In the light of the word Family Life through the Lens of Scripture Paul Clayton-Lea Dublin: Veritas Publications, 2018 pp. 120 • €7.99/£7.20
When my tenure as editor of Intercom concluded in 2017, I was quite willing to accept a request to prepare a publication commemorating Pope Francis’ exhortation on love in the family, Amoris Laetitia, and the World Meeting of Families in Dublin this year. In addition to the Holy Father’s own inclusive vision of family life contained in Amoris Laetitia, where better to begin, I thought, than with the families of the Bible to whose stories the Pope referred frequently throughout his letter?
Apart from the words and deeds of Jesus himself, the scriptures spring most vividly to life for many of us whenever the story of a family is told. Whether it’s the tale of Adam and Eve and their tragic sons Cain and Abel, or the extraordinary couple, Sarah and Abraham, whose surrogacy arrangements continue to impact on the Middle East today, or the poignant scene on Calvary where Jesus commends his mother to the care of his beloved disciple John; all of these family episodes – and the countless others glimpsed through the scriptures – touch upon our own experience of family life as well as offering encouragement and guidance for families today.
I’ve always been fascinated by the dramatic and colourful events of family lives in the scriptures whose relationships of loves and hates, deceptions and sacrifices, forgiveness and betrayal can, even when shorn of their historical context, frequently seem strikingly relevant and reflective of contemporary family life. These ‘Middle-Eastenders,’ as I sometimes think of them, make the plots of popular soap operas seem very tame by comparison. Jealous brothers who sell their sibling Joseph into slavery (after almost murdering him); parents like Rebekah and Isaac who show separate favouritism to their sons Jacob and Esau – with deadly consequences; a wife such as Queen Jezebel, who organises the killing of her husband’s opponent for refusing to sell him land; or a love story like that of Jacob, who worked for fourteen years to obtain Rachel his bride (but those years ‘seemed like a day, so much did he love her’); all these stories contain elements of everyday family life, which Pope Francis has described as making for a ‘complex mosaic’ in which perfect families are rarely to be found. Beyond the dramatic scenes there are also occasions of real tenderness, as in the story of David caring for his slain friend Jonathan’s crippled son, or the love and loyalty of Ruth for her mother-in-law Naomi.
The gospel accounts become even more intimate and personal as we see something of the tensions within Jesus’ own family at the beginning of his ministry, his close friendship with the sibling family of Martha, Mary and Lazarus, as well as the frequent examples of fathers and mothers who appealed to him to heal their children. Even the stories he chose to tell in order to illustrate God’s love and care are full of images of family life, from that of the prodigal son to the mother hen who cares for her chicks.
After thirty-two years of priesthood, the mainstay of inspiration for me, and I suspect for many others in ministry, has been my involvement with families; sharing their joys at times of births, weddings and other sacramental occasions, and accompanying them in times of sorrow or confusion, of sickness, loss and bereavement. The reward comes from the child who waves happily across the supermarket aisle holding their busy parent’s hand, and the housebound elderly who welcome me with such warmth into their homes, sharing their life stories and their hard-won wisdom, as well as the open door that many families continue to offer their priests.
In the Light of the Word – Family Life through the Lens of Scripture contains prayers and reflections based on all the stories referred to here. It was written to celebrate the colourful generations of my own family and the families whose lives I have come to share through ministry. It also seeks to demonstrate the close affinity between the thoughts of Pope Francis and the inclusive vision of family life that he presents through examples from God’s Word. I hope that it may also provide a modest topical and spiritual resource for family, parish or school.
Fr Paul Clayton-Lea’s new publication, In the Light of the Word – Family Life through the Lens of Scripture, is available from Veritas. Price €7.99.
Fr Paul Clayton-Lea PP
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