My nephew and his family came to see us last weekend. It was fun for us, and I hope they had an enjoyable mini-vacation. My nephew, his wife and their four kids spent just a little more than a day in our city, but the time we had together gave us all a giant step forward in reconnecting our larger family. Our weekend visit brought together people with a well-defined relationship to each other -- that is, well-defined as regards the language we use to describe such relationships. We were uncle and nephew, great uncle and great nephews and great nieces, and so on. Having names for a relationship of course doesn't make it happen. As I reflect on my own younger days, I have to acknowledge with some self-criticism, that I have not yet sorted out who is who in the families of some of my older aunts and uncles. On this most recent weekend, we needed a little time to figure out how to refer to other members of the family. I said something to my nephew about "your father." He referred to that same person as "your brother." Add a sister-in-law (my brother's wife, my nephew's mother). Throw in a few greats and grands and once-removeds and we're all lost in the relationship jumble. (Now I understand how Jesus could say, "Who are my mother and my brothers?") Among the most enjoyable aspects of the weekend was seeing the four kids, each with very definitely developing personalities, each with very obvious family relationships. One was interested in reading and loved mysteries. One enjoyed arts and crafts. One paid more attention to her little brother at the playground. Two of them enjoyed the outdoors despite the chilly weather. What gave us so much pleasure was simply experiencing the way they related to each other. They are sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, children of a loving father and a loving mother. It was a representation of God's love. Somehow the young family signified to me the mystery of the love of a complicated Triune God for a mixed population, the people of God. I can't explain it.
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Take the time to talk with friends or family members about their experience of brothers and sisters, aunts and uncles, greats and grands and others. Take a little more time to explore the programs in your parish or community which seek to connect people in relationships that were once taken for granted within families. Find out what is available for children who do not have large family structures. Find out what is available to support young parents who do not have the good fortune of being able to depend on large extended families. Pay close attention to the use of "brothers" and "sisters" and other such terms of relationship in the Scriptures and in the religious texts of your faith tradition. How do such references fare in today's society?
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Take the time today to pray to your brother Jesus. Take the time to re-connect with a sister or brother, or an aunt or an uncle, or some distant someone once- or twice-removed. Tell your brother that you enjoyed spending time with his grandchildren. Or find out from your sister how your niece and nephew are doing. (You do the math.) Do what you can to help a motherless child. Or a sisterless boy. Or a young girl with no aunt or great-aunt. Gather together with other families a Christian Family Movement group is one way to do this to support each other as an extended Christian family. Take the time to make a difference.
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