Word Magazine January 1974 Page 5-6
THE WORLD AS FAMILY
By Father Joseph Allen
My task is to speak about the world as our family. How is it that we, as the Church, can call the world a family? Where is it that these words —World and Family — connect and cross?
They make their real connection in the beginning, when, at creation, God created not only a physical, material world, but breathed life into that world, and from that breath a living situation, a living and natural relationship amongst men, was created: we call that Family. I say that because it is this word “family” that speaks of that fundamental relationship of sanctity between man and man and man and God. Listening carefully to that definition of “family,” one will find that that very same definition is fitting for the Church. Thus we see the importance of the word “family” as that initial condition of man living in Communion with God; thus, further — we see the Church as exactly the restoration of the family situation.
But if we say that the family is the way in which man was created to live and that the Church today is constantly trying to recreate and restore man to that position—what is it that happened to the world? Why did it cease to be a family? What is it that the Church must do to restore the “family-ness” to the world?
What happened to the world is a matter of history and salvation. The world and all life separated itself from God through the 1st Adam who thought he could “go it alone” — who failed to see God as the source of all life. He separated himself from God and he hid. It was the 2nd Adam—Jesus Christ, God Himself becoming man, that now gives us all the possibility of being restored once again to that initial state of Communion with God. Since the time of Christ, therefore, we live under two signs: the 1st Adam, which is separation, alienation, war, hatred, sin — everything that destroys the “family-ness” of the world. It is the sign of the 2nd Adam — that is the sign of union, restoration, rebirth — everything, that means “family.”
The Church’s mission, is simply this: knowing that both these signs exist in our world, Her task is to bring all life constantly under that 2nd sign, the sign of Christ — the sign that means, in this fundamental way, a family relationship.
This evening, I can propose two primary steps toward reaching that end.
The first step is to give the world a sense of where it stands. The world does not know all this. It is happy living alienated from God, i.e. outside a family relationship. And when this happens, it hides from God just as Adam did when he separated himself. What is it that Genesis says? After Adam — after man — realizes what he has done, he “hides” himself. And what does God say? He says: “Adam — man — where art thou?” God knows where Adam is! He does not expect to learn something that he does not already know (Just as when we, as adults, know that a child is doing something wrong, we may ask, “What are you doing?”—Although we know what he is doing.)
What God is trying to do is to produce an effect on man’s heart — an effect which gives him a sense of where he stands — an effect which can only be produced by a question such as: “Where art thou?”
It is that same question that the Church must ask this very sophisticated world, a world “stuck” in its head, a world that has truly entered a “cerebral” age in which it feels all the questions of life can be answered.
“Where art thou, world?“— and I mention this as a primary step, although it may seem the most logical and elementary thing that the Church should do. But I am afraid the Church has not asked the question. She has ceased to be the prophet — prophetess — not in terms of foretelling or fortune-telling— but prophetess as “confronting.” “Where art thou?“— the first question toward making the world our family.
But the Church asks this question not for Herself — (just as God asks it of Adam not for Himself)! She asks the question precisely for the world, for She has always recognized the weakness of the world. The scripture and the Fathers have often spoken of that weakness. They have told us, time and again, that amongst all those things that keep the world from “family-ness,” one thing seems apparent — and the second proposition is right here.
The world is “busy.” It is an empty “busy-ness”— a “busy-ness” which keeps one from contemplating upon or even considering the priorities of life (which are exactly those qualities needed for a family relationship).
But if we, as the Church, are serious about making the world our family, we simply must remind the world TO BE STILL. What is the fragment of that famous psalm: “Be still, and know that I am thy God!”
Stop all that activity — all the pushing, pulling, enticing, advertising, go-this-way, go-that-way — stop all the activity that is only a “busyness” cycle. After we ask, “Where art thou,” we say now, “World — be still if you will be a family.”
Listen, World, to this very practical story of Martha and Mary. It is Mary Magdalene who sits at Christ’s feet while Martha serves the tables. Martha says to Christ —“tell her to get up and help me.” And He answers: “Martha, Martha, Thou art very busy and troubled by many things.” (He knows she is doing many useful things.) But, He says, one thing is necessary —“Mary has chosen the best part which shall not be taken away from her.”
Why does He say this? Why does He call Mary’s part the “best part?” And I ask you to make this same analogy to the world. He calls it the “best part” because He is speaking about a whole attitude — steeped in a profound love — that Mary Magdalene had. Look beyond this encounter to the first meeting — when He met her — the prostitute — He says, “Thy sins are forgiven thee,” and that was the turn — the change — the conversion — that grows to this intensity, which finds her finally at His feet. Now this change was not out of great sorrow, nor humility only, nor a feeling of wretchedness— but simply because she loved Him much. Yes, she was penitent — as the world must be; yes, she shed bitter tears, as surely the world must — but her change happened not because she wallowed in recollecting her past sins, but because she wanted to love God more, and He accepted her!
And now she can’t be separated from it, for the “best part” is a clear attitude toward God and what Christ meant. This “best part” needs no action — just a “listening”— just a moment set apart — a moment of encounter, a moment of thought— a contemplation—something few of us Americans know.
Yes, you may say, “Get up,”— help Martha — but He says, “It’s not time for all that.” There’s another sense here, beyond action. Mary sits in complete stillness and silence, showing not the least indication of any grumble or complaint to Martha… and Martha, in her activity, cannot understand what Mary is doing. She hasn’t stopped, like the world, to understand the “best part,” and now she asks to judge, in fact, to tell Mary to “get with it!” One would think that Mary surely would react now — but no! Christ answers for her and in His answer to her we find His answer to the same busy world. He answers compassionately — and He does it defending Her who loves Him: “Martha, Martha,” calling her name twice —“thou art very busy and troubled”—but don’t forget “this one thing which is necessary”— the “best part”— the attitude of love for God, that “best part” which rests in the soul turned wholly toward God — that part — really that has a beauty which seems impractical in immediate and busy terms — but that sense of beauty which make man — man — for man without this sense of beauty ceases to be man. Such a lesson it is to the busy world.
And so, if you are thinking as I am thinking today, you will see that the “best part,” that moment of “impractical beauty,” is in fact, the most practical thing, for what does it do? It becomes the source of great motivation!! It drove Mary Magdalene right to the foot of the Cross — to the final weeping — where it all ends — where finally even the world must end — at the Cross!
Even my talk ends at the Cross, for after we present the question, “Where art thou?” and after the command to “be still,” to pause from the “busy-ness”— we must still remind the world, if it is to be a family, of Jesus Christ. For the world is not saved by evolution but by incarnation. There is nothing that can redeem the lower and bring it back to health — to “family-ness” — but a life-giving incursion from the Higher — a breakthrough and Incarnation, a manifestation of “God being with us:” Emmanuel means that —”God with us.”
We call the world to be family in this way: to react to this Incarnation. All other messages of Christ are centered here — in this act of God. The perpetual Advent — the response to eternal agape — to eternal love — which has entered time — that energy and splendor of Pentecost which is present to glorify every living thing.
What we look for, then, is not Utopia, but something which is given from Beyond: Emmanuel, God with us, the whole creation — the whole family — won from rebellion and now consecrated to the creative purposes of Christ. For the Church, this means something far more drastic than the triumph of international justice and good social conditions. It means the transfiguration to love of the whole natural order by the Supernatural.
For though we achieve social justice, liberty, peace itself, though we give our bodies to be burned for these admirable causes, if we lack the love, in His Kingdom we are nothing. For the world to be family, which it was created to be, we must carry this singular message of that love . . . that is the love of The Kingdom; for the Kingdom is the Holy, not the moral; the Kingdom is the Beautiful, not the correct; the Kingdom is the Perfect, not the adequate; the Kingdom is the Love, not the law.
Blessed is God, Who revealed His Kingdom in this way.