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THE FAMILY: A HOME FOR THE WOUNDED HEART




WORLD MEETING OF FAMILIES
Philadelphia, 24 September 2015


Cardinal Luis Antonio G. Tagle
Archbishop of Manila


My task in this keynote address is to offer a reflection on the family being and becoming a home, a refuge, a “safe place” for wounded hearts. I do not intend to simply describe the wounds that families experience. It is also important to explore the biblical, spiritual and pastoral rationale underlying a family´s mission to the wounded.

In the first part of my presentation, I would reflect on the condition of being wounded and what homes could offer to the wounded. Then we will turn our gaze on Jesus´ ministry and the place of healing in it. The third part will be devoted to a brief discussion on the Church as home for the wounded heart. In the final portion, I will suggest some paths that a family could take towards becoming a home for the wounded.



Wounded Hearts – Wounded Persons

All people are wounded. We have all experienced being wounded. There are different types of wounds, with different causes and different results. But it is always the PERSON that is wounded. It is not just a part of my body or my work or my bank book that is scarred. It is my person, my core, my heart that is hurting. Whatever the nature of a personal wound, it always affects the person´s family and consequently a person´s social relations. 

All wounds hurt, but the more painful and hurtful wounds are those inflicted directly on our family members. When a member of our family is hurting, we are similarly wounded. Experiencing and accepting a person´s hurt as our common hurt is a sign that we belong to one home. But most hurtful are the wounds inflicted on someone by his or her family members. When siblings disown each other over an inheritance, the hurt runs deeper and longer. When a parent or an elder relative sexually assaults a child, a life is shattered, so is a family.  The sacredness of the home is itself wounded. Unfortunately wounds are passed on to next generations as a burdensome legacy. But paradoxically, even if a home is deeply wounded, it is still the privileged place for comforting and healing wounded hearts.

It is helpful to mention some of the wounds that affect families in our time: financial constraints, unemployment, destitution, lack of access to food, shelter and employment, lack of education, economic and political policies unsupportive of families, failed relationships, infidelity, sickness, disabilities, social or cultural or religious exclusion and discrimination, adoption, human trafficking, child abuse, domestic violence, abuse of women, prostitution, new forms of human slavery, wars, conflicts, climatic calamities, forced migration and displacement. It is hard to imagine how badly bruised some persons and families are.

Wounds make persons, families and communities vulnerable to manipulation, exploitation, and break up.  Wounds could also render them vulnerable to evil and sin. Interior division within the heart of the person and external familial or social conflicts cause alienation, the condition of being an outsider or unknown.  I do not belong to anyone. I do not even know myself. This is the wound of being home-less.

What is a home? You may have a house but still be home-less. It is better to turn to a description rather than to a definition of a home. We could be helped by a song that became popular years ago . It goes:

A chair is still a chair even when there´s no one sitting there.
But a chair is not a house and a house is not a home
When there´s no one there to hold you tight
And no one there you could kiss good night.

A room is still a room even when there´s nothing there but gloom.
But a room is not a house and house is not a home
When the two of us are far apart
And one of us has a broken heart.

Now and then I call your name and suddenly your face appears.
But it´s just a crazy game.
When it ends, it ends in tears.

Darling, have a heart, don´t let one mistake keep us apart.
I´m not meant to live alone, turn this house into a home.
When I climb the stairs and turn the key
Oh please be there, still in love with me.


A home is not a place. It is people giving each other the gift of a loving, assuring and forgiving presence. It is the experience of being received even when I am wounded or because I am wounded. Then I could say that I belong to someone or to a family. I am home-less no more. Home is where hope for new life springs.

To show that the mission of the family to be a home to the wounded heart is not just motivated by fleeting and vague emotions, we now turn to Jesus whose ministry included the healing of various wounds.


Jesus´ Ministry and Healing

With the help of some scholars we discover the depth of Jesus´ caring and healing ministry within his mission of proclaiming and inaugurating God´s Kingdom.

Luciano Sandrin  notes that the healing of different kinds of wounds is an integral element in Jesus´ ministry. It is significant that His preaching of the Kingdom of God was also accompanied by healing. In Matthew 9:35 it is said, “Jesus continued his tour of all the towns and villages. He taught in their synagogues, he proclaimed the good news of God´s reign, and he cured every sickness and disease.” Jesus instructed the Twelve to do the same in Mt 10: 7-8 “As you go, make this announcement: The reign of God is at hand! Cure the sick, raise the dead, heal the leprous, and expel demons.” The good news of the Reign of God is manifested in healing, in caring for and assisting people, in accompanying them, in reconstituting relationships, and in reconciling. When God rules, persons are saved, honored and served with care.

Robin Gill,  reviewing the Synoptic accounts of various types of healing in the ministry of Jesus observes a general pattern: compassion (Jesus sees the distress of someone suffering, is moved interiorly, and seeks to provide a remedy), care (Jesus feels revulsion towards the evil that befalls a person and turns attentively to the concern of the person), faith (the wounded person trusts in Jesus as a healer and eventually professes belief in Him) and restraint (Jesus commands silence on the person healed and the witnesses. Jesus heals with humility, calling attention to God and God´s reign, not to himself). Jesus´ healing seen within the ambit of the Reign of God is contrary to the ways of the kingdoms of this world that amass riches and power, promote ambition, domination, and pride and in the process inflict wounds on the most helpless. These rulers care only for themselves whereas God´s loving gaze is focused on wounded humanity and creation.  For V. Guibert,  following some early ecclesiastical writers, Jesus is the Good Samaritan (Luke 10: 30-37) who goes out of his way to care for the suffering stranger. Jesus´ ministry reveals the tenderness of God and God´s reign. 

Luke 15 illustrates what we have been exploring so far.  The three parables convey God´s longing for the lost sheep, coin, and son. When the lost has been found, there is great rejoicing. The feasting at the end of each parable seems to be exaggerated, quite disproportionate to the sheep, coin and prodigal son´s return. A sheep that gets lost is most probably wounded or sick. A coin is just a coin. A son who squanders what his father has labored for is an ingrate. But why does God “crave” for them? Why does God leave the ninety-nine healthy sheep, search the whole house for a coin and run to meet an ungrateful son?  From a pragmatic point of view the lost are not that valuable after all. They could even pose a liability. There is one reason for this extravagant display of caring and mercy: the lost one is MINE.  My home is his proper place. If it cannot come home by itself, I will carry it back home. The wounded, the lost and the humiliated sinner has a home in the Father´s house. In an eloquent way the Blessed Mother lived these parables as she stood by the cross of Jesus. As religious and military officials were ridiculing Jesus, as friends were denying any connection with him, as disciples were frantically running to save their lives, Mary declared to the world, “He is my son. He is mine. With me as his mother, he will never be alone. He has a home.” At the foot of the cross of Jesus a new family, a new home was born.

V. Guibert and Michael Marsch  offer an important insight. Jesus does not heal symptoms of wounds. In his ministry he does not heal by simply eliminating suffering.  He goes deeper than that. He saves the wounded not from vulnerability but in vulnerability. He restores the security of belonging to the lonely and alienated by entering their loneliness and alienation. By his incarnation, Jesus embraces human vulnerability, accompanies us to death and leads us to life. In his agony in the garden (Mk 14: 32-42) Jesus was in communion with all the distressed and confused. The author of the letter to the Hebrews says, ¨”For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weakness but one who was tempted in every way we are yet never sinned…Son though he was, he learned obedience from what he suffered and when perfected he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him designated by God as high priest according to the order of Melchizedek” (Hebrews 4:15-5:10).  By Jesus´ wounds we are healed. He carries our wounds even in His resurrected body. In Him we realize that the wounded are not only recipients of healing but could be agents of healing when they live by communion in the suffering of others. Wounds are not tombs where we are to be buried but tombs to rise from. 


The Church as Home for the Wounded Heart

From a rather lengthy reflection on Jesus´ inauguration of God´s Kingdom and healing, we turn to the Church. By Church we mean the Body of Christ that is present in every local congregation like the parish and the family called the domestic Church or the Church in the home. Being the Body of Christ, the Church shares in Jesus´ mission of healing through solidarity and compassion. In I Cor 12: 26 St. Paul says, “If one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; if one member is honored, all the members share its joy.” The holy Church is made up of wounded members, bound together in the Holy Spirit and sacred things (the Word of God and sacraments) and also in common need of God´s mercy.

The Church embodies God´s redemptive mission. Joseph Hartzler , using the insights of Bernard Lonergan, describes the redemptive mission of the Church as that of becoming a community of authentic persons in contrast to a community of alienation. Authentic persons are those capable of self-sacrificing love, a love that heals and forgives, an “other-worldly” form of love. In this vision of God´s redemptive mission, healing is not just a program but the integrating core of the Church´s mission.

Similar to Hartzler´s insight is that of Michael Marsch. He locates the Church´s redemptive mission to the teaching of Lumen Gentium 1 that the Church is a form of sacrament, a sign and instrument of the intimate union between God and humanity and human beings among themselves. As sacrament, the Church helps to heal wounds that alienate persons from God and one another by providing the space or home of intimate communion.  Aside from proclaiming the healing Word, the Church also ministers through the sacraments, especially baptism, Eucharist, reconciliation and the anointing of the sick, all of which are associated with healing. 

Another biblical image that captures the Church´s healing mission through intimate union is found in Mark 2: 1.12. The four friends of the paralyzed person opened up the roof over the place where Jesus was in order to bring him closer to Jesus. A Church, home of intimate friendship carries the wounded to Jesus. The Church never gives up and should never give up.  In the words of Maria Cataldo-Cunniff , the Church opens doors and sometimes roofs.


Paths to Becoming a Home for the Wounded

After considering Jesus and the Church that is his Body and sacrament let us consider some paths that families and Church communities could take in order to provide a home to wounded hearts. 

Bernard Ugeux  reminds us of two important facts of the faith in any action that the Church must take if it desires to be a home for the wounded: “first, the initiative for salvation always comes from God who offers His grace to every person so that he/she may be saved…secondly, the Christian understanding of maturing as healing is always situated in community, in the context of accompaniment, without forgetting liturgical, ethical and other dimensions.”

We are one community. All of us are wounded. So there is no room for self-righteous condemnation of others. Rather awareness of one´s wounds leads to a recognition of the other as a brother or sister. Compassionate understanding replaces judgment. All of us need healing.  

Every wounded person, however must exercise responsibility in treading the arduous path of healing. While the family or community has the responsibility of accompanying a wounded person, it could and should not substitute for personal responsibility.

Joseph Kelly  proposes practices for the Church as field hospital for the wounded, an image used by Pope Francis: 1) Keep in touch with the Chief Physician. We need to spend time with Jesus, contemplate him, and draw grace and strength from him. 2) Recognize our own wounds. Though painful and humiliating, we must face our own wounds if we wish to be compassionate to others. 3) We cannot be afraid of the dark.  Wounds are rarely clean, they are bloody and raw. Compassion for the wounded demands readiness to see the dark side of humanity. 4) We must face the reality that the Church is a field hospital. Accepting that reality makes us open to creative solutions, flexibility and agility in our response. 5) See that our field hospital is a place of hope. People do not experience healing in an atmosphere of despair and bitterness. Our hope is based on knowledge of the past and firm faith in the future. 6) Often we have no choice but to imitate the friends of Job: be with a person, hold a hand, and wipe a brow or a tear in silence. 7) We must be convinced that the ultimate source of healing is the Eucharist. By imitating Christ in embracing the heavy cross of the human condition, we experience resurrection with its peace and freedom.

We end this section with a wise reminder from Bernard Ugeux: “Discernment in the Spirit is essential. A healing sought at any price would deny the normal cost of human growth, and of affective and spiritual maturing. Expressed in Christian terms, it would be to avoid the paschal mystery by seeking refuge in the imaginary. The risk is to seek to heal immediately and entirely. However no one can avoid the cost of suffering and the time necessary for growth, or the experience of wearing out of the body or the inevitable destiny of death.”


Conclusion

Dear friends, we could provide the sense of family and home even in the affairs of daily life. Remember to be courteous, sensitive and loving for you do not know the wound of the person before you. A respectful and friendly encounter could be a healing moment. Allow me to share a personal experience. 

I was in a summer youth camp where I gave a talk. Afterward, during the question and answer portion, the first question I got was, ¨Will you sing for us?” It was definitely not related to the topic of my talk. I said, “Please give me questions related to the talk and we will see about singing later.” After a number of questions, “sensible” this time, another boy said, “When will you sing for us?” Since I had not prepared anything, I chose a song that everyone knew. I started the song and asked them to join in. Afterward, many of the young people came up to me to kiss my hand in good Filipino fashion, to have a photograph and to ask for autographs on their books and T-shirts. This whole “circus” raised questions in my mind like, “How do they perceive me? Am I celebrity for them? Do they see me as a bishop?” The answer came a year later at another youth camp. A boy approached me and said, “The shirt that I asked you to sign last year is still with me. I have not washed it but every night I fold it and put it under my pillow. I have not seen my father in years. He works in the Middle East. With that shirt I know I have a father. I belong to a family, a community.” We could build a home for a wounded heart through a song and an autograph on a T-shirt.

Let me close with a story from a girl, a refugee who has been separated from her family due to war. We close this conference with her words, her plea, her tears and her hope.


A story from Burma: Not the Only one Crying

I was born in the jungle. I was lucky, my mother told me, lucky that I was born when so many around me died. I come from Burma where thousands have perished in the war between Burmese troops and opposition groups. I was born in the jungle because my parents fled their home to avoid the fighting. When I was in primary school, I had to leave my home village and from that time on, I would move from village to village to attend school.

Until 1992, I visited my parents and brothers and sisters, about a year, but I have not seen them since, as I have been unable to return home following the closure by Burmese troops of all roads along the Thai-Burma border.

So I must live by myself, stand alone without my parents. I have relatives who live around here but I know I cannot get my parents´ love and care whenever I want. I cannot talk to them whenever I want. When they are sick, I cannot visit and look after them.

I realized how much I missed my parents when I was sick. Life as a refugee is so difficult. I badly needed my parents to be with me right there by my bed, but I could not have them. I burst into tears, it was so hard for me. I was unable to see my parents because of the war. Then I realized I was not the only one crying and I felt consoled. I know there are thousands of people who are suffering like me. When will there be peace in Burma? When will the war be over? When will the ethnic issues be solved?

After years of moving from place to place, I finally settled in the Karenni refugee camps. I was asked to teach at the camp schools. Before long, however I was selected for an internship in the Philippines. During my time away, I learnt more about human rights and I am now working with JRS in the field of education. We are busy supporting Karenni schools in a number of ways. I am happy and can use my education to assist my people in these difficult times.