By Debra Bianculli
The image of the Holy Family portrayed every year at Christmas time is no human sentimental icon; rather, it is a supernatural reality that reveals the image of God in the Holy Trinity. The love of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is revealed in the unity of One God; love is demonstrated through unity and sacrifice. From the beginning God created man in His own image, like no other creature; God made man out of a desire to love. In the icon of the Holy Family, at the “Epiphany” we see the invisible made visible by interaction of love revealed. In this Jewish family, we see salvation comes to us through the Jews who had centuries of learning from and following the God of all creation. Joseph, the protector and provider, as faithful Jewish husband and foster father to Jesus, sacrificed his life for the sake of Mary and Jesus, by listening and obeying the Word of God. Mary sacrificed her life in obedience to the faith of her parents; she surrendered to the will of God as she said to the angel, “Let it be done to me according to your word.” Jesus, born of Mary, in turn sacrifices His own life for the world; justice is fulfilled and death is destroyed. Life is restored through unity, sacrifice, and family.
God spoke to me unconsciously as a child about the importance of marriage and family. In examples of my own broken family, as well as those families guided by grace, I came to understand more fully as I consciously sought His Word. No family is perfect, but following God’s design, Christians can play a unique role in following the way of the Holy Family. I was exposed to the difference between the natural and the supernatural in family life. I was drawn by grace to eventually understand the sanctity of marriage and family, despite the imperfections of each of us. When Christians miss the role of marriage, they tend to miss the way God works through unity and family in the Church and in the culture. The sacraments of Marriage and the Eucharist given to the Church are closely related as they unite separate persons into one body through an intimate consummation. The Church is referred to as the “Bride of Christ” because Jesus has an intimate and unique gift of Himself in the Eucharist. If we grasp the importance of marriage, and how God’s plan to bond husband and wife as one to bear the fruit of another life, we see the living image of God; we are made in His image in our ability to love through total self-giving.
God restores and teaches us through relationships with one another; we can also see a similar goal in His relationship with us. God takes on humanity to join us with his Divine life and calls us his own children. I began to learn from the Church, the bonding instrument of covenant oaths between God and His people. Comparing the covenant bond in the Eucharist to the covenant bond of marriage gave me a better understanding of the sacraments as God’s life working in those earthly institutions to make us one. This is why the Church is called the Bride of Christ, because both have an intimate consummation of unity between persons and God. The sacraments make visible what is invisible. God gives us visible signs of His unitive nature and His gifts of making us one with Himself through covenants. Covenants are binding oaths which cannot be undone, but only violated against. This is why Jesus says, what God has joined together, no man can separate. This applies to marriage and the Church.
In the garden, God created man, Adam, but did not wish to leave him alone, and so provided man with woman made from Adam’s own body, as the two were made from one flesh. Adam rejoiced, “This one, at last, is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh”. So we are told they were married in a unity of their bodies as well as their souls. Made in the image of God, they were designed to carry out the unity of their bodies coming together as one; as co-creators with God, new life would come as they were told to be “fruitful and multiply”. Man created with the ability to reason and to love was given freedom to choose. Just as Adam and Eve were made with sanctifying grace, Christians also are reborn and given sanctifying grace in Baptism. Just as Adam and Eve, we are given freedom to choose God and grow to be more like Him. God gives man and woman the gift of bringing forth life and cooperating with Him in caring for His creation. Marriage is God’s institution, and in that unity, He reflects His love. The unity of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit is so perfect and whole in love that the One God, our Creator, wants to pour that love into our body and soul so we can be united with that same love. The Holy family is the visible icon of that self-giving love made in sacrifice through obedient chaste love.
As long as man trusts God, He will be with them and together they will be like Him; through giving of themselves to one another, we see the interaction and fruit of love in the order of family. This self-giving continues through the extension of children, we continue to grow in love if we accept the grace to follow His way. I think in the Christian culture today there is a crisis of faith. We don’t seem to believe that we can become more holy and Christ-like. But more detrimental to our faith is we don’t think it’s necessary. Today, it seems many Christians (Catholic and Protestant) have decided to forgo God’s way, and have turned to man’s limited understanding and obstruction through sexual sin and contraception. If believers can say no to God in the most fundamental act of trusting the One who gives life, then abortion is the natural next “solution” to unwanted life. This is not a small matter in our faith, but a rejection of a greater Divine purpose in the New Covenant. Neither is it merely a philosophical ideal, but part of our understanding of what it means to surrender to Christ and to accept authentic love.
In the fall of some of the angels from heaven, we see jealousy and pride at the root of this war waged against God. Lucifer, the once most brilliant of all the angels, became prideful in thinking he was equal with God. But his jealousy is rooted in his hatred towards mankind. Lucifer’s resentment and contempt stems from what He perceived as a lower form of God’s creation lifted to a place higher than the angels. Man is totally powerless without God, yet created for God’s plan to give man the privilege of being called His own and being made in His own Image. Ultimately, man was created to be a superior creature than the angels. So began the war to destroy man. Lucifer set out to take control of this “inferior” creature and end the possibility of this plan of God to go forward. How and why the war begins and how that war ends is ultimately, a story of love which encompasses a unity that cannot be destroyed. God was forced to permit the fall of man as love allows the will freedom. The angels are also His creatures with free will and those who rebelled rejected love. Of course all of this is and always was known to God, so He provided a perfect plan to conquer evil and restore life into our souls through sanctifying grace because His love conquers all.
Satan and his fallen angels (demons) rule over the earth and death came to man by his choice to listen to the deceiver, rather than God. But God, the Creator of the universe, would demonstrate His love without destroying freedom of man. God Himself would become man, a new Adam, through a woman filled with God’s life in her, to show his beloved children the way out. That way out, is through the interaction of unity between the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit working through mankind, and given Divine Life to their souls through God’s redemptive sacrifice of love. God restored what had been lost in the fall of the human race by becoming man and paying the price of sin for us, then bringing us into a covenant promise of salvation. Male and female were made in God’s image through their ability to be co-creators with Him. God’s image and likeness would be revealed through family. Love is sacrificial, in that it is self-giving through a choice of free will. Giving our lives for the sake of another is why we are born—to know God, love and serve Him, and be with Him in Heaven for all eternity. The most fruitful plan to experience knowing God is living in the family of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Jesus, God made man, provides the way out of the corruption that Satan brought into our world to destroy human life and restore sanctifying grace back into our souls.
The most demonstrative word to describe evil in this world is “diabolical”. The Greek translation from “dia” and “boline” which mean to “tear apart”, “break pattern”, “render disorder” reveal Satan’s motives and character. Being “co-creator” is something Satan had no ability to do, and this privilege given to man would be used as his ultimate weapon against mankind. Satan, the destroyer, would have a diabolical plan of his own. Although he knew he was not more powerful than God, he also knew that man was weak since the fall. Satan has power and purpose in being able to seduce, divide and conquer, ultimately destroy God’s creation through death. We know as Christians, we have been “reborn” into the life of Christ and death has no power over us . . . unless we give in to the wickedness and snares of the devil, just as Adam and Eve. We will always struggle with sin in this life, but we are expected to follow the commandments of God because grace makes it possible. When we deliberately sin after being restored in the New Covenant, we place ourselves outside the plan of God, but His love always provides a way back through forgiveness; through the sacrament of Reconciliation, we are able to have sanctifying grace restored. The problem with sin is that we are drawn to it while here on earth. Therefore God gives us instruments of grace in order for us to be drawn to Him and sustain our faith. We must trust his instruments and His way of giving us life or we will not be able to have the life He offers. When we are divided in Truth, we are vulnerable to those snares because we are placing ourselves outside the plan of God.
Before the fall, Adam and Eve were naked and saw no evil, only good; their bodies were made in the image of God and in union with Him there was only love. After the fall, the serpent was clever in saying, “you will know good and evil”. In that deception, they were tempted to be like God, and gave into it. After eating the fruit from the tree of knowledge of good and evil, they looked at their nakedness and saw evil. Their bodies were seen through a distortion of their senses (the flesh); their shame made them hide from God. Rather than being like God before the fall, they were tainted with evil. I’ve often wondered how many of us have ever experienced that love that Adam and Eve felt for one another before sin entered their souls. Is any sexual relationship truly united with God? I know it’s possible. It almost seems blasphemy to imagine, but that only reveals how far removed we are from authentic love and God’s design. God designed our bodies for sexual union meant to join two souls, so that we could have the privilege of being co-creators with the Creator. How beautiful and wondrous the experience must be if we could allow ourselves to be brought to such sanctification as was in the original plan and gift of life. It’s offered to us again in Baptism but we each have to surrender our own efforts and our own understanding, our own flesh and allow Christ to move in us fully and completely.
So it is not a compassionate thing to call evil good as some unwittingly do. Some think it’s wrong to “deny” those who “love” each other, with the natural desire of the flesh, whether it’s outside of marriage or a same-sex relationship. They reason: who are we (those who call some sexual acts immoral) to tell people they can’t “love” each other. What that thinking reveals is a completely tainted view of love. Christians who have this view have lost their own way, or have never experienced or grasped the true meaning of love. A view that fosters the desires of the flesh as equal to love is actually keeping us from experiencing anything close to love. The world confuses desire with love. This is a deception to keep us from understanding our true dignity as male and female, and the beauty of the sexual gift. It’s hard to understand the love Jesus offers on the cross, because we are conditioned to self-centered rather than self-giving relationships. Original sin, to know good and evil, is a tool to keep us from actually experiencing “good” or authentic love. We can observe in the world the confusion, division, abuse and hate that is fostered through a misuse of our sexual bodies, but if Christians don’t understand or demonstrate self-control, sacrifice, and self-giving, how are we a “witness” to those who are lost and searching in all the wrong ways to find love?
Giving in to physical desires as the means to love is a contradiction; it is in self-control that we are lead to authentic love. The sexual act outside of the order for which it was created is based on deceit because the body is misused to satisfy its own desires. God created the sexual union to bring male and female together in the natural creation of their bodies to unite together and the fruit of that union brings new life. Jesus explained that marriage was to be united with His life in sacramental grace which is an oath of unity to hold it together. Man is incapable of separating what God has joined together. How can we lead others to love, or to Christ, if we don’t understand love involves the union of persons and openness to life? All sin is disordered in that it keeps our minds and bodies from true communion and misses the purpose of God’s gifts. This misuse of our bodies necessarily is self-serving and follows that male and female will use one another or each other for selfish reasons. Living by desires of the flesh keep us in a distorted view of what is real, beautiful, and good. Adam and Eve covered themselves after the fall because their physical eyes were opened but their spiritual view was hindered; everything they “knew” was changed because evil was unleashed and tainted what is true and beautiful.
I think this blindness to the purpose of sexual union is the key to understanding God’s attributes appropriately, and why it is the bull’s eye target for Satan to attack. This is why male and female are always struggling for unity with one another but not ever experiencing it fully because we listen to deception and do not fully follow God’s plan. Rather we have a need for one another because we are made for communion, yet there is the on-going battle of letting our desires control our actions which causes disconnection and resentment toward one another. The fact that humans sexually violate against one another, including innocent children, shows the extreme dark consequences of the distortion. Sometimes there is such distrust toward the opposite sex that our natural human need for communion drives us to the same sex where some connection is found. But that is just another form to keep us from authentic love. So disordered are our relationships with one another, that evil succeeds in dehumanizing us until eventually there is destruction of the soul. Without authentic love, we are driven by death. It is pure evil and pure hate that tempted the flesh of Adam and Eve, and it is that same evil that tempts all of us now.
It seems today Christians judge right and wrong by our feelings rather than reason and Divine revelation given to the Church. But Jesus gave us a way out by destroying death and conquering sin. In the New Covenant we know we are created for Him, to be with Him for all eternity. His life can flow in us, in this life, making it possible to see correctly and resist the poisonous fruit of evil. We have a choice, just as Adam and Eve, but we know the damage of choosing evil. As Christians, we see love demonstrated on the cross. Jesus is saying, here is the proof, evil exists, and so does God; he loves you so much that He is showing you the way to resist evil. Some will see the desires experienced in temptation as the way things are “naturally” supposed to be, as they find temporary satisfaction in the flesh. They are tricked just as Adam and Eve were. We all must go through the temptation in order to choose love. We are made for love so our hearts will not rest until we find Him; when we surrender our desires to Him, love is shown and demonstrated for all to witness. Consequently, living outside of God’s laws and His ways, as well as giving approval of sinful desires and acts that distort human sexuality, makes us compliant with the Destroyer, rather than the Creator.
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