“Fear not, Abram! I am your shield!”
This may seem like an odd verse to highlight for the Feast of the Holy Family, but it speaks to an often neglected reality: our families are meant to be our first line of defense for our family members. It is interesting and perhaps crucial to note that this promise to Abraham by the Holy One of Israel was given specifically in the context of family life. Even as Abraham complained that he had no family, he was given a promise that his descendants would be as numerous as the stars in the sky. You and I are those descendants. Those of us from a Jewish background are direct descendants; those of us from a gentile background are descendants by adoption, the wild vines that have been grafted into that vine of Israel.
Family life is absolutely crucial to the Jews. This was also essential to the life of the early Church, especially when most of the followers of the Lord Jesus were from a Jewish background. As more and more gentiles were added to the Church, sometimes they came from backgrounds, like the classical Romans, in which family life was also held in high esteem. Sometimes they did not, but the New Testament, especially the writings of St. Paul, frequently re-emphasized those teachings on family life which would have been normative in the Jewish community and were meant to continue in the Christian community as well. They emphasized the importance of both the father and the mother in the life of the family.
This dual importance was wonderfully highlighted a few weeks ago when, during the celebration of Hanukkah, the Sabbath occurred on Friday. There is a dual candle lighting ceremony that results from this. Every Sabbath, the mother of the family lights the Sabbath candles. She does this highlighting her crucial role in caring for the internal needs of the family. The importance of her role is then highlighted by the father reciting the Eshet Chail (a woman of virtue) from Proverbs 31. This happens every Sabbath. It should be noted that this ceremony is not done in the synagogue, but in the home, highlighting the importance of family prayer and worship!
On the Sabbath in Hanukkah, the father also lights the candles of the Hanukkah menorah, thus highlighting his role, like those of the Maccabee warriors, of being the protector and provider for the family. Two aspects of their complementary roles are thus being celebrated. Part of that father’s role, that warrior role, consists of him defending the family, especially spiritually. He does this by engaging in prayer, in spiritual warfare, as he stands in the gap and pleads with the Lord for protection for his family. Even as the Holy One promised Abraham that He would be his shield, we are reminded that He often uses us to be the active agents of His protection; that is particularly true of the role of the father, to intercede for his wife and kids and to engage in spiritual battle on their behalf. The father and mother, loving and supporting one another in their individual and joint relationships with the Lord Jesus, are the bulwark for the family. We see this lived out in the Holy Family, as Joseph acts as the warrior protector, moving his family to keep them out of danger and continuing to provide for them, with the Lady herself caring for the infant King.
We realize that some of our families do not have both father and mother, and it is important to note that the King of Kings will continue provide for them Himself, in His own way. Also, obviously, some of us are not part of families here and sometimes can feel left out as we consider family life. The King still calls us to a deep and rich relationship with Him, Who is our all in all.
Regardless of the circumstances we find ourselves in, the Lord Jesus is with us and calls us to trust Him and remember that, especially during these very trying times, He is our shield! Even so, come, Lord Jesus, come! — Fr. Ed Fride