24 Dec Tuesday
More reflections on Holy Family. Journalistk typically portray the family gathering around the table for Christmas as a time of great stress, unsavory relatives, conflicting food issues, political disagreements, and religious controversy. They recommend avoiding it altogether or provide list of tactics to avoid the inevitable. Journalists make it sound as if Christmas dinner is the worst event of one’s life. One has to wonder if this merely reflects the unhappiness index of journalists, because surely many families gather and actually have a good time. Perhaps journalists do not know that most people really are decent and civil.
The first reading is an example of this. Ben Sirach, a father, writes a lengthy letter to his son. Like every loving father, of course, he wishes his son well, gives his blessings, and gives his advice for wellbeing, success, and civility. The portion of our reading suggests on the surface a father’s self serving advice about his own old age. He is really merely reinforcing deep intergenerational cultural values, that we would do well to practice in our own days. The last verse uses a bit of karma to encourage the son in the care of his father. In other words we are under obligations to one another, regardless of how far we go in the world.
Good practices of lovingkindness in the family atones for sins. They cover over a multitude of the bad things we do to one another. This is unusual theology, given that sins otherwise could only be covered over in Temple worship and sacrifices.
In Temple Judaism, the covering of the ark of the covenant in the Holy of Holies and the word atonement derive from the same word stem כפר. And that cover was understood to be the footstool of God’s throne, the point were the soles of God’s feet touched the earth, thereby creating union between God and the human person. Atonement for sins then recreates the divine and holy presence of God on earth for the persons involved.
Preserving the unity of the family, connected to the indwelling presence of God in the family is the work of parents with their children, in Sirach’s theology and anthropology. Peacemaking and reconciliation are goals to be met in the family.