Recently a friend told me of a kindness that the members of his family had performed for an acquaintance. “We did it because it was the kind of thing that our parents did and, so the story goes, their parents before them. I guess. It’s just who we are.”
Folks care about what their ancestors have done, not simply out of historical curiosity but because their ancestors form the foundations of their lives. Each builds on the efforts of those who preceded them. To value one’s ancestors is to value one’s self and one’s future.
When Matthew and Luke told the story of Jesus, they began by placing him within his ancestral past. Name after name, century after century they recounted those who made Jesus possible until, nourished by the dreams, faith and work of countless progenitors, he revealed God’s promise of human triumph.
Just as we do, Jesus stood on the shoulders of those who went before him. His promise was the fulfillment of the future they had longed for.
One of the pluses of belonging to a faith tradition is that it constantly reminds us that others have given us faith and that we hold it in trust for those who will follow. The work of faith is inseparable from the work of human history. It’s not about our private lives. Faith’s focus is the common advancement of humanity from its present widespread suffering and injustice to its inheritance of peace and dignity.
It would be nice if our family of faith consisted of perfect people orderly processing into a glowing future. Alas, the old saw, family: you can’t live with them, you can’t live without them, applies as much to the Church as to any other group.
It helps to remember that, without a doubt, we are someone else’s frustration just as certainly as they are ours. Anyone who thinks the journey to God’s Kingdom is smooth and harmonious has been breathing too much incense.
God creates the universe to evolve. The Spirit lives in the dream that drives the process. As much as we complain about Church society, as we do as well about our political and social societies, it’s where we’re challenged, sometimes gently sometimes harshly to become the people we can be.