Jesus calls us to the fellowship of family
Here is a little story about the intimacy the Lord Jesus seeks to have with us and with those whom we love in him. A woman had died unexpectedly at the age of 93, and I was meeting with her family. Neither she nor her family were parishioners, so everything that I came to know about her, I would learn through them. At first, we talked about the usual subjects: her past-times, her love of family, the favorite foods she cooked.
Eventually, in all such meetings, I broach the question of faith by asking if the deceased had a favorite saint or devotion. “She certainly prayed the rosary every day,” her granddaughter responded. “And if we could find her Catholic prayer book, you’d see that it is well worn.” As if being summoned, within a few minutes another grandchild walked through the front door, carrying some of her grandmother’s treasures. They handed me her prayer book.
Here is a little story about the intimacy the Lord Jesus seeks to have with us and with those whom we love in him.
A prayer book is something of a soul’s journal. Over the years, important pictures and memorial cards, poems and other items of great significance are inserted into its pages. Favorite prayers and passages become well worn. So it was with her prayer book. A card with a prayer to St. Jude, the patron saint of lost causes, had been placed between two pages, which themselves offered these four prayers: a prayer of thanksgiving, a prayer for perseverance, a prayer for health and a prayer for the souls of the dead. Try to imagine how often she must have offered those prayers, what they meant to her, how they connected her to her Lord and to her loved ones.
Perseverance might have been a personal prayer for her. Decades ago, after a disastrous first marriage, she had remarried. Surely there are some who do not take marriage very seriously, but I don’t think that is true of most divorced Catholics. They find themselves in a place they never wanted to be: alone and defeated. Think of the perseverance, the courage and the hope that are required to trust another, to trust the goodness of the Lord and to marry again. Clearly, this woman had prayed for perseverance and received it.
Jesus calls us into a fellowship, an intimacy like that of the family.
I suspect that the prayer for health was offered, more often than not, for others who were dear to her. If it was prayed for herself, it had been copiously answered. But what of all those lost causes, which she had begged St. Jude to consider? I fancy that they were offered for family and friends, since her own life, in old age, was described as such an oasis of joy and solace for others.
Her family knew that she had always been there for them. Looking through the pages of her prayer book, it was evident that she carried them with her when she sought out her Lord. How deeply connected in the Lord she was to her own!
In Genesis, Adam attempts to justify his disobedience to God by implicating Eve: “The woman whom you put here with me—she gave me fruit from the tree, and so I ate it.” In asking of the woman, “Why did you do such a thing?” God appears to accept the argument that one soul is never absolutely separate from another.
One way to understand the doctrine of original sin is to see that sin is always shared.
One way to understand the doctrine of original sin is to see that sin is always shared. It spills out from one person to another. It seizes us, inflicts harm on us, even before we yield to it and embrace it for ourselves. Adam may shamefully want to shift blame, but his understanding of human nature is correct. He is not alone in his alienation from God.
In St. Mark’s Gospel, Jesus must respond to a similar charge, a question of sinfulness. His opponents say that he possesses extraordinary powers because he has yielded to sin, because he stands in solidarity not only with other sinners but with Satan himself. But if that is so, Jesus asks, why are his works so utterly opposed to darkness, to ignorance, to suffering and sin?
It is only when we tumble that we look about and see how intimately that we are linked to others.
He is then told, “Your mother and your brothers and your sisters are outside asking for you.” When Adam is charged with sin, he immediately implicates Eve. When Jesus is charged with sin, he seems to distance himself from his mother and his family. But the two of them, Adam and Jesus, draw very different lines. Adam draws one separating himself from Eve, shifting the blame to her. Jesus does not draw a line separating himself from his family. He knows that he is who he is by the will of his Father in heaven and the communion of life and love that he has shared with his family on earth, especially with his mother Mary.
So, unlike Adam, Christ does not draw a line separating himself from others. Instead, he lassos his listeners, telling them that they are being called—that we are being called—into an intimacy, a sharing of life and love that is every bit as deep as that of family. Indeed, that the family itself is the only adequate image of this intimacy.
We modern people like to see ourselves as sovereign, separated from others and beholden to none. It is only when we tumble that we look about and see how intimately that we are linked to others. Sadly, like Adam, we sometimes stumble and then strike out at those who share our lives.
To share life with the Lord is to give life itself to those whom we love in the Lord.
But Jesus calls us into a fellowship, an intimacy like that of the family. St. Paul told the Corinthians:
Since we share the same faith...
the one who raised the Lord Jesus
will raise us also with Jesus
and place us with you in his presence.
Everything indeed is for you,
so that the grace bestowed in abundance on more and more people
may cause the thanksgiving to overflow for the glory of God (2 Cor 4:13-15).
We are who we are because of who we love, those with whom we share life. To share life with the Lord is to give life itself to those whom we love in the Lord. That was so clearly revealed to me as I looked through one old woman’s prayer book, retracing her cares and petitions. But, of course, the family that mourned her loss had always known that. They had read it in the book that was her face. They had learned it from her ever constant presence and concern for them.