My attention was drawn to a tweet by a priest in Kentucky called Fr Jim Sichko. I tried to verify the tweet, but when I looked him up it seems he has blocked me from his account. I can’t understand why because to the best of my memory I can’t remember ever crossing swords with him.
But anyway, the tweet was a load of sentimental nonsense along the lines of, “Let us all remember during this time of the Holy Family that all families are holy. Some are heterosexual and some are homosexual. Some are single mothers and some are poor, divorced or widowed.”
I certainly don’t want to judge anyone on the basis of one tweet, and tweeting is a fun and dangerous business because of its brevity it is so easy to misunderstand what someone means. However, it was pretty hard not to see this tweet for what it was.
It pretended to be a message to raise our awareness and compassion for those who live in irregular and difficult family situations. However, anybody can see that it was really a lame attempt to to normalize homosexual unions by putting gay couples into a victim category.
The tactic works like this:
1. paint someone or some group as a victim of discrimination
2. push some guilt buttons to raise “compassion” for that group. Note that this is not true compassion. It’s just guilt wearing a compassion mask so the person doesn’t feel so guilty anymore
3. Raise the compassion to the level of advocacy
4. Advocacy must mean acceptance
5. Acceptance must mean condoning
6. Condoning must lead to celebrating.
Let’s analyze this a bit. A person or a family is not automatically “holy” simply because they are unusual. This error is similar to the one so prevalent within Catholicism in which people assume that the poor are holy simply and only because they are poor. Being poor in and of itself does not make a person holy. Being a member of a persecuted group in and of itself does not make a person holy.
We know this because some persecuted and poor people become bitter, greedy, dishonest, spiteful and cruel because of their condition.
Likewise being part of the establishment, being “normal” or well off and respectable doesn’t make you either holy or sinful. We know this because there are plenty of wealthy, well educated and “nice” people who are actually greedy, spiteful, selfish and nasty beneath the surface while there are others who are generous, kind, loving and genuinely holy.
Man looks on the outward appearance. God looks at the heart.
The members of a family are not holy simply because they are normal and respectable, but neither are members of a family holy simply because they are unusual, unconventional or struggling in some way.
The idea that all families are “holy” is sentimental nonsense, and people who use this sentimental form of argumentation usually do so (consciously or unconsciously) as a form of emotional blackmail. You know how it goes…”If you don’t sympathize with this person I am telling you to sympathize with then you are a bad person and we are going to attack you…”
So are all families holy?
Is a family where the father is a serial adulterer who then takes his well scrubbed nice looking family to church for Christmas Eve a “holy family” I don’t think so.
Is an affluent family where the self centered mother has had a string of affairs a holy family just because they are neat and clean and go to church and give lots of money? No.
Is a drug addicted prostitute who beats her kids and gives her daughter to her pimp a holy family? Nah.
Are gay men who pay a woman to be a surrogate for their child conceived through masturbating into a test tube a holy family? Nope.
Is a family where the teenage kids are rebellious, promiscuous drug addicts a holy family? No.
Do lesbians who have pretended to make a marriage and have children through sperm donation a holy family? Negative.
Is a white supremacist who raises his kids to hate n***ers and Jews the leader of a holy family? Nope.
My point is, there are lots of families who are definitely NOT holy–and their outward appearance has nothing to do with it. They might appear to be happy, normal church goers or they might appear to be filthy low life. They might be super successful and warrant our admiration or they might be pitiful and poor and warrant our pity.
But none of that has anything to do with holiness.
Their holiness or lack of it has nothing to do with their outward appearance.
Does that mean we judge them and condemn them?
No. However, we can judge their actions, and certain actions reveal a lack of holiness.
So what is “holiness” anyway? To be sinful is to have “fallen short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23) What is the “glory of God” It is a human being fully alive (St Irenaeus) What does it mean to be “fully alive”? It is to be full of grace. Who is “full of grace”? The Blessed Virgin Mary of course.
She is full. She is whole. She is complete. She is “holy.”
The Blessed Virgin and all the saints show us what “wholeness-holiness” is.
The members of the families I outlined above are not holy because they are not whole. They’re broken. They’re wounded. They’re devastated by sin and selfishness.
We look on them with pity not with blame.
Furthermore, we look to ourselves and our own broken, dysfunctional and unhappy families and we pray for peace, healing and the wholeness that only God’s grace through the saving work of Christ can bring.
Fr Jim is right to draw our attention to the parlous state of the family in our society today, but he’s wrong in saying all families are holy.
The beautiful thought, however, is that although our families are not holy–they can be.
Through repentance, reconciliation, renewal and release all of us can attain holiness, but that is a long, hard journey…
The journey that begins in a moment of self surrender and a pilgrimage that takes a lifetime to complete.