<em>The Holy Family</em>  by Bartolomeo Cavarozzi

Honor Your Father and Mother

A friend’s reflection from the Christmas octave.

In light of the feast of the Holy Family, I have been meditating on a passage by Peguy from The Portal of the Mystery of Hope:

…But that's also why she is Hope.
Now how does she go about making pure water from impure water,
Young water from old water…

It was while I served as Chaplain to 800 young men that the father in me awoke with a shock. This Christmas Eve, I had a one-day pass for the maximum security division of my local jail. Once again I witnessed that in important ways, people in great trouble with the law resemble people who are not. They are smart, clueless, handsome, plain, charming, dull. In the course of the day I spent twenty poignant minutes as the guest of six guys circling a table, arguing about religion. I used to say that even religion can be weaponized in jail. That's true, but this time the heated conversation seemed to manifest not violence as much as a deeply frustrated desire to believe. On Christmas I saw how the desire to understand often gets in the way of the desire to believe. "How can we believe he's God if he died? How is your crucifix not idolatrous? How can we call her the Mother of God…" ad infinitum.

It was a rabbit hole. Only a leap — a risky assent — will get one out of it. But as I sat there in jail, I began to resemble them in their doubt. I wondered aloud to a friend whether there was any hope for a ceasefire that could lead to the assent of faith. "Oh," chuckled this friend who has great patience with my dour streak, "Of course. Each one of them is an Ethiopian eunuch!"

…young mornings from old evenings,
Clear souls from troubled souls…

Speaking of a rabbit hole, on the morning of the feast of the Holy Family, I received an email from my brother: He wrote of "things in his head" that he needed to deal with. "Wish I could explain it to you. I have found over the years that things don’t add up. There are contradictions in many of the Gospels." He was responding to my inquiry into why he no longer practices the faith.

He's big, stubborn, and humbled by the indignities of age. I remember once when we were young and it was snowing when this brother of mine showed up at our family home unannounced, having hitchhiked 540 miles from college. There was a big smile on his face as he came through the door. His explanation for being AWOL from school did not satisfy our father. I'm treating his email as a sign that I can get my brother to talk about it - whatever it is - that has gotten into his head and sticks there. I'm pretty sure that it's the same question that the men in jail are trying to figure out: how did I get here and what does it mean? Why is life such a mixture of things good and bad? Who has let this happen, and why?

My brother is now much older than Dad when, before the snow had melted from his coat, he started beating up on my brother. I had never seen him so angry. As for my 67-year old brother: his own children have thrilled and dismayed him in ways that are as common as our need for grace, and as unique as each of us. He has not failed. Nor did my dad. The guys in jail don't have to have God all figured out before he will love them as sons. “Honor your father and your mother” we are instructed, but why? Because God needs them — like he needed Joseph and Mary — in order that someone he loves with great tenderness, loves with great understanding, loves with great mercy, could come into the world and discover the possibility of taking that risky leap.

…How does she accomplish this, how does she go about it,
That, my children, is my secret.
Because I am her Father.

(Peguy, The Portal of the Mystery of Hope, pages 108-109)