In the past two weeks, I have been to two important family events.
One, a wedding in Milwaukee, enabled me to be surrounded by my brothers and sisters and their spouses for a few days. It was wonderful to be together and talk about our parents and their children. I rejoiced to be reminded of how much we have in common aside from our bloodline. Our shared history and values, as well as our faith, made the time together easy and pleasant. I yearned for more such occasions.
The second family event was the Convocation for Provincial Planning in Princeton. Many of the men of my province succeeded in clearing their schedules so that we could come together to talk about what has been and continues to be important for us as Vincentians. We wanted to think about our future even as we recognized the blessings of a shared past. At these kinds of gatherings, I often get to spend time with men whom I have known for a long time but with whom I have never lived or worked. Yet, we have much in common. We strive for the same goals in service to the same kinds of people. Telling our stories comes flowingly and honestly.
The scripture readings of this past weekend put me in mind of these family situations. In the Gospel, Jesus is challenged to withdraw from his ministry and his followers because of a family summons. The last words of the Gospel pointedly offer his response:
“Who are my mother and my brothers?”
And looking around at those seated in the circle he said,
“Here are my mother and my brothers.
For whoever does the will of God
is my brother and sister and mother.”
In the second reading, Paul addresses the people at Corinth as “brothers and sisters.” He often uses this address for his other communities as well.
One of the reasons that this family terminology makes its way into the Christian writings emerged from the difficulty which arose in the Jewish community when one seemingly moved from the ancient creed to a new one. Conversion was interpreted as a rejection of one’s ancestral faith in order to seek a new “God.” This caused the one who sought to become a Christian to be rejected and excluded from his birth family. As a result, the Christian community became the new family for the convert.
The recognition of the family element in the Christian community is important. It gives meaning and sense to our desire to gather around a common message and a shared table. We recognize that we are brothers and sisters to one another and that we need to value and share our heritage.
For a Vincentian, this notion of family takes on another form. We speak about the Vincentian Family which embraces so many different communities who share with us a charism and a focus. We learn from and support one another in our service of those who are most marginalized among us. It is what happens in families.