Sunday, December 28, 2008

A Tribute On The Feast Of The Holy Family

Today is the Feast Of The Holy Family. Once again Spain is having a huge gathering in Madrid to uphold the importance of The Traditional Family. Once again our Pope, who is not a Rock Star, will be beamed in on huge television screens to deliver the homily. I suspect that pre event estimates of one million people will be the number of people the Church claims will have attended and the much smaller number estimated by police will be ignored. Still 250,000 people is a lot of people. I suspect gay humanity will once again be blamed for whatever ills mankind. Last year gays were told they were the biggest current threat to civilization. Oh well, so be it.

The truth is, if one is being honest, the Holy Family, as a model for the heterosexual family, would be a bigger threat to future civilization because it's a family based in total celibacy. Celibacy leaves no descendants. If Catholic marital relationships truly did reflect the procreative message left by the Holy Family, adoption would be the eighth sacrament.

But of course the Holy Family isn't the model for family because it's based on self chosen celibacy. It's the model because we are to believe that Mary was submissive in all things to her husband and took fabulous care of Jesus, never complaining, apparently silent in all things until the wine runs out.

We don't know much about Joseph except that he listened to his dreams and got his wife and child out from under a death sentence. After that he exits stage left. One has to assume he had children from a previous marriage because the Gospels do speak about the brothers of Jesus. Andrew being most prominent. This makes Mary his second wife, which means we have to assume Joseph was a widower of some years and that he was not exactly the young Mary's contemporary in age. In this day and age we tend to frown on older widowed men marrying teen age girls. I guess this makes us not very traditional when it comes to marriage.

Actually when I was a child, it wasn't the Holy Family that I found offensive. To me they weren't the Holy Family. They were too remote and quite frankly I didn't know anything about procreative sex. The real notion of Holy Family I couldn't get my head around were the ones on television. The kind of families portrayed in Ozzie and Harriet, Father's Knows Best, and Leave It To Beaver. My family was not at all like those families.

First, we had way too many children. Second, according to mom, my dad did not know best and because of his job, he wasn't around all that much. Third, my brothers were total self absorbed jerks who left nothing for anyone else, especially left overs. Fourth, younger sisters were never seen, and I had one who always had to be seen. Fifth, no body ever argued or fought with each other. This last was the knife in my idea of our family. We fought and argued a lot, and even given all the other failures to conform, this one was the most egregious.

I spent a lot of my time figuring out how I could restore my family to the idyllic status portrayed by the families I saw on TV. Problem was, no one else felt compelled to cooperate. Eventually I stopped trying and also stopped watching these particular TV shows. I just couldn't reconcile the ideal with my reality. I can't imagine what angst I would have undergone had I tried to reconcile my reality with the real Holy Family. My dad was an accomplished fine carpenter, and that's as far as I would have gotten. But even this would have been compromised because it wasn't his job, it was his hobby.

It wasn't until the advent of All In The Family that I realized the same family shows that gave me such angst were also causing angst in the rest of my family. All In The Family portrayed a family like us, with all our warts, but also all our redeeming qualities. Gloria may have been an only child, but there was also Meathead, a perfect combination of the best and worst traits of my brothers. I couldn't fail to note that there were never any leftovers around when he was at the dinner table. And that dinner table, with all the pontificating and arguing over politics, was our dinner table.

All In The Family became our must see TV. All of us watched it, as a complete family unit. We laughed and laughed and laughed. Whenever dad would make some off the wall bigoted comment, invariably one of us would say: "So sayeth Archie." Dad would then insist he was nothing like Archie and my mom would laugh and laugh and laugh. Actually, we all would.

One time dad made the mistake of referring to mom as Edith, and from then on she would sing the opening song, her ability to sing being the only thing she had in common with Edith. We would laugh and laugh and laugh and beg her to stop. Unlike Edith, she didn't. Now that I think about it mom had more in common with Archie than Edith. She was the one who had the 'never sit in recliner' from which she ruled the TV. I guess this was a form of gender bending on her part. Now I guess it would be a sin against sexual complimentarity and the traditional family and somehow threaten the Rain Forest. Archie would approve this reasoning.

I can remember very vividly when my daughter first saw an episode of All In The Family. She was about ten and Nickelodian was showing comedies from the seventies. She watched her first episode and turned to me and said, "Oh my god mom, that's our family".

I freely admitted she was right, and told her how much that show had actually meant us. It gave us a way to see aspects of ourselves mirrored, and opened up a lot of avenues for conversations about things like racism and sexism and stereotyping. Stuff we were good at and never looked at and finally realized probably weren't reality and we should probably stop doing them. All In The Family had been a good thing, an almost sacramental thing for our family.

She watched following episodes religiously. I guess it was her way of trying to understand a very smart but very blue collar family. I could tell the genes bred true when she saw the episode where Archie loses a bet to Meathead and has to kiss Sammy Davis Jr. She is just roaring with laughter, knowing full well grandpa would follow through on the bet, and grandma would temporarily disown him. In any event, it would remain All In The Family.

So on this day celebrating the Holy Family, I celebrate a not so Holy Family. One which spoke to me far more about what real family is all about, all the warts, all the idiosyncrasies, all the compromising, all the forgiveness and all the love under all the arguments. It's too bad all the folks in Madrid won't get a chance to see this family on their large screen TV's. They might relate better to a fantasy family based in reality.


  1. Colleen, I'm amazed--not for the first time--by the synchronicity of what you posted at the same time I was posting. I see you posted at about 10:30 yesterday a Holy Family meditation that is like point-counterpoint to what I posted a mere hour earlier than your posting.

    Amazing synchronicity!

  2. Colleen, my parents so much resemble in appearance the actors in All in the Family. My father looked just like Carroll O'Connor and they have the same last name to boot. We'd sit around and watch this show too. My father got a real kick out of it and I think it really made him think about things differently. I think he was enlightened by it. He had the recliner too. My mother greatly resembled Edith and when I told her she was embarrassed, the poor thing. My mom was a saint.