“…Sitting on the shore, and his eyes were never dry of tears, and his sweet life was ebbing away, as he longed mournfully for his return.”
Such is the pitiful state of Homer’s epic hero Odysseus at the beginning of his journey back home. For seven years he was stranded on the island paradise of Ogygia and imprisoned by the amorous goddess Kalypso who offered him the prize of immortality in exchange for him to be her husband. Strikingly, the supreme delight of the paradise and the company of the immortal goddess could not erase from his heart his desire to be home. Instead, Odysseus despised her offer and mourned on the seashore day after day, longing to be home with his wife and his son in Ithaca. Our earthly family, our home, seems to be an image of heaven, a haven wherein our soul is anchored and reposed, whose broken sails, torn open by the storm of life, are patched up. For Odysseus, Ithaca, his home, summons him. And his heart would not find rest until its final return.
In Christ and the Holy Family, we see a most perfect image. For thirty years, Jesus lived with Mary, His Mother, and St. Joseph the carpenter, his foster father, thus forming “a communion of persons, a sign and image of the communion of the Father and the Son in the Holy Spirit” (Catechism of the Catholic Church 2205)—a Terrestrial Trinity—a shadow of the Heavenly Trinity here on earth.
Not a look of one, but the other two understood, as expressed, better than if expressed in a thousand words—nay more than understood, accepted, echoed, corroborated. It was like three instruments absolutely in tune which all vibrate when one vibrates, and vibrate either one and the same note, or in perfect harmony (St. John Henry Cardinal Newman).
What a beautiful image! Yet even this is only a passing shadow of what the Divine Trinity, that is “a triple light gathered into one splendor” (St. Gregory of Nazianzen). Death naturally entered into the Holy Family. Joseph passed away first. Then Jesus. When the human nature he assumed had grown to full perfection, Christ offered Himself on the altar of sacrifice to His Heavenly Father before the very gaze of His Blessed Mother in an act of supreme love so that we too may become the sons and daughters of His Father. Yet also through death, the Holy Family was finally reunited in God.
Unlike Odysseus, but like Christ, our homeland is in heaven. But does it mean that we should also take our earthly family lightly? No. On the contrary, Christ, by being born into a human family, had sanctified it. What He has taken up He redeemed. Moreover, our earthly family is meant to arouse in us a longing for heaven. The love we experienced here ought to awaken in us a kind of longing. It is precisely because it is so beautiful, it sets us longing, believing that somewhere else there must be more of it. And this longing shall never be fulfilled until we arrived at our Father’s house. Like Odysseus, we shall indeed weep and mourn in this valley of tears. Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted (Mt 5:4). Yet while weeping, we firmly believe and hope in confidence that Jesus has gone to prepare a place for us in the Father’s house, and many have entered before us. And Christ will come again and take us to Himself, and where He is, we also shall be (Jn 14:3). He will wipe away every tear from their eyes and death shall be no more (Rev 21:4).
Br. Xavier Marie Wu, O.P. | Meet the Brothers in Formation HERE