Q: Archbishop J, the Paschal mystery: how does it relate to family life? (Pt 9)
At the beginning of Lent 2020, we found ourselves in the desert, then we moved to the Upper Room, after which we missioned the domestic Church.
There is an integral connection between Pentecost and mission. In Acts 2:1–11, the Holy Spirit came upon the assembled disciples and then they went on mission, speaking in public about Jesus and what He had done for them.
Missioning the domestic Church is not just about calling that Church to mission, but rather inviting the family to understand and assume their true identity as Church miniature, and to participate fully in the mission of Christ.
We have spent one year praying, reflecting, and teaching on the family and the integral connection between the family as miniature Church and God’s intention.
The great challenge to the family, in our day, remains inner transformation—to be a credible witness within the family. This also requires a healthy understanding of what life in Christ is all about.
As I said last week, we are fragile earthenware vessels containing a great treasure. Many times, the family is given a model of life in Christ that is filled with ‘shoulds’ and ‘oughts’, with an expectation of perfection, according to the imperative in Matthew 5:48.
Here is the challenge. There are two notions of perfection: the Greek which says that perfection is the absence of the imperfect, and the Hebrew which says perfection is the incorporation of the imperfect. Carl Jung would call this owning your own shadow. Thus, “[the Father] causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous” (Mt 5:45).
With the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, we have the expectation of inner transformation. Galatians 5:16–25 is very clear about what the Spirit brings and what is from the flesh.
St Paul speaks about the opposition between the flesh and the Spirit. He says the work of the flesh is: “immorality, impurity, lust, idolatry, sorcery, hatreds, rivalry, jealousy, outbursts of fury, acts of selfishness, dissensions, factions, occasions of envy, drinking bouts, orgies, and the like” (verses 19, 20). Alongside this, St Paul gives the fruit of the Spirit: “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” (verses 22, 23).
When parents, as spiritual leaders of the family examine their lives according to these markers, they find themselves wanting. They see how many of the negative attributes they have and how few of the positive.
This lack of inner transformation is the challenge of human relations, spiritual growth, and credibility to be a spiritual leader for the family. St Paul ends his text by saying: “Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified their flesh with its passions and desires. If we live in the Spirit, let us also follow the Spirit” (verses 24, 25). But how do we become people of the Spirit?
Obstacles to transformation
The first obstacle to deep inner transformation is sin. The solution is to make a genuine confession; recognise what we have done, ask for the interior disposition to see its impact on others and God, and with tears and supplication ask God for mercy through the ministry of the priest, in the Sacrament of Reconciliation.
Many times, because of our habit of sin we set our expectations of God very low. We do this not to be disappointed, or just in case! The desire for inner transformation is already a grace from God. We need to move on God’s prompting. We need to recognise we cannot transform ourselves.
Another obstacle for many people is wanting to be in control. To live a life in the Spirit is to choose to let go into God. This is scary to many.
Practically, this means putting your life in God’s hands and allowing Him to lead and guide you in the direction He chooses. Sounds simple, doesn’t it? However, one major source of underlying tension in the family arises over who has control, in the most trivial and the most serious of family matters.
Ultimately, one person will give in, or the fight will be brutal. But, giving in for the sake of peace is a false peace. Speaking to husbands and wives, Ephesians 5 teaches: “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ” (21). It is not one submitting to the other, but both submitting to Christ. Both surrendering their will to God’s will. Both being docile before God.
To move from the flesh to the Spirit we need to surrender our will to God’s will. Here, an examination of relationships between husbands and wives, between parents and children and between siblings, offer many opportunities for revealing just how entrenched the desire for exercising control is. It is the opportunity to beg God for mercy and the grace of transformation through the Holy Spirit.
Fr William Barry SJ speaks of original sin as a viral strain of rebellion against God. This is where the trouble is. It was the first sin of Adam and Eve, and it is our sin also.
We rebel against God and do not really believe that God’s way and will is best. This rebellion is often unconscious, but we know it. We should pray more, give God more time, and we just do not.
More of God
The only way forward is an increased desire for God through deep inner work and prayer. God wants to pour out the Holy Spirit without reserve on us. We are the ones that resist and limit God. Through our control, insecurities, and resistance, we limit God, in general, and the Holy Spirit in particular.
For the deep inner transformation that we need to live vocation and mission, God needs unhindered access to our lives. And we need to cry out to God: “Father send us Your Holy Spirit!” “We need more of You!” “Bend my heart to Your will, O Lord!”
Living credibly as a family requires deep inner transformation. This comes as a grace from God that opens us to a deeper desire for God. It also gives the grace to do the human inner-work to become a better person.
Make a deep preparation for the Sacrament of Reconciliation and then receive it. Do an internal inventory of the ways you seek control and resist the will of God. Through conflict in your family, hear God’s invitation to bend your heart to His will.