cafe in Oakland named Bittersweet that sells peanut butter hot chocolate that is to die for but then I digress.
Goodbyes are coming closer and my heart grows heavier. Occasionally I feel the pangs of separation when I think of the future so I try not to think too much about it.
I have already said goodbye to California and my dear friends there but now comes one of the most difficult goodbyes I will ever have to say, the goodbye to my family.
I know, I know - I will be 6 hours away and will be able to see them every year but something is happening in this goodbye that is hard to express. It is a more permanent movement away from my family and towards God. A sister I spoke to recently put it this way, "Your departure is an action that is directly from the Gospel. Like the apostles left and followed Jesus when he said, 'Come Follow Me' so you too must leave behind your strongest attachments to follow Jesus."
One of my strongest attachments is my family.
This is not a bad thing. When most people see my family together they are moved by the love between us. Each sibling would easily die for one another and for either of our parents if it was required. We are very close and people envy the closeness we have compared with many other families torn apart by bitterness, anger and grudges.
In our modern society, the most common problem found in the family life is that the bond between family members is not strong enough. The traditional family structure is not seen as a necessary part of God's plan. Divorce is common. Separation and fights between blood relatives is an ordinary occurrence.
The family is powerful, it can lead us to good and it can lead us away from good. But if we are afraid to follow God because our family members will be upset or will reject us, this is when the family bond can be too strong.
There is a reason that Jesus tells his apostles:
"Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever does not take up his cross and follow after me is not worthy of me." - Matthew 10:38
We can put anything in those blanks and it retains the meaning that Jesus is going for here - Money, Security, Admiration of Others, Success, etc, etc. But it is surprising to see Jesus talk about familial love, something that usually has the best connotations in a negative way.
To understand what Jesus is saying here, we need to understand the purpose of family. These days it looks like many people believe that the purpose of family is to satisfy their own desires - Parents live their youth another time through their children, women force their bodies to bear children at whatever cost; there are many examples in modern society of how we try to control what "family" means. We have lost the notion that we do not begin families, God does. And we do not define family, God does.
"The family is the first appropriate environment for sowing the seed of the Gospel and the one in which parents and children, like living cells, go on assimilating the Christian ideal of serving God and the brethren." - Pope John Paul II
God created the family to teach us about Him. This does not happen perfectly in most cases and sadly hurt, division and abuse in the family often cause some of the deepest wounds in each of us. This causes some of us, in our hurt, to reject the divine meaning of family and to insist that it is not important. It is understandable but when we stop trying to meet the ideal that God has given us to reach for, we are selling ourselves, our children and our society short.
Fortunately for me, although there are the same hurts and wounds in my family life, overall we are very happy and love each other very much. My parents taught us about God and the importance of living life for God and that is one of the main reasons I am able to enter religious life. The seed was planted in me very young.
But now is the time for me to test to make sure these roots do not go down too far. I can cling to my family insofar as it brings me closer to God, as that is the purpose of family but there comes a time when I have to let go so that I can follow God and inspire others to do the same. This does not mean that my family does not remain in my heart. They will always be in my heart and I will always remain close to them. Right now, I cannot imagine loving anyone more than I love my family.
But I know God is calling me to live in service to Him and to widen my definition of family. And this points to the ultimate purpose of family; the family is the incubator of the human being. Ideally it creates a place of security and love for a person so that when God calls us to follow Him in many different ways of life, that person has the confidence and trust in God that enables them to do so.
So thank you Lord for my family, thank you God for the beauty of family life. Please support and continue to help families to grow in holiness.
And finally, please help me and my family to accept my departure with grace and to give thanks to you, our Loving Father for the grace you have given us to follow your call to holiness.