By Deacon Roger Carr-Jones, Marriage and Family Life Coordinator
In the hustle and bustle that now marks the Advent season, the concept of expectant waiting and preparation, both for the celebration of the Nativity of Jesus at Christmas and the return of Jesus at the Second Coming, can get lost. Our society tends to expect everything to happen ‘now’, without any grasp that anticipation, savouring and later consummation are qualities to be cherished rather than dispensed with.
As we dash from one school celebration, carol service or party to the next, we can increasingly find ourselves exhausted and not a little disorientated. Rather than finding moments of stillness and quiet reflection on the road to Bethlehem, we find escape in doing more and so arrive tired and disheveled before the manger.
If so, do not be disheartened, or feel a failure. Real life is messy and at different points families have experienced challenges unique to their times just as we do today. What matters on the Christian journey is not the events around us, but our attitudes to them. If we feel that the modern world is terrible, or that we do not make the mould, then think how the Holy Family felt at the end of a long and taxing journey, which included hardship, worry and rejection. The Nativity of Jesus does not occur in an ideal setting, yet it is transformational for us. If we accept that our lives and those of past generations have not always been perfect, we are better able to find the Light. In the messiness, or indeed calm, of family life it is the glow of the presence of God which matters.
There is a modern narrative that seems to imply that trying to live out the vocation of marriage and family life has never been more under threat. If so, this loses sight of the example of the Holy Family, whose experience is far removed from the chocolate-box images so prevalent amongst the Christmas cards. The Holy Family had to move from what they had known and set out in faith on a long and taxing journey that ended with a less-than-ideal welcome, or setting. Later on it would involve exile, fear and change. Out of this the bond grew stronger.
Affirming the vocation of marriage and family life is a duty of all the baptised. If we take the trouble we will see it being lived out across our land, despite the challenges of modern society. Family life may not always be perfect, but where love is present, then we know that God abides. Of course, affirmation does not imply ignoring what needs to be tweaked, or adjusted, but it is a reminder that we are all asked to help and support those called to this vocation.
However, the problem is that quite often the witness to Christian married life in our parishes, schools and society rarely gets the affirmation, promotion and support that it merits. We need only look at the news headlines, or watch television, to know that the voices of doom and gloom tend to dominate the airwaves at the expense of opening up the other deeper reality of those living out the vocation of married life.
Quite often the temptation by various commentators is to analyze what they think is wrong without recognising the good, or else to overlook that marriage and family has always faced challenges and has always prevailed. The key point is to find the good and celebrate it. If we spend all our time focused on a negative narrative, then it will become a self-fulfilling prophecy and our failure to work with God.
It is worth recalling that married love is best expressed by the ordinary actions of human life: the anxieties of forming a home, the demands of bringing up children and the gentle caring for each other in the ups and downs of life. Married love is always a work-in-progress, which is a liberating thought, enabling the couple to avoid trying to judge their joint lives against unrealistic images and expectations.
In this context it would be good to reflect further on the example of the Holy Family and their experiences, and to know that, provided God is in the mix, the bond grows stronger. As we approach the season of Advent it might be good to share their journey and learn from it. They became refugees, made their home among strangers, were worried, persecuted and even denied accommodation. Do we not see these situations around us today? It is good to recall that marriage is caught up in Divine Love. This really does make all the difference, especially when things are not going smoothly.