Returning to our roots

Each person that is born is granted the gift of life by their parents. Today is the birthday of our beloved Pope Francis, a day to give thanks for his life, his priesthood, his pontificate, his parents who gave him  life. The gift of life for each one of us is a link to our ancestors who lived before us and then to those who lived before them and on and on. From the beginning of time people have sensed a need to belong. This is why family-community-parish is very important to us. Recently I had the opportunity to introduce a friend of mine to my religious community here in the US. As a student community back in Ottawa, composed of students from the four corners of the world, we don’t often get a chance to introduce each other to members of our family so this was a special moment for me to share part of my life of my religious family with someone who shares my daily life back in Canada.

Back to family! There is a dictum that says 'you can choose your friends but not your family!' Today’s Gospel traces the genealogy of Jesus, that is, looks at Jesus' family. It is not the easiest of Gospels to understand. To be honest, it is almost boring. A list of endless names which, at least on the surface, seem to convey very little information except someone lived, died, and fathered a child. I remember as a young aspirant in the convent coming across this passage for meditation for the first time and thinking how I would I pass 30 minutes meditating on this list of randomness! However, the Word of God is alive and active and it surprised me. I recall looking up the various names and it really was a mix of saints and sinners. As the Pope said today: “we are not dealing with a list in a telephone book” but with “pure history.” Maintaining genealogies was an important Jewish custom. Ancestry and bloodlines served several important functions among these people. Status within the larger community, inheritance rights, allotment of land, the stability of the throne in earlier times, the right to serve as a priest before God, various marriage laws, were all contingent upon an individual being able to prove his or her place in the proper lineage.

At the moment I am spending time with our community in New York in the United States for the Christmas season. Be it last year and also this year, when I am introduced as being Irish, the other person almost always links themselves to being Irish, either second, third or fourth generation Irish! The lineage seems to undoubtedly return to the Emerald Isle! So why do we have the need to trace back our family?  As many people  know, the study of family history is called ‘Genealogy’, from the Greek words for "race" and "theory." Tracing your family history allows you to discover more than just your ancestor's names and the dates they were born and died. You may also find out what these people were like, how they lived and how their attitudes live on in you. You may develop a new appreciation and perspective of history and geography, and even discover a cultural compass that explains a part of yourself. Often you will hear people say, “he’s the spitting image of his father”, or ‘you are just like your mother’ (in a good way or a bad way!). The way an individual behaves and their ideals are often passed from generation to generation. In reality, it does not matter if our ancestors were heroes or scoundrels. We cannot take credit for their achievements nor should we be blamed for their faults. It is important to realize that as individuals we are accountable for our own actions.

Visit to the birthplace of our Founder, 2010 (I am beside him!)
The approaching New Year 2014 is a huge milestone for our Pauline Family which begins the centenary of its foundation. Imagine 100 years! In preparation for my Perpetual Profession in 2011, my Congregation very generously gave me the opportunity to participate in a one year course to study the charism of the Pauline Family. It was a very blessed time. It is there that I truly understood that to begin, we need to return. It involved looking at where we came from to understand where we are now and where we are to go in the future with regard to the expression of our missions and the witness we give as Pauline brothers and sisters. Part of the course involved a week visit travelling to Northern Italy to visit the places associated with our Founder, our Blesseds and Venerables and our first brothers and sisters. We returned to our charismatic roots, traced the genealogy so as to appreciate the spiritual legacy which is the ‘treasure in clay vessels’ which we carry today. It is the trampoline which launches us forward as we acknowledge the humble beginnings of our Family and look forward to the future.

Yes, we carry traits from our parents, even our spiritual parents. Good and bad. However, as the genealogy shows us, God can write straight with crooked lines and some of those crooked lines are our lives. In Jesus' family tree, we see the extent of God' s love. The story before Jesus was one of a mixture of saints and sinners, so also is the story since Jesus. However, one could ask, given that Jesus was born of a Virgin, why is the genealogy important? Well, in looking back to the genealogy, we also look forward. Every Christmas season our thoughts turn to the birth of Christ and to his mother, Mary. To some extent, we all take the nativity for granted. But why  was   Jesus born of a virgin? One answer, of course, is to fulfill the prophecy of Isaiah 7:14: "Behold the virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Emmanuel."

For many people, the child-free life is the way to go. There is an irony in the huge popularity in tracing roots and genealogical research whilst often we ignore the fact that the further generations are under threat because of abortion and euthanasia. Advent celebrates the fact that one child can make a difference, one child broke into the story of humanity and redeemed a fallen people. One child, the Root of Jesse! To finish with the words of Pope Francis at the celebration of Mass today: “May the Lord write your history, and my you allow him to write it”. The Lord of Life continues to write the genealogy of the People of God!