When we speak of the human person being made in the image and likeness of God, it isn’t just in individuality of persons, and the rationality and intellect exercised by them. The social dimension is also reflected in that statement. God who is Trinity is a community of persons, we say; God is also a family of persons.
So too, are we embedded in community, by design, part of a family. The Trinity is remarkable, not only as a theological concept that reconciles the reality of God the Father, the Holy Spirit and Christ, the Son, as all being of one God; but the Trinity finds itself replicated throughout Creation. The human family is the most obvious example: there is Father, Mother and Child, and we each are part of that; just as Christ is, in a sense, the “Child” of the Trinity. Even in the common instance of multiple children, a house full of brothers and sisters, each one as individuals, is part of their own trinity of mother, father, child. It is a biological fact, and human longing to know and be part of that trinity is a psychological reality.
This is an inescapable truth, even in an age where there is a perverse and pervasive desire to escape from this truth.
In the heyday of protests, BLM was lauded as a champion of social justice, and many political leaders sought its endorsement. People gave them money to show them support. Few looked very deeply into what this group was really about. On their website, information that has been taken down since, the neo-marxist revolutionaries advertised that they saw at the root of social injustice, not just the institutional structures of our civilization, but that it was the foundational institutions that were faulty, and that included the human family.
Now, of course, delve into critical social justice theory and you will find many assertions, but little evidence to prove the validity of them. And yet, the project of remaking the human family, of allowing free invention of any configuration of men and women and children into “family” is one of their goals, and a goal shared by other misbegotten political and social movements of the modern/post-modern era.
One may object that there are, sadly in this world, bad parents. That doesn’t negate the fact that we all have a father and a mother, and a profound desire to be in relationship with them, no matter how we might be disappointed in this.
When I was first in ordained ministry, I was assigned to a parish in Ottawa where the old rectory had been made into a group home for boys. It was somewhat experimental: four to six boys would live in that big old manse, with two foster parents—in this case an older couple who had raised their own children to adulthood and now offered themselves for this. I was assigned chaplain, and “respite” caregiver was something I often offered to be.
So, at school breaks, during the long, idle days of summer, at the high holidays, I would often have “the boys” for a day. All of these lads, aged from about 7 to 13 had been removed from their homes owing to neglect, abuse, a dangerous domestic situation. Their parents were often those who struggled with addiction; they lacked basic parenting skills, were unemployed and caught up in criminal activity; the homes were broken and beset by poverty (the boys would complain of their mothers’ belligerent “boyfriends” and the absence of their fathers).
On those occasions I would have time to talk with each of them, in a relaxed and informal way. Usually, one of them would take the lead in walking next to me on whatever excursion we were on, and so, I’d hear their stories.
They all shared in some common themes: a sense of being deprived, not of material things, but of family; longing for mother; wondering why their fathers didn’t love them; and so on.
I will never forget one boy, as B. and I were walking the group up to Parliament Hill for Canada Day celebrations, he stopped the group outside a shop on Sparks Street.
“My mother works here,” he said.
I knew what was to come next; and I had to quickly formulate a way to say ‘no’ that would convey my understanding, offer some compassionate comfort, but nonetheless move him on and away from there.
“Can we go in and see if she’s there? I don’t want to talk to her, I just want to see if she’s there,” he said meekly.
My arm went around his shoulders, my hand gripping his upper arm, not to grasp and pull him along, but offer some tactile comfort, a big-brotherly embrace that the other boys wouldn’t tease him about.
“We can’t. You know that; and besides, the other fellas want to get up to see what’s going on for Canada Day. She might not even be in today.”
I remember how he looked at me. There was anger, but not directed at me; sadness, for which I was really no comfort; and well, with a little smile, a sign of appreciation for what I was trying poorly to do for him.
My worry for all those boys was that they were looking at a life in which there would be many tempting substitutions for what they knew they lacked. That these things could lead them down paths to further misery. My job, insofar as I could accomplish anything, wasn’t to substitute, but help them live with their loss, grieve as they must, but overcome it all with the help of God’s grace and the healthy fellowship of others. It was not to teach them denial of the truth.
These days we are seeing many a family separated by the civil authorities; for its own good. The stopping of the spread of disease, the protection of the elderly from virulent and viral infection is understandable. Yet, in this instance, it is not a child deprived of mother and father; but of parents kept from the comforting presence of their children.
The lesson from Sirach in today’s mass readings speaks of the necessary relationship of child to parent; of the care that is mandated by God. It speaks with understanding, of the reality of the feeble-mindedness of some of the aged, that this should not stop any of us from respectful care for father and mother.
What is important here is not simply material needs being met; a solid roof overhead, a warm bed at night, three square meals a day, but that there also be contact, the care that comes in offering oneself in time and talk with a parent, to keep up that relationship. So many of our elderly, because of our current practice, no longer live with their families, but are kept in facilities, some nice, some not so much. The lockdown imposes a cruel isolation on them. The meals, the room, the roof overhead, are no comfort.
This places upon us, as Christians, a particular duty to find some means by which to “visit” and so convey our solidarity in their suffering, offer comfort in conversation of some kind, and acknowledge our mutual need for relationship as family and as a community of faith.
For those with family, my prayer is that you find a way in this strange season, to keep the ties that bind tight; and for those without kin, that kindness finds its way to you through your family of faith, and that your own words and gestures to others opens the path by which others may reach you.
I also pray that this time of deprivation teach us all valuable lessons; and that when the pall of lockdown is lifted, we not simply return to things as they were, but to a reinvigorated sense of our need of family, so as to reach out each of us to ours; and to minister to those without.
God bless and keep you all.