The Family as Sacrament Forbes Robinson

A home circle reminds me, I think, more than anything else of that other home, that other family – the home of a Father and of a Son, the family circle of the Three

who live in one unity. We should thank God for every family circle on earth into which we are allowed to enter, and in whose life he allows us to share – for any true family on earth – yes, and every little child who is born into this strange world of ours is a sure and certain pledge – a real sacrament – that God loves us still, has not forgotten us, is giving us little glimpses into his own family life, is making existence here a more perfect image of life in heaven.

We should come into such a family circle with the same feelings of awe as when we bend on our knees to receive the Holy Com munion. For here, too, we enter into Holy Communion – the communion of simple, human, happy family life; here too, we approach a sacrament, outward and visible signs of happy, quiet, home life – the signs of an inward and spiritual grace.

True, that grace is but little realized in the best of families – little consciously realized in the noblest life. But, oh! surely a human family – brothers and sisters in a home on earth – are a sure and certain pledge that this grace does exist – that God is – for here we have an exquisite though imperfect copy of the family life of God. Thank God when you see a good or a beautiful man or woman, a pure and a simple family – thank God, because it is a revelation, a manifestation, an unveiling, a copy, a likeness of himself …a manifestation of him from whom all beauty comes … Pray to him that the outward and visible may be ever more and more but an expression of something inward and unseen and spiritual.

In many cases the outward and inward seem divorced. Now let us not try rashly to solve the problem ourselves… if we are candid, we must admit that apparently the outward and visible are separated from the inward and spiritual, that we have outward beauty and grace which is no sign at all of anything deeper – nay, that the very spiritual qualities, of which it is the sign, and which may once have existed in the person, have been used for the vilest ends. This being the case, we are still left with the problem, is the outward and visible not intended to be a sign of something deeper? Here it is not a sign. Why not? Will it ever be so? To put the case in its short, simple, concrete form, how can a ‘flirt’ exist when by all the laws of the universe beauty should surely be a sign not of instability, insipidity, unspirituality, worldliness, shallowness, hypocrisy, but of the Supreme?

I cannot answer this question. I doubt whether any man can. But I can show you where its ultimate solution must lie. It lies in the sacraments. Yes, they are the answer to the whole problem. They tell us that the outward and visible – the commonest objects, water, wine, bread – may be the signs of something which is deeper than anything we know. . They are to my mind a sure and certain pledge that someday the outward and visible shall really correspond to the inward and invisible.

From ‘Letters to other Friends September 1892’
in Forbes Robinson, Disciple of Love (SPCK, 1961)
(edited by Arthur Middleton) ND