Now that family life has morphed into a variety of things that our grandfathers would hardly have recognized as family, we must pause to reflect on the fate of the family. If ever you have felt comfortable to watch the program on TV called “Modern Family,” I duff my hat for you. When in the late seventies and early eighties, the program: “The American Family: An Endangered Species?” aired on NBC, one in four families had the traditional family structure, 40% of marriages ended in divorce, and there were six million single parent families. If you think that was bad, you’ll be shell-shocked by today’s statistics. I’ll spare you that. But consider that in the eighties, gay marriage hadn’t become law and it would have been ridiculous to think one could choose his or her gender; threesomes and foursomes were still deviant behaviors. The various step-situations of today were, in the past, merely tolerated; and having children outside wedlock was still frowned at. Fast forward 50 years and you’re welcome to Modern Family.
Against this backdrop, the Church presents today the Holy Family of Nazareth. It may sound strange or maybe tiresome to many brought up and living in present day families to learn that a family situation like that of Mary, Joseph, and Jesus was possible. Not that things were all pretty and dandy for them. In fact, they contended with most or even much more of the messiness, complexity and worries of life than the average family. For example, we love to put up the Nativity Scene in our heated and air-conditioned living rooms, often forgetting that the Stable of Bethlehem was cold and uncomfortable, smelt of animal feces, and lacked doctors and nurses to aid in child delivery. The Holy Family was so poor that at the Presentation of Jesus in the temple, the family could only afford the offering of the poor—two pigeons. Joseph, the carpenter, was barely able to put food on the table. We decry bad politicians, yet, haven’t been so targeted that we’ll have to escape to another country to reside as fugitives for years (That may be coming, though). The Holy Family was besieged with fear and sorrow, yet held on hope and resigned to God’s plan. We too may face difficulties, missteps and uncertain situations, and have the Holy Family as guide. In our Church family today (local or universal), it’s possible, too, to feel abandoned, like several families with runaway dads.
But today’s feast can also help us reflect on the adverse effects that contemporary ethos has brought upon the family. It has been 52 years since the encyclical Humanae Vitae by Pope Paul IV, who today could properly be called Prophet Paul IV, given that everything he predicted about the family faced with a vehement contraceptive culture has come true. St. Paul IV warned of four resulting trends: 1) a general lowering of moral standards throughout society, 2) a rise in infidelity, 3) a lessening of respect for women by men, and 4) a coercive use of reproductive technologies by governments. Do you need any argument to demonstrate that modern society has acquiesced to lower moral standards that are not just tolerated but radically enforced? You become a social outcast today if you do not accept abortion, homosexuality, gender fluidity, cohabitation, and pornography. About rise in infidelity and lessening of respect for women, we need look no further than the myriad of allegations of sexual exploitation of women roiling Hollywood—too late in coming—and politicians presently. The pill was supposed to free everybody from sexual slavery, but look what it has given society: a greater percentage of men and women registered as sex-offenders, sexual molestation and exploitation of children and women, and solace in porn and online adultery. The HHS Mandate was a clear example of the coercive enforcement of the contraceptive culture by government, as predicted by St. Paul IV. There’s no predicting what will come from the bulldogs charging into office this January. As we enter a new temporal year, we must recover the priceless jewel of family life seen in the family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph or watch helplessly as the already dug deep hole of modernity obliterate the family. Have a Merry Christmas!
Fr. Jo Chukwudi Okonkwo