|Rev. Fr. Augustine Vallooran V.C.|
The scourge of this generation is the disintegration of families. Relationships are limited to the superficial. Commitment to the other is looked at as foolishness and negation of the individual freedom. People have become very conscious of and adamant to determine their individual destinies. To sacrifice one's opinion is understood as slavery to the stand of the other. In the process, relationships have lost their value and charm by common understanding today. This trend of thinking and Iiving has become a threat to the very foundations of the family and relationships. For everyone concerned about the welfare of humanity the question looming large is, "How can the family be saved?"
The one credible and proved solution for this predicament is the Promise of the Word of God - "Believe in the Lord Jesus, you and your family will be saved." (Acts 16:31) Here the Scripture charts out the way explaining that in order for the family to be saved, its members should look beyond themselves to make a space for God's Presence in their midst. "To believe" means to abandon oneself in the Hands of God. The relationship between husband and wife, parents and children, are to be moulded according to God's great design of love for them. It is very false understanding that would suggest superficial solutions such as merely spending more time with the other or looking at each other. The only deep and edifying hope for the salvation of relationships is to turn to God together, to look at His Face and wait for His Will to be revealed. It is then that the Power of God, the Holy Spirit, takes charge to heal and restore the relationship to its true depth and beauty. The Word of God is pointing us to a divine dimension of the human relationship of marriage and family.
The miracle at Cana reveals to us very pointedly how when human calculations fail, God is able to take charge of such situations and accomplish what is beyond human imagination in a miraculous way. In fact every failure in the family is an opportunity for God to reveal His Power. The gospel concludes the narration of the miracle at Cana with these words - “Thus Jesus manifested His glory.” (John 2:11)
This is the salvation offered to every family that turns to God in the moment of distress. At Cana, Mother Mary had directed the whole family to Jesus "Do whatever He tells you." (John 2:5) Instead of listing the losses and the causes, what is urgent is to turn our gaze to the Lord, to listen keenly to His Word for us and trusting that Word to obey Him. There is a very revealing comment attributed to the chief steward. When he is given the wine that Jesus provided, he is most perplexed not that there was wine but that the new wine should taste better than the old wine. Anyone would know that old wine is always far superior to new wine. The steward’s remark has great significance. When God intervenes, the family is elevated to a Divine status and its blessings are superior to a family that has not a space for God. The love in the family becomes anointed with the Powers of the Holy Spirit described for us by St. Paul as the Fruit of the Spirit which is “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.” (Galatians 5:22-23) The miracle at Cana reveals to us what God does for us when we enthrone Him in our relationships.
It is of such a Divine family relationship that St. Paul speaks of as a mystery. Mystery implies that which is more than what can be perceived by the senses. Mere human love cannot bind husband and wife together. Only God's Power of the Holy Spirit can! With this Divine dimension, marriage gets incorporated into the relationship between Jesus and the Church. “This mystery (of marriage) is a profound one, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.” (Ephesians 5:32) St. Paul continues to instruct the families, "Husbands love your wives even as Christ loved the Church and handed himself over for her." (Ephesians 5:25) St. Paul draws a parallel between the love of the husband and the Love of Christ for the church. Christ's Love was salvific for the Church where He took upon Himself all its sin and pain and sickness. “He himself bore our sins in his body… By his wounds you have been healed.” (1 Peter 2:24)
St. Paul is detailing for us a spirituality for the love of the husband. What Jesus did for the Church is what a husband should be willing to do for the wife. Christ loved the Church and offered Himself for her “That He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, that He might present the church to himself in splendour, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.” (Ephesians 5:26-27)
The goal of the love of the husband for the wife is to accomplish in her the holiness of God. Anything lacking in her is the responsibility of the husband to provide for. St. Paul uses yet another imagery - “The husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, His body, and is Himself its Saviour.” (Ephesians 5:23) This is an imagery to be understood in the sense St. Paul intended it to be. The fact that the husband is the head of the wife does not mean that he can dominate, control or humiliate her. The functioning of the head is to take upon itself everything happening in the body. Medical science will tell us that when any part of the body receives an injury it is the head that suffers the pain first and then relays it to the body as a warning. Any pain of the body is felt first by the head. It is based on this principle that the technique of anaesthesia works. When a doctor has to apply his surgical knife on the hand of the patient, in order that the patient is not struck by the pain, he administers anaesthesia. The connection of the nervous system from the hand to the head is severed temporarily. As a result when the hand is cut, the pain will not be relayed to the head and therefore it will not be felt in the hand. This reveals to us how vitally the head and body are connected. Applying this principle to Jesus and the Church, the mystery of the salvation of the Church is made clear. Jesus took upon Himself everything wrong in His Body, the Church, so that the body does not have to pay the price of sin. So also whenever the wife faces distress, faith must be aroused in the husband to rise up to his mission. It is for him to take the distress upon himself so that the wife does not feel the brunt of it.
A doctor shared with me his mission in life. His wife got paralyzed during the delivery of their third child. The child survived but the mother became confined to the bed for the rest of her life. When I met him, the three children were educated and settled. The doctor, though now retired from government service, had to continue to work in a private clinic in order to meet the medical expenses of the wife and the cost of running the household. When he left to work in the morning, a home nurse would come and watch over his wife. In the evening he would return home and sit by his wife and share with her how his day went. Often he would not be able to sleep because of the convulsions that she would suffer regularly at night. What struck me most was the way he evaluated his life. He said that there was great joy in his heart in every little help he could render to his wife. However tired he would be when he comes from a long day of work at the hospital, he felt a great surge of joy in his heart when he sat by her side and did the little services she needed from him. In the morning he would feel very refreshed even though he slept little at night. He concluded saying it was this relationship that gave meaning to his life. Here indeed was a life moulded in the vision that St. Paul had of Christian marriage.
Some years ago. a lady had come here for retreat. Her husband was a businessman and they had two children. He was making great gains in business, taking many risks. He got an offer to make big money by buying shares in a multinational company. This however required him to invest a lot. She warned him against this venture because the company in question was suspect. His friends tried dissuading him but he was determined to rush ahead because of the rich dividends offered. Soon it was clear that the company was fraudulent and all his investments were lost. He had pledged his other holdings in a bank to get money for this investment. Therefore he lost everything he had. Because of the shock and the guilt, he had a stroke and was bed-ridden. The family had to move into a small rented apartment vacating their large palatial house. The wife was describing to me her dilemma at that moment. She despised him for the costly blunder which the family was now paying for. She could not say anything to him as he was sick. She felt desperate and angry. She even thought of abandoning him and walking away with the children for the sake of their education.
At this time, there was a weekend retreat in her parish church. When she entered the church, she heard the preacher proclaiming “Wives, love your husbands.” It occurred to her that love means whole-heartedly sharing the plight of the beloved. If she abandoned him, it would be a grievous failure in her fidelity towards him. However sinful and foolish he was in his greedy and irresponsible venture, she realized she could not hold it against him. She took up a teaching job and worked hard to earn enough for the education of the children and the treatment of her husband. However difficult her life had become, she was a happy person because she said, “All I live for is love.” I realized this was indeed the Holy Spirit who gave her this courage and mission in life. As at Cana, the catastrophe in the family became the occasion for God’s Glory to be manifested. The irresponsible decision of her husband had turned out to be an opportunity for her to experience and live in the power of God’s Love.
The culture today reveals that people give up easily on each other and on themselves. They take to the blame-game, finding comfort in finding fault with the other. That is why relationships are so easily strained and become a burdensome. Hearts become empty, unable to feel any love. If only we listen to the gentle invitation of Mother Mary “Do whatever He tells you” (John 2:5) and turn to Jesus, our hearts will be filled with the new wine of the Holy Spirit. Then will our lives and relationships become a celebration.
Let Us Pray
Lord Jesus, we thank You for the great love You pour into our hearts by giving us the gift of the family. We bring to You all the families of this world, especially those shattered by failure, sin, sickness and tragedy. We pray O Lord that the Holy Spirit may move in the members of the family leading them to become instruments of salvation and love.
We welcome You into our own homes. As we look to You, may we be moulded in Your Goodness and rejoice in the giving off of ourselves. May we be filled with your Holy Spirit that our hearts’ seeking would be to give and not receive. Thank you Lord for Your Presence and for this great call You have given us to walk in Your way of love and sacrifice. May Your Kingdom come in our hearts and homes.