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.

Advancing God’s Love

This is the month when we celebrate Valentine’s Day. Flowers, candy, cards, gifts, candlelight dinners, and marriage proposals are all associated with a holiday that has a history in both pagan and Christian traditions. The common thread in all of the debated origins of the feast is that the day is a celebration of “love.”

In a June 25, 2016 article in Psychology Today, Dr. Neel Burton writes about the seven types of love. Eros, best described as romantic love, is what we probably identify with Valentine’s Day. But then there is Philia, friendship, a person of goodwill. Storge is the familial love, like the love between parents and children. More broadly, Agape is love of humankind and all of creation in an altruistic sense. Ludus is described as uncommitted love, and focuses on enjoying other persons without demanding much from the relationships. Pragma is love of reason and the practical, enjoying another’s compatibility in living and working together. Finally, Philautia is love of self, which can have both positive (self-esteem) and negative (hubris) effects.

Dr. Burton explains that there is “porosity” between these seven kinds of love, and they may all coexist in various measures in us. A good friend (philia) may be one who is very easy to be with (ludus), because he or she is “self-sufficient.” And certainly married couples may first experience eros, which deepens with philia, storge, and pragma. Actually, elements of all of the types of love have room to coexist within us. And when we get it “right,” I believe the words of Saint John describe our reality, “God is love, and whoever remains in love remains in God and God in him. By this is love perfected with us, so that we may have confidence for the day of judgment, because as he is so also are we in this world.” (John 4:16-17)

A place like Archmere is built on a history of relationships. Over the years, many of those have grown and deepened, while some have been broken or rearranged. Clearly, the many aspects of love have been experienced and felt from all of the students and families whose lives have become intertwined because of Archmere. It is a place where God can be found, because of the love that is expressed in words and actions each day by members of the school community for each other.

So in considering Valentine’s Day as a holiday to celebrate in the winter season that may bring post-Christmas and pre-Spring blues, let’s take the opportunity as we exchange cards, candy, hugs, and well wishes to be more conscious of all of our relationships every day, finding ways to advance God’s love in the world. It sounds so abstract, but it can be very real if we consider the many aspects of love as it manifests itself among us.

The Lenten Journey: Living Up To Our Expectations

In preparation for a Lenten retreat for heads of schools given by the Diocese of Wilmington in March, I am reading the book, “Blessings for Leaders” by Dan R. Ebener. He uses the construct of the Beatitudes to discuss effective characteristics and qualities that leaders should possess, suggesting that all of the Beatitudes taken together provide the essence of Christ’s message through his words and actions. He suggests that the Beatitudes in the New Testament challenge us to emulate the life of Christ and in so doing, “raise the bar”, so to speak, from the Ten Commandments of the Old Testament, which provide the foundational requirements of being faithful to God.

Living up to a standard is something that we all have experienced, whether it was a goal or expectation set by our parents, our social group, or ourselves. I would guess that most of us have had experiences of falling short of our expectations. In those instances for me, I can recall a mixture of feelings from embarrassment and disappointment to anger and frustration, particularly if I felt that I had tried my very best, but it just was not good enough. Usually after some time had passed, I was able to revisit the experience and see more objectively how things unfolded that caused me to feel inadequate – my underestimating or not understanding the task; someone else’s different expectations from my own; subtle, small things that could have changed the final result; or sometimes, just “missing the boat” completely as they say. Whatever the cause, I believe that it has been helpful for me to revisit those times of failure, of feeling inadequate, especially those times when I was critical of my own performance and no one else seemed to notice. For me, a common theme that I have discovered in those moments is an unwillingness to see the bigger picture, to reframe a situation, because I might lose control. “Letting go” without being irresponsible at times is how I need to let God into the situation, and allow him to work through me.

The Beatitudes are a checklist for living – in most cases, paradoxes – as Christ so often uses in his parables and teachings: the poor in spirit inherit the kingdom, the mourners are comforted, and the meek inherit the earth. Taking one or more of the Beatitudes and applying them to a failed attempt at something in my life has been helpful for me to move beyond the failure and learn from it.

This is a time in the school year when the first semester is over, mid-term exams are administered and graded, and final semester grades are distributed to students and parents on the report card. Needless to say, for many students, it is a time of high anxiety and a time of celebration or disappointment. Given the “high stakes testing” environment and the heightened competition in highly selective colleges and universities, meeting standards – self-imposed, family created, or systemically supported by the college acceptance process – is a difficult task for most students. Even the very best academicians probably miss self-imposed goals at times, but I am guessing those who are consistently most successful continue to set aspirational goals for themselves, missing them at times, but supported by those around them to learn from the failures and move on.

Isn’t that the message of the Beatitudes? Christ is laying out for his followers a blueprint for living that is based on introspection, contradiction, and compassion. Never to suffer is not the answer. Embracing our sufferings and disappointments, our losses and mourning, offers us the strength and empowerment we need to live the lives we were meant to live.

Two weeks ago the Archmere community came together in a special way at Daylesford Abbey for the funeral of Father Michael Collins, O.Praem. ’68. Evening prayer was followed by the viewing and the funeral Mass the next morning. I believe we experienced what Ebener describes, “When we mourn together as a family or community, we can grow in empathy and love for each other. These relationships strengthen our endurance during times of mourning. We can grow in wisdom born of suffering.” (pg.13)

In less than two weeks, the season of Lent begins in the Catholic Church. It is a time of penance, fasting, and prayer. I plan to use the Beatitudes as a way to reflect and pray, specifically thinking about the questions relating to setting standards for myself – how do I suppose they are set? By whom? For what purpose? And what happens if I don’t live up to them? Nobody’s perfect, but then again if we don’t strive for “perfection” – to be like Christ – how will we ever get closer each day? As with most things, the answers lie in the journey – one of balance and authenticity, supported by a loving community. May your Lenten journey be a fruitful one.