Joseph and Mary bring the baby Jesus to the Temple in obedience to the Law of Moses. They can’t afford a calf or a goat to redeem their Son, so they offer what they can afford—two little pigeons. The Lord enters his own temple, he who made and sustains the entire universe, and all his parents have to offer are two scrawny birds. Joseph and Mary show us what noble poverty looks like. When God assumed the indignity of a human body, He ennobled the honest poverty of being human. No longer is poverty of intellect, or poverty of physical beauty, or poverty of money, or poverty of health or friends or social standing shameful. The King of Kings and Lord of Lords entered his Temple clothed in no more than His radiant simplicity.
A family that imitates Christ’s poverty is never poor. Love, and children who are the fruit of love—a sense of home—are the true wealth only a family can provide. We live in one of the richest per-capita cities in America (the median household income in San Francisco is $75,000, compared with New York at $50,000), but we have the lowest number of children. In this city, money is more important than children. But wealth is measured in love, not in dollars. Without children we become inexpressibly poor. Pity people who can afford only chic restaurants and million dollar condos, but can’t afford children.
Attacks on the Family
I was talking to a woman in a plane recently. Everyone in her family—herself, her second husband, her children, and even one of her grandchildren, have been divorced. She has recovered somewhat, but only after 20 years of therapy. We can scarcely imagine the scope of devastation resulting from the collapse of family life in America. “The family,” wrote St. John Paul, “is a necessary good for peoples, an indispensable foundation for society… it is a unique good for children… a school which enables men and women to grow to the full measure of their humanity.” If the family fails, our children will be stunted and dysfunctional, only a fraction of their potential. We’ve seen a lot of anger over black men attacking police officers, and police officers shooting black men. But is anyone asking why America’s jails contain a disproportionate number of black males? Could it be because 75% of black boys grow up without a father, deprived of the irreplaceable benefit of a home and a family?
We must awaken to the fact that the family has been under societal attack since contraception and then divorce began to be promoted in the 1930s. Today the attack takes the form of equating same-sex relationships with marriages and families, and tomorrow it will be polygamy or even incestuous relationships. Many of these attacks begin right here in our own city in the name of free choice, but what choice do the poor African American kids have who grow up without a family to call their own?
Witnessing to the family
How can we defend and build up the family, we who live at ground zero? We can begin by coming to church. This church is mostly empty, and empty churches in America’s cities mean empty families. Where is America going to hear the truth about family life and its irreplaceable role in society? From the government? At school? In a movie theatre? The Church has been in the marriage business for 3500 years. She knows a thing or two about marriage and culture.
And where are families going find the grace to withstand these attacks? From the Eucharist, from the sacraments, from their prayer lives. Thank you for coming to Mass—of course, I’m preaching to the choir. I need to preach to the fence-sitters. Only you can bring them in. We must also witness to family life by riding out the difficulties of our own marriages. A boy asked his grandma if she ever thought of divorcing grandpa. “Oh no, child,” she replied. “I never thought of divorcing him. I wanted to kill him a few times, but never divorce him.”
Finally we must pray for the family. Every time you pray the rosary, pray for your family, and all families. I can’t think of a better prayer to strengthen and save the family than the rosary. If you don’t pray the family rosary, you are not doing all you can to save the family, and save America. May Jesus, Mary, and Joseph protect my own family, and all families in this great land.