Yo!! I am on vacation in Chattanooga with the family, lying on a bed up in the foggy Appalachian hills, full of delicious punch and fresh from a hard-fought Pokemon battle with my dad. It is a good place to be. Apologies for incoherency – I am on a tiny phone keyboard, and editing’s a little dodgy.
Today marks the middle of the octave of Christmas, because Catholicism means never doing anything just once. Today is the Feast of the Holy Family. We went to church in a beautiful cathedral in downtown Chattanooga this morning, and heard some of the most enthusiastic Catholic singing I’ve ever experienced (you could, like, hear people sometimes), and also one of the shittiest homilies.
I was going to write about that at first. The priest, for all his passion and enthusiasm and warmth as a speaker, could have copypasted half his sermon off of a reddit /mra thread. It was like playing Bullshit Bingo. Mark off a space for evolutionary psychology determining traditional modern gender roles! Mark off a space for “radical feminism” being a plot by Satan to destroy the values of the family! Mark off a space for a war-on-a-noun, a space for an indistinct but pervasive Threat To Masculinity, to the inherent warlike nature of men and the crime that is denying them that struggle! My mom and I spent the entire time holding hands and squeezing each other’s fingers every time we were offended.
So I was going to write about that, but– I changed my mind. I thought about it all day, and I changed my mind. Because, like, that kind of stereotypical handwringing bullshit is all the goddamn Feast of the Holy Family ever turns into. Because Mary, Joseph, and Jesus are the archetypes, right? They’re the ideal. They’re the vague shapes onto which we can impose whatever image of the family best suits our conception of what that should look like. Joseph is the head, of course, the one who drives all their actions, the protector and the one strongest in faith; Mary is the meek, the courageous, the dutiful; and their story is never allowed to be intricate. The fact that Joseph was ready to divorce Mary quietly never seems to come up, unless it’s to point out how amazing a man Joseph was to stay with her anyway, after a good supernatural prodding in the right direction. No one ever seems to remember that Jesus Christ was, in a wibbly-wobbly metaphysical sort of sense, adopted. No one mentions the children they had after Jesus, the siblings who stopped speaking to him after he started preaching. Aren’t they the Holy Family, too? Don’t they count?
Look– I have a lot of respect for the family. I grew up in a traditional two-parent household, and my mother converted to Catholicism as soon as she and my father were married, with the intention of raising us in the faith. My dad has sat my brother and me down in the past and told us that the best marriages in the world are sacramental; that in our society, a lasting marriage must be beholden to something larger than either of the two people in it or it is much less likely to survive. I grew up with this in my cultural background, and did not question it until I was old enough to realize how few marriages achieve the Holy Family ideal, sanctified under the ~natural law~ – and how many didn’t seem to need that to function. And then I came out, and had to deal with the fact that, no matter how good any marriage I may have in the future might be, no matter how deep the faith life of me and my hypothetical partner, there was a damn good chance the Holy Family ideal was never going to be possible for me. That outward sanctification might never apply to my most meaningful relationship.
Therefore, on this Feast of the Holy Family, I’m praying for the families who don’t conform. I will feast the couples, married and otherwise, for whom “masculine” and “feminine” are unclear and/or unimportant concepts. I will feast the gay couples and their children and the people who love them. I will feast the perfectly happy divorcees and their new partners or new spouses, or their contented solitude. I will feast the single mothers and the single fathers and the single stepmothers and stepfathers. I will feast the adoptive parents, the adopted children, the legal guardians, the foster parents, the godparents. I will feast families who pray and families who do other things; I’ll feast families who fight and who make up, dads who cook and moms who work and the other way around, and I’ll feast siblings and cousins and feuds and reconciliations. They all deserve a place up on the altar alongside my parents and my siblings on our path up the aisle during Communion.
I mean, for Christ’s sake– the example of the Holy Family isn’t in Joseph’s manliness and Mary’s submission. A faraway time and a faraway culture isn’t the place to look for an image of the family relevant to our happiness today. The example of the Holy Family is love, and that isn’t rigid, isn’t confined to a single kind of relationship, a single kind of family.
The example of the family that people like that priest hold up is one of exclusion, I think. So many kinds of love, so many good and untraditional and beautiful things, are looked down upon on this feast day. It’s not supposed to be a day to mourn what the family has become, the ideal from which we have supposedly been backsliding for 2000 years; it’s not supposed to be a day to admonish a good half of the functioning families in the country for doing what they can with what they have, and in many cases living in love regardless of the failings imposed upon them today. That’s stupid and unrealistic and sad.
So, like, happy Feast of the Holy Family, y’all, whatever the hell your family looks like, whether born or found or replaced or what the fuck ever. If there are people in this world who love you, whether or not they produced you, Satan had nothing to do with it. Jesus Christ.