The Prophetic role of the Family

As the Chaldeans lay their final siege on Jerusalem—which will result in the destruction of the city and the exile of a majority of the Jews to Babylon—the prophet Jeremiah, prisoner in the king’s palace, receives a request from God: “Hanamel, son of your uncle Shallum, will come to you with the offer: ‘Buy for yourself my field in Anathoth, since you, as nearest relative, have the first right of purchase.’” He is asked to buy that field. This is an odd request, if ever there was one, since Jerusalem is about to fall and Jeremiah knows it. Jeremiah complies with the Lord’s command, but he questions God about it. God responds by telling him that it shall be a sign that normal life will be once more restored to Jerusalem:

“For thus says the LORD: Just as I brought upon this people all this great evil, so I will bring upon them all the good I promise them. Fields shall again be bought in this land, which you call a desert, without man or beast, handed over to the Chaldeans. Fields shall be bought with money, deeds written and sealed, and witnesses shall be used in the land of Benjamin, in the suburbs of Jerusalem, in the cities of Judah and of the hill country, in the cities of the foothills and of the Negeb, when I change their lot, says the LORD.” (Jer. 32: 42-44)

Jeremiah’s act, then, is an act of hope meant to bring hope to a people facing an impending doom. The world as the Jews knew it is coming to an end, it is falling apart, but the prophet reminds them that there is hope, that God will not abandon them. He does something that seems unreasonable, stupid even. And yet, in that hopeless hour, what his fellow countrymen needed the most at that moment was precisely what he was giving them: hope.

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The incredible thing about the books of the prophets is how relevant they are to the people of every era. Our era is no exception. This passage is as relevant to us today as it was to the Jews of 587 B.C. (the year of the Babylonian exile). As the civilization built by Christianity continues to crumble; as its external enemies begin once more to gain power and begin to lay siege from all sides; and, worst yet, as it continues to rot from the inside; it is more important than ever that all the faithful imitate the prophet Jeremiah. We are all, by our Baptism, called to be prophets. In dire situations, the prophet’s voice is one that calls to repentance, but it is also one that brings hope.

I read this passage few days after the World Meeting of Families had concluded in Philadelphia, and as the Synod on the Family was picking up speed in Rome, and within that context it took on a whole new meaning. In fact, thanks to it I came to understand why Pope Francis has been so insistent on telling young Catholics to have the courage to start a family. Getting married, having children, are both great acts of hope. Few things can be more hopeful than bringing a new human being into the world, with its seemingly infinite potential for the future. Even though many people have, throughout all of history, sought ways to prevent new life from entering the world, today they we have the technical means to achieve it. We often blame selfishness and the contraceptive mentality for this. However true that may be, they seem to me to be simply symptoms. Underlying them is a deep and abiding despair. It should come as no surprise that a cynical and despairing society should also be one that is closed to new life. Why bring more human beings into existence if there is no hope for the future? Why not, rather, enjoy the present while you still can? The search for pleasure is always a fruit of despair.

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The modern world lacks hope, therefore, it avoids having children. The modern world lives in fear of the future, and so it shuns faithful, indissoluble marriage. In our day and age, starting a family is a prophetic act of hope, akin to Jeremiah’s purchase of that field. It seems unreasonable and even stupid to most people. It goes against everything preached by gender theory’s incessant propaganda; against everything being forced on us by our consumeristic, hedonistic, and individualistic society. We know the direction our Western societies are going cannot bring happiness, but only the suffering of exile. The witness of Christian families reminds us (and our contemporaries) that God remains with us, that there is hope. And that is what our world needs.

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