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Doctrines & Morals
 
 
General…

WHY DO PEOPLE MOVE? ON BONDING AND SEPARATION

In Homer's epic poem, Odyssey, the protagonist Odysseus is an embodiment of humanity. He set out on a journey round the world, first of all on a battle against Troy after which luck ran out of him and he was moved by the wind of destiny. Many a time he was washed ashore until finally he was captured by the nymph Calypso on the island of Ogygia. Calypso fell in love with Odysseus and persuaded him to be her lover. She promised Odysseus love, care, affection and above all eternity. She could shower him with love and bath him like a child. But this was not what Odysseus wanted. There was that longing in him to go home. His relationship with a goddess is for him not an appropriate one and the promise of eternity never moved him. Odysseus knew where he belonged. He knew that he was a man and therefore mortal. In a relationship of love, he needed a fellow mortal and therefore longed to reunite with his mortal wife Penelope and his son Telemachus. This is where the fulfillment lies. It is a journey of 20 years away from home. While away, many suitors came seeking for his wife's hand in marriage on the ground of presuming Odysseus dead. However, the attachment between Penelope and her son Telemachus made the latter to feel jealous of the suitors and decided to join in a competition on who will have his mother as wife. Encouraged by Athena, he set out to look for his father. Meanwhile, Zeus commanded Calypso to release Odysseus, an order which she disappointingly obeyed. Homewards, Odysseus met his son Telemachus on his way from Sparta and they went home together. He disguised as one of the suitors, won the competition and finally disclosed his identity as the real husband.

Odyssey tells of human condition and the necessity of both attachment to home and the desire to set forth. In this dialectics of bonding and separation, there is also a mix of ironical sequences of what one wills and circumstances beyond his control. In Odysseus the courageous, smart, clever, strong, extremely cautious and will powered as well as the timid, precarious, emotional and fallible, the poem presents the highs and lows, strengths and weakness of man but amidst these contrarieties runs like a red thread the determination to grow and to succeed. Put the other way, the story of Odysseus is the story of every man and woman on earth starting with our journey from the womb into the world, our eventual departure from the family home through all the hurdling experiences of life and that desire to go home, a desire that never dies. All these happen in a dynamics of bonding and separation. Today being the Feast of the Holy Family, we long to see our family members. The tension of nearness and distance plagues us heavily. With heavy heart we miss those faraway, in gratitude we cherish those present, in submission to God's will we pray for the repose of the departed and in longing expectation, we commit the unborn into the protective care of God. There are also those who recently joined or will be joining the family through marriage. They are not to be excluded. Summarily, the family too is on the move. We all are pilgrims in this world, setting forth from home and heading homewards.

This has already given the family a heterogeneous cast. Despite the bond existing among every member of the family, the alterity marks itself out and its awareness, recognition and accommodation will ensure the togetherness, peace and growth of the family. A binding love also liberates. It neither imprisons nor enslaves. The three readings of today acknowledges these differences along gender and generational lines. Children are to obey their parents and parents are to respect their children. The old Simeon and Anna acknowledged their age and present themselves as a compass of hope for the younger generation. On the gender level, wives should honour their husbands while husbands should love their wives. Love and honour are two ways of saying the same thing. Parents should not expect children to be like them. Husbands should not force wives to be like them. The differences sometimes entails setting out. Love that sets out always returns to its root. An imprisoned love could turn toxic and septic. Children must be carefully led through the crisis of intimacy versus aversion. When it is time for them to leave the family, they must be encouraged, counseled and equipped. It is in this acknowledgment of the alterity within a family as well as the necessity to set out when due that the society experiences growth.

The journey of setting out begins right from the womb. A child in the womb does not want to come out but necessity expels him to the outer world. That is why a child is usually born crying. He has lost his home and security. This is immediately rediscovered in the consoling breasts of the mother. Soon it will not last. The child must gradually pitch his tent among other members of the family. Hence the dyadic mother - child relationship is extend to a triad. Without this triad, there will be no growth. Giuseppe Verdi's opera Rigoletto captures this curse of imprisoned love. The bond between the court jester Rigoletto and his daughter Gilda was too strong that there was no room for detachment thereby erasing the alterity. The intervention of the Duke of Mantua and Rigoletto's determination to revenge brought this work of art to a tragic end. As people come into our lives, some are also expected to walk out of lives. We too should walk into and out of others' lives. This respect for alterity is the ingredient for growth. In our families, we must also respect this for there to be peace and growth. Hence people move because of the necessity of change, bonding and separation, setting forth and pitching a tent. This is also seen in the movement of the economic Trinity. The three persons of the Trinity are one God existing in three distinct but interpenetrating modes - perichoresis. God is Love in Relationship. This relationship also extends to the creatures but especially to men as rational creatures. Hence, the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity leaves his heavenly glory without abandoning nor affecting the divine nature of the Trinity. He was born of the Virgin. John says that he took flesh and dwelt among us - the very mystery we are celebrating this season. This incarnation makes Jesus a distinct member of a human family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph - a family presented to us today as a model for every earthly family. We are always on the move in search of meaning and fulfillment. In this journey Jesus as Emmanuel becomes our companion.

Tomorrow is the World Day of Peace. Have you read Pope Francis 2018 message? It is about migrants and refugees. According to his statistics, there are 250 million migrants worldwide and 22.5million from this number are refugees. These are the people who left their homes because of war and famine. Others are on the move in search of economic, financial and developmental fulfillment. There are also those driven by poverty caused by environmental degradation. We will not also forget missionaries far away from home. All these represent in a special way what it means to be on the move. Those involuntarily displaced from the homes suffer heartbreak as well as those meeting threat and hostility in their host countries. In the language of Benedict XVI all these people set out in search of peace. We must acknowledge that they are not coming to us empty handed as usually presumed by the host countries. In the language of Francis, they are coming with their "courage, skills, energy and aspirations, as well as the treasures of their own cultures; and in this way, they enrich the lives of the nations that receive them." He therefore suggests that they be welcome, protected, promoted and integrated. These, according to him, are the four milestones for action. Next week, I take up this theme of migration in connection with welcoming the strangers.

This article has examined why we move from different angles; culturall (Odysseus and Rigoletto Libretto), anthropological (homeostasis), sociological (alterity in family and society), scriptural (readings of today) as well theological (Trinity). In all these, we see the pain and necessity of setting forth. Practically we are called to respect the differences that abound as a result of gender and generation, promote a creative movement and at the same time help all on the way in search of peace, meaning and fulfillment. This will first of all begin in our families which we celebrate today. Remember one time words of Pope Francis, "there is not perfect family." Let us respect the differences existing in our families for this is the bedrock of peace. Let us encourage and support those on the move. May St. Frances Xavier Cabrini, patron saint of the migrants intercede for us.   

 


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