THE LIVING WORD Reading Scripture from the Heart of the Church The Family, Bearer of the Covenant Dr. Mary Healy I n contrast to priestly and monastic spirituality, little has been said in Christian history on the spirituality of the family. There have been relatively few distinctive models of holiness for married couples raising children to draw upon. Until recently, the vast majority of canonized saints were celibate religious. Thus God continually commands parents Yet ironically, the spirituality of family is to teach their children the ways of the Lord. the primordial spirituality of God’s people. “These words which I command you this From Genesis on, Scripture teaches that day shall be upon your heart; and you shall God relates to human beings in the family teach them diligently to your children” (Dt and as a family. The very first blessing and 6:6-7). The teaching is not only in words commandment have to do with the family: but in gestures and rituals that deeply form “God blessed them, and God said to them, the heart of the child. ‘Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth’” The central liturgy of Israel, the Passover, (Gn 1:28). God’s blessing is then passed took place not in the temple but the home, down through the generations through the and this ritual was to be a teachable moment. custom of parents blessing their children “When your children say to you, ‘What do (Gn 27:25; 48:9). you mean by this service?’ you shall say, ‘It When God began to form a chosen peois the sacrifice of the Lord’s passover, for ple, he made a covenant with Abraham not as an isolated individual but as a husband he passed over the houses of the people of and father whose whole family was blessed Israel in Egypt, when he slew the Egyptians but along with him. God spared our houses’” (Ex said of Sarah, “I will “The central liturgy of 12:26-27). Children learn bless her, and moreover that it was not only their Israel took place not I will give you a son by remote ancestors who in the temple but the her; . . . she shall be a experienced the Lord’s mother of nations; kings mighty act of redemphome.” of peoples shall come tion but they, themselves. from her” (Gn 17:16). The family becomes They, themselves, are parties to the covenant. the bearer of the covenant, the setting in Likewise, the visible signs commemoratwhich the covenant with God is concretely ing God’s great deeds, such as the memoexperienced and lived, and by which it enrial stones set up at the Jordan River, are dures through history. an occasion for catechizing children in 36 Sacred Heart Major Seminary | Mosaic | Fall 2015 the covenant: “When your children ask in time to come, ‘What do those stones mean to you?’ Then you shall tell them that the waters of the Jordan were cut off before the ark of the covenant of the LORD, when it passed over the Jordan” (Jos 4:6-7). In the biblical wisdom literature, wisdom is passed on not in an academic environment but in the family, from mothers and fathers to their children. “Hear, my son, your father’s instruction, and reject not your mother’s teaching” (Prv 1:8, cf. 31:1; Sir 3:2). Through the prophet Malachi, God warns that the breakdown of the family is a grave matter because it impairs the ability of the next generation to live as God’s holy people: “What does [God] desire? Godly offspring. So take heed to yourselves, and let none be faithless to the wife of his youth. ‘For I hate divorce, says the Lord the God of Israel’” (Mal 2:15-16). As the Church today reflects on the pastoral care of family, we must rediscover this biblical wisdom concerning the centrality of the family in God’s plan. Dr. Mary Healy is associate professor of Sacred Scripture at Sacred Heart.