Clergy Column

The summer has so many bounties and delights. There are some summer days that speak of the eternal — as if one senses the words “the summer will never end.” Among its many bounties, are summer marriages — this one is on my mind because our daughter’s marriage is in a few short weeks, coming soon after the marriage of another daughter. The beginning and creation of two new families who are so dear to me gives pause to reflect on the wider nature and purpose of families.

One important purpose of families is to nurture, protect and teach. As those who are parents generally freely admit, the teaching is not at all a one-way thing. As parents provide for, protect, guide and nurture their children, they often find new understanding themselves and a deeper meaning in life. A deep engagement in family life is perhaps the closest thing in which we strive to emulate God. We are created in his image, and he has ordained marriage and the family as a key element of his plan — the plan of happiness.

Recent studies show some alarming declines in the strength of families across America and much of the world. Though there can be great joy and fulfillment in family life, not all family life is happy.

The great Russian author Leo Tolstoy, in the opening lines of “Anna Karenina,” made the observation “happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”

I believe this because happiness of family life depends in large measure upon foundational principles such as sacrifice, forgiveness and patience, sprinkled with a dose of good humor. At the very root of these is charity, or godly love, which is a powerful force of healing and forging a bond that unites a family. It has been said that “the greatest joys and the greatest sorrows we experience are in family relationships. The joys come from putting the welfare of others above our own ... the sorrow comes primarily from selfishness, which is the absence of love. The ideal God holds for us is to form families in the way most likely to lead to happiness and away from sorrow.”

Though sadly, the summer this year must end, most happily this is not true for families. This is a promise from God — that our families are not permanently separated by the inevitability of death. But rather we know through the grace and supreme eternal love and sacrifice of our Lord Jesus Christ, that a family can be forever.