude in fulfilling one’s own responsibilities and finally love and joy. Thus St. Augustine wisely recommends:
Whatever you do, do it joyfully. Then you do the good, and you do it well. If on the contrary you do it with sadness, the good is done through you but its not you who do it (en. Ps. 91:5).
The Gold of Egypt.
The artistic work that serves us in this occasion to reflect is the painting of David Hockney (1937), “My Parents”, preserved in the Tate Museum of London. The work was painted in 1977, and represents the parents of the painter. Two years before this painting, Hockney had painted another picture called “My Parents and I” in which there are three changes. First, the father does not appear reading a book but simply seated and the hands intertwined. Secondly, there is a mirror where one can see reflected the face of the painter; and thirdly, in the frame “My Parents”, in the bookshelf between the two personalities are found the volumes of the work of Marcel Proust “In search of Lost time.” It is interesting to know that the parents of Hockney posed in various occasions so that their son could paint the first picture (“My Parents and I”), they even had to make a trip to Paris where Hockney had his studio at the moment to pose for him. When the picture was finished, the painter did not want to show it to anyone. This caused the anger and indignation of his parents who had great illusion to see the finished picture. The father on knowing the news, called him angrily in Paris, to let him know how discontented he was. Nonetheless, the same father after a little later relented and called him again and apologized and let him know that he can do what he wished with the painting. To please his parents, Hockney painted a second picture simply called “My Parents” where the work of Proust symbolically appears to signify that it is necessary to take advantage of our time in life, to be with the family and in the community because the moments and the persons do not come back. In 2020, the parents of Hockney having died, Hockney for the first time brought out the painting that caused controversy, “My Parents and I.” The painting would invite us to avoid litigations in the family and in the community, and learn to listen and take advantage of the time we share with those around us, and avoid “searching for time lost.”
From word to action.
The family is called “basic unit of society.” A strong and mature society is that which is composed of strong families, families in which human and Christian values are alive. What are the family values the actual society favors? What are the Christian values that the Gospel favors regarding the family? How favorable is the dialogue to integrate the family values of the actual society and the family values that the Scriptures and Church Tradition emphasize?
For St. Augustine the family (and the community) is a territory to transmit and share the faith. To what degree do I involve myself in my community (my family) to favor the growth of all the members in the life of faith and in the following of Christ?
The family apostolate has a very important role in the mission of the Church. How does my ministry contribute to the family apostolate? Is it the will of God that I get involved more consistently in the family apostolate?
He who hates his brother is in darkness and does not know where he is going, because darkness has blinded his eyes. Grant, O Lord, that we do not stay in the dark. How shall we avoid being in the dark? Loving the brothers! How do we prove that we love the brotherhood? In that we do not tear the unity, that we maintain the charity. Grant, O Lord, that we love our brothers, in order to maintain in our communities the unity in charity (Io. eu. tr. 2, 3).