“Listen to Daddy, Hana,” Maya says to her 1.5-year old baby sister. “Or he’ll close the door.”
Close the door. That sounds like a non-sequitur. In our family, it signals the worst form of punishment: separation from mommy or daddy. And it’s reserved for when our children throw a tantrum, stubbornly refuse to obey, or are being violent. When Maya warned her sister, it is because she herself has a lot of experience with it.
I guess it’s a form of timeout, but I think it’s more than that. I think it’s a taste of excommunication. It’s a taste of Hell. I mean, what’s worse than spending an eternity without God, the source of all that’s good? What is excommunication, but separation from the family (i.e. Mother Church, Heavenly Father, our brothers & sisters in the parish, our Ideal Older Brother Christ)? So, when I put Maya in her room and close the door, she is experiencing excommunication, family-style.
And, boy… does she feel it!
Maya would scream and scream and scream. Then she would scream even louder. So loud, that I wonder if our neighbors think there’s a massacre going on in our house. When I open the door and tell her to calm down, she would shout with her mouth closed but still be jumping up and down. She still would not obey; so, I would close the door. New heights of screaming. Maya would work herself up into a sweat. It is, I’m sure, a horrible experience for her. This is not any sort of timeout I’ve ever heard of.
After four of five times of opening and closing the door, Maya would repent. She would say “I’m sorry” and acknowledge the lesson I’m trying to teach her. Throughout this whole time I never have to raise my voice. I calmly but firmly request what she needs to do in order to repent, and repeatedly close the door until she chooses to repent. When she does repent, I would hug her and kiss her, which is what I wanted to do anyway. But, discipline is the path to health and happiness. So, the punishment — the family excommunication — was necessary.
Family excommunication would not work if Maya did not love being around me. If she hated me, or merely had no desire to be around me, separation from her father would be a relief. But, I deliberately die to my own selfishness so that I can be Maya’s source of joy, laughter, fun, giggles, silliness, and imagination. I die to my self so that I can be her ultimate playfellow. This is the source of power in “closing the door.” Maya doesn’t want to lose this source of love.
Ecclesial excommunication works the same way. If I don’t love Christ and His Church, then being separated from the Family of God would be a relief.
As my daughters grow in maturity within our domestic church, my hope is to draw their awareness to the true source of all their happiness, all their blessings. Their father is so awesome not because he’s naturally so. He’s naturally a sinner — a selfish, prideful, lustful, gluttonous man. But by the grace of Our Good Lord, their daddy is awesome. My hope is to draw their awareness to their talents, their beauty, their intellect as being gifts of God. They didn’t have to be this way. They didn’t have to be born into this family. But they are incredible creatures, born into this wonderful family. And they can thank no one but God.
I want to conclude, oddly enough, with a reflection on the Book of Numbers from the Old Testament. The Book of Numbers is one of the five Books of Moses (called the Pentateuch) that is the basis for all of Judaism. It is the story of Israel’s wanderings in the wilderness, in the desert land of Sinai, between Egypt and the promised land. And it is painful to read — not because it’s boring — but because God literally kills tens of thousands of his own Chosen People. Catholic teaching says that one person is of infinite value. If that’s true, then why did God open up the ground and swallowed up men, women, children and babies (Num 16:26-32)?
That was the question I had during my lectio divina prayer on this chapter in Numbers. Today, I thanked God for the consolation of an answer. My thoughts ran together, but let me try to put them into logical order:
- Bodily death loses its sting (1 Cor 15:55) with the hope of the Resurrection.
- Christ descended into Hell for three days (Apostles’ Creed). He preached the Gospel to the souls imprisoned there and freed the just who had gone before him (CCC 632-634).
- A day is like a thousand years, a thousand years like a day to the Lord (2 Peter 3:8)
- The innocent family members who died in the history recounted in Numbers 16 would have been freed by Christ when he descended into Hell. In the timeframe of God, it would have been just ten minutes.
- When I punish Maya with family excommunication (a.k.a. “closing the door”), it takes about ten minutes or so.
- Just as I am a loving father and want my child to reconcile with me, so did God want to reconcile with His Chosen People who died in Numbers 16. His 10 minutes may seem like an eternity to me, just like my 10 minutes may seem like an eternity to Maya.
Praise God, for He is the source of all wisdom, goodness and love.