The Power of Family Life

Saint Joseph and the child Jesus

We celebrate the Feast of Saint Joseph as the foster father of Jesus and the husband of Mary this month on March 19. From the Scriptures, we know very little about him. What was written can be pieced together to give some sense of who he was and what he might have been like.

He was a carpenter (Matthew 13:55) and a member of the working class poor. We know this, since when Jesus was circumcised in the Temple he offered two turtledoves as a sacrifice, which was acceptable in those days for those who could not afford to sacrifice a lamb (Luke 2:24). He did, however, descend from royalty, the “House of David,” who was King of Israel (Matthew 1:1-16 and Luke 3:23-38).

Yet Joseph was humble and compassionate. He protected Mary from being accused of adultery and stoned to death, because she was pregnant and unmarried. Instead of revealing her pregnancy, he planned to send her away, but then he listened to the angel in a dream who told him of God’s plan that Jesus should be born of Mary and the Holy Spirit (Matthew 1:19-25). Knowing this, he married Mary and became a father to Jesus.

Throughout his life, Joseph protected and cared for his family. When an angel told Joseph that Jesus was in danger of the King, he left everything he had, including family and friends, and took Mary and Jesus to Egypt, until it was safe to return to Nazareth (Matthew 2:13-23). He, along with Mary, looked for Jesus for three days, until they found him in the Temple (Luke 2:48). And to all who knew the Holy Family, Joseph treated Jesus as his own son, for Jesus is referred to in the Scriptures many times by the people, “Is this not the son of Joseph?” (Luke 4:22)

We know that Joseph was not at Jesus’ crucifixion. Many historians and theologians believe that Joseph died before Jesus began his public ministry, and the apocryphal gospels place the dates for Joseph’s birth and death as 90 BC in Bethlehem and AD 18 in Nazareth.

Though we have to piece together phrases and scenes from the gospels to create in our minds the person of Joseph, we know that he represents important qualities that support family – qualities that we all hope are emulated in all of our families today: humility, compassion, protection, respect, care, sacrifice, and love.

Archmere’s community is built on the strength of individual families over the years, as well as the charism of Saint Norbert. In a way, Norbert wanted to emulate the Holy Family as he conceived living a spiritual life in community in the 12th century. He gathered ordained, religious men and women, as well as lay men and women to live in community in Premontre, France in the late Middle Ages. His concept of one community of the faithful would not survive the ecclesiastical structure of the Church, which separately acknowledged the community of priests and brothers from the religious community of Norbertine nuns. Yet, in spirit and in charism, they were founded as one community, building on each other’s strengths and gifts, reflecting the dynamic of a biological family. Over the years, many Norbertine communities would flourish around the world, each a reflection of the people and culture that created it.

I have heard Archmere referred to as a “family” and, particularly, the Patio, as “a home,” originally built for the Raskob family of 13 children. I believe that a more accurate and enriching description of Archmere is a community of families, each contributing its own unique histories, talents, and contributions to strengthen the Archmere genealogical tree.

Figures from the 2002 U.S. Census indicate that only 7% of the population in the United States is part of “traditional” families, where the father works outside the home, and the mother runs the household with children living at home. Another 16% of the population is dual income parents with children, and 13% is dual income couples with no children. The remaining 64% of the population is in single parent households or other family configurations. Since 2002, I would imagine these figures have become even more pronounced in non-traditional family composition.

On Thursday, February 2, 2017, Archmere hosted a visit by Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia, President of the Pontifical Academy for Life and Grand Chancellor of the Pontifical John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and the Family, along with Rev. Msgr. Pierangelo Sequeri, President of the Pontifical John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and the Family. These men were appointed by Pope Francis on August 15, 2016, to, in the words of Pope Francis, “help families live out their vocation and mission in the Church and in today’s world.” Their work would be accomplished with study, research, and teaching in dialog with “scientific institutes and academic institutions, including relationships where there is an ecumenical or interreligious element, whether Christian or pertaining to other cultural or religious traditions. To bend down over the wounds of humanity in order to understand them, to care for them, and to heal them is the task of the Church that trusts in the light and the power of the risen Christ, that is able to deal with tension and conflict, as does a ‘field hospital,’ a Church that lives, preaches, and carries out its mission of salvation…”

We, at Archmere, are fortunate to have a faith tradition that holds up for us the Holy Family as an example of family life that represent important values for us to admire and adopt into our own life experiences. And we are blessed to have Pope Francis address the challenges of family life and provide for us an inviting and welcoming opportunity to talk about the challenges and opportunities in sustaining the nurturing and life-giving power of family life.

Experiencing God’s Mercy

UnknownWe are more than halfway through the season of Lent. The word “Lent”, derived from Old English, means “spring”. This particular week in March we seem to be experiencing an early spring with 70-degree days and sunshine. The Church calendar sets aside these forty days of the Lenten season to have us prepare for the celebration of Easter. In this particular year, Pope Francis has called for a Jubilee Year of Mercy – “an invitation to love, kindness, and unbounded generosity. Pope Francis is offering [us] the opportunity to encounter the incredible mercy of God. Encountering mercy means encountering God. It can transform [our lives], [our] relationships, [our] work, and [our] ability to embrace and experience all of life.” (dynamiccatholic.com)

How do we experience God’s mercy? Merriam-Webster defines mercy to be “kind or forgiving treatment of someone who could be treated harshly.” In my elementary school religion classes, mercy was further defined by the Church’s outline of the corporate and spiritual acts of mercy. The corporal acts, responding to the physical needs of others, include: feeding the hungry, shelter the homeless, giving drink to the thirsty, visiting the sick, clothing the naked, ransoming the captive, and burying the dead. The spiritual acts include: instructing the ignorant, bearing wrongs patiently, counseling the doubtful, forgiving offenses willingly, admonishing the sinner, comforting the afflicted, and praying for the living and the dead. These concrete acts help to shape merciful decisions and actions in our lives.

As I reflect, some of the corporal and spiritual acts can be very much a part of my everyday experience, while some others might be further removed. I might consider feeding the hungry and sheltering the homeless as works of mercy that I support indirectly through monetary donations to organizations and causes, yet forgiveness, counsel, and bearing wrongs can be conscious daily efforts with family members, coworkers, and students. Moreover, our individual work calls us to integrate other values that sometimes may seem to be in conflict with being merciful. For example, in upholding rules and procedures to be equitable and fair, a person might be perceived as “merciless.” Conversely, sometimes those in positions of power are perceived to be “weak” or “unfair” if they are thought to be administering “kind or forgiving treatment to someone who could be treated harshly,” as Merriam-Webster defines “mercy.” So does mercy have boundaries?

When we talk about God’s mercy, we describe it as “boundless.” The Gospel reading for the Fourth Sunday of Lent was the parable of the Prodigal Son, the very popular story of two brothers who led very different lives, one obedient to his father and the other squandering his inheritance only to come home to his father, who accepted him back with great joy. It is a most interesting story, when we consider the perspectives and interactions of the father and each of his sons. The father showed mercy on his prodigal son to the upset of his obedient son who was angered and felt slighted. He said to his father, ‘Look, all these years I served you and not once did I disobey your orders; yet you never gave me even a young goat to feast on with my friends. But when your son returns who swallowed up your property with prostitutes, for him you slaughter the fattened calf.’ (Luke 15:11-32). To me, his father’s response gives critical insight into being merciful. He told his obedient son, “You are here with me always and everything I have is yours.” But that statement was not to the exclusion of what the father was feeling: “But now we must celebrate and rejoice, because your brother was dead and has come to life again; he was lost and has been found.” If we think about it, the father gave each son what he needed and deserved: the obedient son would have everything the father has promised him, and the other son received the love and acceptance he had come to appreciate. It is interesting that the father did not say that the son who returned would have his monetary inheritance reinstated; he did say that to his obedient son: “everything I have is yours.” This might suggest that God’s mercy is not about the equability of things in this life; there are consequences to actions. Rather, God’s mercy is about acceptance, love, caring, and concern. A merciful person helps another “get through” the rough times, like the wayward son who will have to rebuild his life.

As I think about the idea of “mercy,” I think about my parents. Many of us may have experienced parents who sacrificed much for the sake of the rest of the family. My father’s family story is particularly difficult, beginning with his father’s untimely death at age 50, leaving his 40-year-old widow with eight children, ages 13 to 2 years old. Both of my grandparents were Italian immigrants, who spoke broken English. At the death of my grandfather, the social service agency wanted to place my father and his siblings in foster care, since my grandmother had no means of support. Instead, my father, the oldest, and his older sisters down to the third grade, left school to work in the mills on the Brandywine River. My grandmother began taking in laundry, and eventually was able to open a corner grocery store in the late 1920s. As a result of the challenges of the family early in life, my father and siblings remained close, with my father serving as the patriarch. My mother had to “share” my father with the extended family when they married in 1938. There were many stressful moments when my father’s attentions were given to the extended family at the expense of my mother and brothers. But through all of the difficult moments, I believe it was mercy that provided the glue that kept the family together and happy. It was a mercy that did not expect perfection or always the right decisions, but rolled with the mistakes and misunderstandings. Like the father in the parable, mercy, love, and forgiveness could always be found in our parents’ home, but, as children, we were always told to accept the consequences of our actions.

Our students have access to so many virtual communities through social media outlets today. They can find on-line communities that can validate a variety of values and perspectives, to the point that relativism becomes a way to rationalize behavior that is counter to Catholic Christian perspective – a perspective that celebrates the suffering servant, the merciful father, and the dignity of the marginalized and the outcast. I am so impressed and encouraged by our students, many whom I believe perform the spiritual and corporal acts of mercy each day – the way they interact with one another and their teachers; their concern for the marginalized and disadvantaged through the many outreach and community service efforts, and the intellectual sophistication that they posses to be sensitive to and internalize empathetic feelings for another.

Easter patterns the rites of spring – new birth – the fulfillment of God’s promise to humanity of eternal life through His Son. It is this ultimate sacrifice of God’s Son, that is an expression of God’s mercy and love for us. I pray that all of the members of our Archmere Academy community may know that liberation of God’s mercy, and that, whatever religions or pathways to the Creator individuals’ may choose, they may know that they always have a place in the “household,” just as in the story of the Prodigal Son, just as in the story of my family, just as in the community that is Archmere.

God’s Blessings on You and Your Family this Lent and Easter,

Michael A. Marinelli, ’76 Ed.D.

Headmaster

An Infinite Number of Possibilities

Recently, I became re-engaged in music composition, using a very helpful software program. As I taught myself how to navigate the program, I found myself wanting to write more and more, finding it fascinating that there are infinite possibilities for structuring melodies and harmonies with a set number of notes. The idea of creating something new and unique, using a finite set of building blocks – in this case, notes – caused me to think about ourselves and our uniqueness as a result of the slightly altered configurations of our DNA. While we are all made from the same substance, it is amazing that the number of combinations of that substance is infinite.

Pope Francis, during his recent visit to the United States for the World Meeting of Families, touched on this theme in many of his speeches and homilies, when he spoke of working together, collaborating and compromising, while respecting our differences. His words and tone were welcoming and far-reaching, and there was a message of hope, suggesting that possibilities of what can be achieved are limitless if people can work together. And so once again, we have infinite possibilities coming from finite resources – ourselves, who are very much composed of the same stuff, but, at the same time, are vastly different from each other.

Included in the summer 2015 issue of Independent School magazine were a series of essays written by teachers who had participated in the SEED (Seeking Educational Equity and Diversity) Program, a part of the National Seed Project, coordinated out of Wellesley College. In one essay by Hugo Mahabir, he reflects on his childhood and stated, “The household I grew up in was a place where things were either right or wrong with very little room for ambiguity or variance, even less for multiplicity and plurality.” He writes about his classroom experiences with students and a self-discovery that, as he states, “. . . what I had always believed and sensed as a child was true: that there is more than one answer to a question, that there are many sides to a story, and there is always more than meets the eye.”

In thinking about Mr. Mahabir’s comments as it relates to my experience of creating music that has infinite variations, I cannot help but think that the complexity of human beings causes an unlimited number of possibilities, answers, directions, conclusions, beliefs, and “truths” that all either co-exist or are waiting to be discovered. How can all of us simultaneously ever come to terms with knowing the one answer, the one direction, the one conclusion, the one belief, or the one truth? I believe that the words of Pope Francis help us understand that through dialog, collaboration, and compromise, we might become more unified in thought; however, given the complexities of life, I dare say that to arrive at absolute agreement seems unlikely. But the journey of our lives is about asking questions and seeking answers of and with each other. Doing so with respect, empathy, and authenticity allows us to continue the conversation, rather than stifle it and stifle the endless possibilities that could come from it.

Katherine Phillips wrote an article, “How Diversity Makes Us Smarter,” in Scientific American (September 14, 2014) based on the report, “State of the World’s Science 2014.” Based on research from Stanford, Harvard, Columbia, and other universities, Phillips discusses the elements of diversity that contribute to better decisions and answers. She comments, “The key to understanding the positive influence of diversity is the concept of information diversity. When people are brought together to solve problems in groups, they bring different information, opinions and perspectives.” These conversations have impact on education, with many institutions’ administration and staff, including Archmere’s, discussing ways in which curriculum is “global,” and “multi-cultural,” and how teaching methodologies include group work and collaborative teambuilding skills. Higher educational research is beginning to quantify the improved outcomes of more diverse working groups.

Just as I get so focused on writing music at times, exploring the possibilities, so too are we beginning to explore and understand the richness of our diverse culture, and how embracing common bonds and respecting differences can create new and innovative outcomes that can benefit us all. And interestingly, the older I get the less I think I know for sure . . . I have more questions about many things, but I am sure about the power of God’s love, and if we embrace it, we can achieve an infinite number of possibilities.