Perhaps it will not surprise you to learn that I had a “tortured hipster” phase approximately two decades ago.
You could have found me one night at 2 a.m., at the counter in a diner on York Avenue on the Upper East Side, drinking my sixth cup of coffee and writing a poem.
The poem narrated how a group of Manhattan Indians would have landed their canoes down the hill from where I sat, long before York Avenue, or FDR Drive, or 72nd Street were even thought of, when there were mountain lions in what became Central Park.
Basically, my nineteen-year-old self was whining about not having been given a more comprehensive “blueprint” for life during my upbringing. I felt like I needed a better, a deeper, a more truly realistic existential map.
Then I crumpled up the paper in disgust. Because I realized: that was exactly the type of thing that my father would think.
We learn how to live life by living it and suffering it with others. The family is the setting for this.
How do we know? How can we be so sure that “the family unit” has to be the way it is? After all, doesn’t everyone supposedly have the right to live however he, or she, or unclear-whether-he-or-she wants to live? Doesn’t everyone enjoy the fundamental freedom to define his, or her, or gender-neutral’s concept of existence?
How can the Pope and the Church be so stubbornly insistent that there is no way to hand on the “blueprint of human life” other than by a lifetime commitment between a man and a woman, whose sexual fruitfulness God uses to give us the next generation?
Does our Church’s intransigent resistance to all the important newfound rights—like the right to marry whomever you “love” and to go to a clinic to make a baby—does our stubborn refusal to go along with this have a solid foundation?
How clear is our reasoning? Some would say: Well, the conservative position agrees with the entire course of human history up to now. There has never been a human generation that did not arise from the life of traditional families. Pretty solid foundation. Also: the birds and the bees. The basic science of human sexuality gives the Church’s teaching on marriage a pretty solid foundation, too.
But, by the same token, we can hardly claim that the human history of marriage and family will serve as conclusive proof for everyone that this is the only way. After all, the history of marriage has some checkered parts. Children sometimes grow up to be young, and tortured, and hanging out at midnight in Manhattan coffeeshops for a reason. Not every marriage and family in human history has turned out like the Waltons, with perfect Christmas-card pictures to send out every year.
We have to find a more solid foundation for our reasoning, a more decisive argument more than just human family history.
What about divine family history? How about the fact that Almighty God Himself was born of a human mother and raised by a man and woman?
He went down with them to Nazareth and was obedient to them. (Luke 2:51)
…Isn’t this just about the most remarkable thing that ever happened in the history of twelve-year-olds? Not that He obeyed; I mean, in the end, we can generally count on twelve-year-olds to clear the table like they are supposed to. No; I mean, the remarkable thing is that this twelve-year-old is the eternal Son of God, Who Mary and Joseph found doing His Father’s business, in the Temple that had been built for Him.
Could God have a home on earth other than the Temple? Could the Christ have a father other than Almighty God above? Was it part of the mission of The Savior of the World to learn from His human mother how to clear the dishes and wash them properly in the kitchen?
If ever there could be an example that would disprove the rule that the blueprint of human life is handed on in the family, and only in the family, then this would have been the case.
Far be it from anyone to say that Christ needed to be raised by this Nazorean couple, this simple carpenter and his wife. But, in fact, the twelve-year-old Eternal Word left the Temple in Jerusalem and went down to Nazareth with Mary and Joseph. Because He had a home for growing up in, and it was with them. He was not raised by priests or scribes; He was not raised by theorists of some new-and-improved style of growing up. God Himself chose to be raised by a humble couple trying to live quietly as a faithful, God-fearing family.
Mary and Joseph raised the Son of God, from infancy, through all the stages of growth. They spoke and sang to Him, gave Him chores, taught Him to read and write, took Him to the synagogue, showed him the hills and dales of their province, and the way to the Sea of Galilee.
The Holy Family–the family of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph–has made every human family, with all its lumps, into something holy. May God protect what He Himself has consecrated with his own human life.