Every Advent Season leading up to Christmas, there’s always that one reading from the first chapter of the Gospel of Matthew (1:1-17) that is abnormally difficult to pay attention to. That’s because it’s the genealogy of Jesus, where several generations of folks with culturally distant, hard-to-pronounce names, are read. Most Catholics’ eyes will gloss over about a quarter of the way through it, as they think about the flavor of donut that awaits them after Mass. However, were they to pay attention, they would soon realize that even Jesus’ family tree is filled with shady, sketchy people. For instance, among the people listed in the genealogy: Jacob was a thief, Rahab was a prostitute, Solomon was an idolater, Bathsheba had an affair with David, David had Bathsheba’s husband killed in battle to cover up the awkwardness; and the list of misdeeds goes on and on. (Insert the crowd chanting, “Jerry, Jerry, Jerry!” here.)
Jesus is more than just the promised offspring whose “Jewish Student of the Month” sticker goes on the proverbial bumper of the family minivan. He is the Messiah of the people of Israel, and also of the gentiles, aka most all of us. The reality is, God could have chosen any family to be born into. So why be born into one that is clearly sinful, messy, and even dysfunctional? Answer: Because He is faithful. Because He promised Abraham thousands of years ago that He would bless him and that his descendants would be as numerous as the stars (Gen. 17:1-27). Because he shows tenderness to His children, even when they sin and lose their way. Because He is love and mercy itself. Because Jesus literally means, “God saves”.
Having all this in mind, let us consider for a moment the family both you and I have been born into. If you are fortunate, your mind and heart will well up with gratitude and appreciation at all the amazingly beautiful memories your family has blessed you with. On the other hand, if you are normal, you can still be tremendously grateful, while realizing your family has issues. Okay, let’s not kid ourselves: Every family has issues. The reasons behind why this is, is no real mystery. It’s somewhat of a cocktail of various problems stemming from original sin, to family history, to negative choices, experiences, and problems that were never really resolved way before you were born into it all.
During my masters studies for marriage and family therapy, I was once assigned, along with my fellow colleagues, to draw out a family genogram. Basically what this meant was that we were to construct a family tree that was detailed with problems that occurred through about 3 generations worth of relatives. So if there was addiction, mental illness, abuse, divorce, neglect, early death, etc… You were to include those little marks and details. As we wrapped up this assignment, we were allowed the glorious opportunity to share with our class, how messed up our particular family was.
One colleague of mine shared her family tree in front of the class, and what was so fascinating was that on her mother’s side of the family, there was this reoccurring mark that seemed to repeat itself every generation. And what did that mark symbolize? Divorce. Divorce in the life of great-grandma, grandma, and mom. Why was this painful reality of divorce manifesting itself, from generation to generation? I can’t answer why that was with great accuracy, because my colleague did not share her insight with the class. It could have been a myriad of things such as, poor choice in spouses, abuse present in the relationships, the inability to resolve conflicts in healthy ways, and many other possible hypothetical situations. However, it can be assumed in truth, that there was some sort of unfortunate issue that was repeating itself in her family tree. An issue that wasn’t being handled in the way that perhaps it could have been. As stated before, conflict is something that is present in every marriage, but the ability to resolve in a healthy and beneficial way, is not guaranteed.
In his book entitled, “Parenting From the Inside Out”, Daniel Siegel shares:
Your early experiences do not determine your fate. If you had a difficult childhood but have come to make sense of those experiences, you are not bound to recreate the same negative interactions with your own children. Without such self-understanding however, science has shown that history will likely repeat itself, as negative patterns of family interactions are passed down through the generations.
Self-knowledge is such an important part of maturing as a human being. And often times it is a difficult look into the reality that we don’t always have it all together. But that’s okay… As long as we’re willing to work on ourselves. Because the more we bring our issues to the light, work to resolve them, and humbly ask Jesus to come and save us and our families, the more we will be a blessing to those around us, for generations to come. But if we’re not willing to be honest, to work on conversion, growth, and healing, then chances are that the problems in our own lives will be passed on from generation to generation. This is due in part because children soak up what their parents communicate to them, verbally and non-verbally, like a sponge. Good and bad, beautiful and ugly, more is caught than taught by the child of a parent. Consider my 2 year old daughter who imitates my dancing and random phrases. Yeah I know, this could become a problem.
Dear reader, I give you full permission to not be afraid of the problems in your life. Do not be afraid to ask for help or to turn to a trusted pastor, counselor, mentor, caring adult, or friend. At various points in my life, I have turned to all the above mentioned. There is no shame in that. It is so easy to become isolated in our own minds, hearts, and issues. Or to mistakenly believe that we can do it all on our own. Or even worse: to think that alcohol, drugs, sex, social media, or shopping can make the pain and emptiness disappear. No man or woman is an island, and we all need community and support. The greater the struggle, the greater the victory… And perhaps a biography you could turn into a best-seller.
Jesus chose to be born into a broken family. But He came to “make all things new” (Rev. 21:5)… To be the solution and the salvation that the human family so desperately needed. He was able to accomplish great good in the lives of those members of His family, imperfect though they were. And the silver lining in all of this, is that He wants you to be the change that your family needs as well. Be strengthened through daily prayer, scripture, and a vibrant sacramental life. The family that prays together, stays together. Also worth noting is that the secret recipe in God’s divine plan, is that He always uses the weak, to lead the strong. Claim today the hope that Christ has in you: to be a blessing to your family for generations to come. Amen.
P.s. I don’t know own any of these photos, I found them on google. And if any of these are your family, I’m praying for you. It will get better.
P.s.s. Check out: CatholicTherapists.com