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.

The Light of God’s Goodness

Unknown“Your life is something opaque, not transparent, as long as you look at it in an ordinary human way. But if you hold it up against the light of God’s goodness, it shines and turns transparent, radiant, and bright. And then you ask yourself in amazement: Is this really my own life I see before me?” These words of Albert Schweitzer describe well the transformational nature of the Archmere experience for our students. Combining a strong academic curriculum with an environment that is shaped by an intentional focus on spirituality creates opportunities for students to explore deeply the meaning of life events, which include challenges and triumphs.

There is a web site called “Graduation Wisdom” that lists top ranked graduation speeches, quotes, and idea suggestions for speeches. Just scrolling through the site, I found a number of short, pithy sayings that are all pieces of good advice to share with our Class of 2016 graduates. However, I believe that all the messages could be summed up in Schweitzer’s suggestion of allowing God’s goodness to be reflected through you.

I remember my graduation from Archmere, which took place 40 years ago on June 6, 1976. At that time, commencement exercises were held at Daylesford Abbey in Paoli, PA, because we did not have a theatre and previous years’ graduations that were held on the back lawn of the Patio often had to be moved to a very warm, un-air conditioned field house due to the weather. It was especially memorable because my father, who died two weeks before my grade school graduation four years earlier, was committed to providing excellent educational opportunities for his sons. My mother, as a widow on a fixed income, made sure that I had the opportunity to attend Archmere and go onto college. Her life was a living example of so many “Graduation Wisdom” sayings, including “Step up when times are toughest”, “Find someone to help you paddle”, “Keep moving forward; know that life is not fair”, and “Never, ever give up!” But I believe that her life was a reflection of her faith and of God’s goodness.

So each year, as we hold graduation ceremonies, I think about all of the current graduates and the stories they could tell about their individual paths that led them to this milestone moment, one that they will not forget. I am sure they share similar stories of family sacrifices, overcoming obstacles, and feeling grateful to have had the opportunity to study and learn. Sometimes, during the ordinary days in between the celebratory ones, we tend to forget how blessed we are with the gifts and talents we are meant to develop and use for the benefit of others. We can forget our own potential, but through prayer and good works we rediscover the radiance and brightness of our lives. Congratulations and best wishes to the Class of 2016, and may the life journeys for our returning students and the members of the incoming freshman Class of 2020 be safe and productive ones through these summer days, until we begin together a new school year in August.

“Such stuff as dreams are made on….”

Patio_Archmere_2

One of my favorite past times is visiting resale shops. I especially enjoy looking at old furniture and furnishings, imagining how things might have been used and where I might have a new use for it. Over the last five years, one of my goals has been to reinvigorate the respectful use of the Patio. The challenge is to make the building a relevant and useful part of the daily school function, while preserving the historical significance and maintaining the personal character of the Patio as a family home. With some annual proceeds from the Green Concerts hosted in the Patio for the past three years, we have been able to reupholster existing furniture and acquire some new pieces from our own annual Garage Sale and from my visits to resale shops on weekends and vacations. With the addition of custom draperies crafted by Ms. Patty Atkinson last Fall, the Patio is developing a warm and inviting ambiance that allows guests to feel welcome and also encourages our office staff that now work in the building to be ever more aware and proud of the important legacy we have been entrusted to manage.

As I was discussing one of my most recent resale shop visits and “finds” with my family over the Easter holidays, we were reflecting on all of the STUFF we accumulate in our homes during our lifetimes. And like many families in lifestyle transitions, I have a generation of family members who are looking to “down-size.” That means, in most cases, that they are faced with the challenge of getting rid of STUFF that they have accumulated over the years. This process often involves making difficult decisions – decisions that often provoke questions such as, “Do I ever use this? How can I part with this sentimental piece?” and “Will my kids really want this STUFF?” In the end, after responding to these questions, we usually have a pile of STUFF we are ready to donate, pass along to relatives, place in a yard sale, or consign to a shop for resale. This process of shedding years of accumulated STUFF offers us the opportunity to consider that we are truly just stewards of what we have come to accumulate, taking care of it for awhile and passing it along for someone else to enjoy.

Stewardship. I knew the term, but the concept struck me differently during this latest family discussion about our STUFF right after the Holy Week and Easter celebrations. The passion, death, and resurrection of Jesus accentuated for me the temporal and delicate nature of our lives. I was reminded that all of the STUFF we accumulate in this life is left behind when we pass away.

In William Shakespeare’s “The Tempest,” Prospero says to his daughter and her fiancé, the Prince of Naples, “We are such stuff as dreams are made on; and our little life is rounded with a sleep.” (Act IV, Scene I)   We have come to use the phrase, the “stuff of dreams” to describe events we believe are just too fantastic to come true, but yet they do. Shakespeare, in my opinion, was alluding to the temporary nature of our lives, and the illusion of permanence that STUFF creates.

The work to secure and preserve this STUFF – most of which ends up in resale shops – I thought initially seemed futile. Then, I considered the memories, the work, and the experiences associated with the STUFF and it became clearer to me that it is more important how we use the STUFF with which we have been blessed, rather than the objective and potentially fleeting “value” of the STUFF. For example, my mother loved to have her back scratched- a family trait that I inherited. I have two of her back scratchers – a wooden one and an orange plastic one that reads, “Virginia is for lovers,” on it, along with the original sticker price of $1.50. I value these back scratchers more than other more valuable (and perhaps necessary) STUFF I own, because they remind me of my mother.

In thinking about the life of Jesus, very little remained of his personal effects after he died. Other than soldiers gambling for his tunic, and the burial shroud left behind in the tomb, we are not told of any other personal items he owned. The Last Supper occurred in someone’s upper room, and even his grave was borrowed. His body was assumed into heaven. He left behind only his teachings and his experiences with his disciples. He fortified them by sending the Holy Spirit to be with them, assuring them that he would be with them always until the end of the world.

I believe that, in a similar way, the relatives and friends who have left us behind are with us in Spirit, not because we have held onto a cherished possession that reminds us of them, but because of the relationships and experiences we had with them when they were with us in this life. That thought makes it easier for me to part with STUFF, even my orange plastic back scratcher some day.

My wish for the members of the Archmere community during this Easter season and in these last few weeks of the school year is to focus on making the most of positive experiences and relationships. In the end, after a lifetime and career of successfully compiling all of the STUFF that we need and think we need to live and be happy, we will cherish most the time we spent in developing meaningful relationships with others that will become lasting memories, long after all of the STUFF is gone.