Sunday, December 28, 2008

Holy Family

1. The family is the way of the Church. (John Paul II) It is the common experience of everyone of every vocation. It is the basic unit of society. The family, as intended by God, consists of mother, father, and child or children, and cannot really be replaced by other associations or groups that would like to be considered families. The family is the ordinary means by which God intended to increase the human race, to protect and nurture the weak, and develop each person into maturity. Those whose family is incomplete or not functioning properly, and those who have no family experience pain and loss because of their lack.
2. The family so important that God used it as the means of bringing salvation to the world. For the Son of God became part of the human family. Jesus did not just take flesh of the Blessed Virgin Mary and became Man, but He entered into the experience of the family with a Mother and a Father. Although it is true that Joseph was not Jesus’ biological father, he exercised the authority and care of Jesus as his son, in accord with God’s plan Even Holy Scripture calls Joseph the father of Jesus for this reason.
3. The home life of the Holy Family was necessary for Jesus to become who He really was- not only the Son of God from all eternity, but the Son of Man. When Jesus was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit, at that moment. He became fully human in every way, just like us. But as a human being Jesus had to grow and be nurtured (see Luke 2:40). It was in His family that Jesus learned how to talk, how to read, how to work, how to pray, probably even how to teach. In the family Jesus learned to put on, as Saint Paul says, heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, bearing with one another and forgiving one another (Colossians 3:12-13). It might seem to us that they had it easy. Jesus and Mary had no sin, and Joseph was a righteous man. But their relatives and neighbors were not preserved from sin. And even despite the help of God they still had to go through the difficulties of life- illness, teething, teenage years. Furthermore, they had to escape to Egypt for a few years because Herod was trying to kill Jesus (Matthew 2:13-14).
4. Though we do not hear much about Saint Joseph in the Bible, it was from him that Jesus learned how to be a man. As Blessed as Mary is, there are things that one must get from one’s father. It is said that a father is the one to teach his children how to say “no.” Such as no I will not give into the temptation to turn the stones into bread (see Matthew 4:3-4) or no, I will not call down fire to destroy the Samaritan city (see Luke 9:54-55) or no, I will not let one of my followers be arrested with me, it is not their time (see John 18:8-9).
5. Most of the life of the Holy Family remains hidden from our view (from the point of view of Scripture). But there are stories about the Holy Family's activities that give us a glimpse of what was important to them.
6. Saint Luke tells us that Mary and Joseph completed all the prescriptions of the Law with regard to Jesus (Luke 2:39). That means on the eight day after Jesus was born, Joseph and Mary had Jesus circumcised. In doing so, they ensured that Jesus the man was part of the covenant family that God had established with Abraham. At the same time, they were renewing their commitment to the Lord in having their child brought into the covenant. Had they failed to do so, they would have cut themselves off from God. Furthermore, in accordance with the Law, they offered the sacrifice of two turtle doves (see Luke 2:22-40). This redemption was an acknowledgment that God had rescued them from slavery in Egypt and from the death of their firstborn sons in the final plague. Their son was to be consecrated to God entirely.
7. Joseph and Mary took their responsibility for the spiritual growth of Jesus as a member of the chosen people seriously. Joseph not only cared for the material needs of the family, but saw to it that they took the time to practice their religion, he did not dump that job off on Mary- and they fulfilled their religion, not merely out of a sense of obligation, but because they loved God. How else do you explain Mary and Joseph’s submission to the will of God although it was highly inconvenient for them? It was inconvenient for Mary to conceive a child before she was married. It was inconvenient for Joseph to marry a woman who had a child which was not his own. Yet they obeyed God out of love.
8. A family in which God is in the center, in which prayer, worship and the practice of religion is most important, that family is going to mirror the Holiness of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph. On the other hand, the family for whom the worship of God is something you do occasionally, or when there is nothing better to do- those families are going to struggle with holiness- not only because their priorities are misplaced, but because they withhold from themselves God’s help. They are like children who refuse to come to the dinner table to eat, but who constantly complain of being hungry.
9. Of course in the New Covenant, the rituals are different. We do not circumcise, but we baptize to enter the Covenant Family of God. That is why we baptize infants. Who should wait to be part of God’s family? The sacrifice which we offer is the one commanded by Jesus when He said do this in memory of me (see Luke 22:19) - that is, the Eucharist. It is the sacrifice of Jesus Himself which establishes the New Covenant and consecrates us to God the Father.
10. The family life of Jesus with Mary and Joseph was crucial to the plan of salvation. Sin came into the world through disobedience. Jesus conquered sin through humbling Himself. Jesus’ obedience is not only the model that we must follow, but it is the source of the grace that makes it possible for us to be Holy.
11. Family is what being Catholic is all about. In our baptism we entered the family covenant with God. We received Mary for our mother and Saint Joseph for our foster father. As Joseph was given authority over the household of God in order to care for Jesus and Mary, so does he continue to care for the family of God the Church. And in the sacraments that spiritual family is increased, fed, strengthened, reconciled, and perfected. But although we are given the faith by the free gift of God, it is in and through the natural family that we really receive the faith. I could baptize many people, but if their families do not keep their promises, the children could be lost. The family is the way of the Church. And the success of our human families is dependent on how they reflect the holiness of the Holy Family.
12. Jesus, Mary, and Joseph pray for us.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Joy for All the People

1. The angels appeared to the shepherds and announced to them the joy that would be for all peoples. Throughout history, even to the present day, there have been plenty of promises of joy for everyone. But in every case, whether it has been the promise of a person or a program, a philosophy or an investment or a lifestyle choice, these promises have always come up empty except for this one. That is the promise of Jesus Christ.
2. The other promises fail for a variety of reasons. Sometimes it is because part of the plan is to crush or destroy someone. Not only does that not result in joy for everyone, but eventually the victims want to do the same. It’s true, Jesus did plan to destroy something: He destroyed the power of sin and death. But the lowly and the meek He lifts up. And those who are beset by sin, whether they appear mighty in the world, or lacking in power, He offers freedom from eternal death.
3. Other promises fail because they presume that happiness can be achieved through material possessions or pleasures of the body. It does not take long to learn that happiness does not come from those things. They fall apart, they break, they do not last. No matter how much you have, you want more. At the end, we cannot take them with us when we die. I have attended the deaths of many people. Not one person in that circumstance cared about their pretty things, their cars and houses and big screen televisions. They wanted to see the people whom they loved and that was enough. Maybe hold the rosary in their hands one last time. And today’s pleasures have a tendency to turn into tomorrow’s troubles - disease, illness, separation, sorrow.
4. On the other hand, the newborn King Jesus offers an eternal inheritance in the kingdom of God. These treasures awaiting those who love God and obey Him cannot fall apart, they cannot break or fail. They will not make anyone sick. To possess them will not cause us grief or regret on our deathbed, but rather fill us with hope that will not go unfulfilled.
5. Still other promises fail because they require us to become something which we are not. That is to become our own god. Maybe they are Or even worse, because they are based on the notion that joy is caused by self-fulfillment. But Jesus said Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it (Matthew 10:39).
6. Saint Thomas Aquinas taught that happiness consists entirely of the Beatific Vision- that is, seeing God face to face in the fullness of His kingdom at the end of the world. And in Jesus we see the face of God. As the angels announced to the shepherds, the good news of great joy for all the people (Luke 2:10) is the Incarnation of Jesus the Son of God as a human being. Jesus is the one who brings true joy. Not economic systems, not politicians and government, not money, not possessions, not pleasures, not anything else other than God. Those things can be useful, but they will not get the job done. Only Jesus can.
7. So today we celebrate His birth. Not really His entry into the world, for Jesus had been hidden in Mary’s womb for nine months. Even now as a child, although His birth is announced by angels, very few people paid any attention. Probably not the innkeeper, probably not the owner of the manger. To most, Jesus was just another poor child born among the millions of babies born each year. Even now, though we celebrate His birth, five out of every six people in the world do not even know who Jesus is. Some know His name only as a curse word. And yet, He came to suffer and to save not only us, but everyone else too.
8. It is appropriate, therefore, for us to be joyful. This indeed should be a special time of the year in which we take stock of what is really important, in which we exercise generosity for the sake of goodness, in which we seek to reconcile with and spend time with our families and loved ones. It is time for us to refocus our attention on the One who does not just make Christmas what it is (after all, it is Jesus’ birthday), but who makes everything that is (He is the Word through whom all things were created as well as the One who has redeemed Creation). He alone will give us the Joy which we desire. Merry Christmas and May God bless.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

According to Thy Word

For a few brief moments, our salvation seemed to hang in the balance. After announcing the will of God for Mary to become the Mother of God by the power of the Holy Spirit, the Archangel Gabriel awaited word from the young girl. How would his Queen respond? There were reasons to say no. Joseph would surely be upset. The family and the neighbors would certainly have something to say. Mary was a young girl with a good reputation and a desire for holiness. If she agreed, there could be trouble. No, there would be trouble.

And yet, the Lord had always been faithful to His people, even when they were not faithful. To turn back now when it was in her power to do God’s will would rank Mary among the ungrateful Israelites of the past. Besides, those who trusted in the Lord had never been put to shame. And God had prepared her from the first moment of her existence to say yes. Mary was and is, full of grace.

Be it done to me according to your word, Mary said. Was there any doubt that she would love God above all things?

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Be Joyful!

1. Rejoice always, pray without ceasing. In all circumstances give thanks, for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18). This weekend we celebrate Gaudate Sunday, that is, You, Rejoice. Liturgically, the reason for rejoicing is that the Penitential Season of Advent is over half over and the feast of Christmas is nearly here. The priests wear rose-colored vestments. The Rose color is obtained more or less by mixing the penitential color of Purple with the Feast Color of White.
2. Scripturally speaking, rejoicing is a source of strength. Although through fasting and prayer, we can obtain many blessings, in truth the purpose of Christianity is not to make fasting and penance our aim. The purpose of fasting is so that we can feast better. The purpose of penance is so that we may celebrate more. The purpose of carrying our cross and accepting a share in the passion of Christ is not so that we will suffer bitterly, but so that we may rejoice in sharing His resurrection. After all, Jesus did not stay in the tomb, but He rose and ascended into heaven. When He returns, it will not be to suffer and die, but to reign gloriously forever.
3. Because we know how things are really going to end: with resurrection and with glory, we are able to rejoice always. Even in the midst of sorrow, a Christian should carry within them a joy which cannot be taken away.
4. Last Monday, one of my friends made her vows as a Missionary of Charity (that is Mother Teresa’s group). There were eight young women making their vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience. Present at the Mass were around 50 other sisters of the same group. Some were novices, and others fully professed nuns with years of service. What was striking about all of them was their joy. They were all so happy and smiling. Maybe they were happy because their sisters in the order were fulfilling their dream of making a serious commitment of their whole lives to Jesus Christ. Possibly, being a nun just made them all that happy. I am not sure, but I know that I have never been around so many joyful women at the same time.
5. After the Mass in which they made their commitment to Jesus Christ as a religious, they retired to their convent where they received their assignments. Within the week, each newly professed sister would be leaving the convent in San Francisco to serve the poorest of the poor in another city. I was with the families downstairs. From upstairs where the sisters were, we could hear them stomping their feet and shouting for joy at receiving their new assignments. My friend came down and breathlessly announced that she was being sent to Haiti. Now Haiti is a beautiful country, but it is beset by great suffering. Sister Esther would be going into the midst of all that. Yet her face was radiant as she announced it to her family. All the other nuns who announced their assignments were similarly happy.
6. What gave them the power to be joyful instead of fearful? It was their love of Jesus. Because of their relationship with Him, they could be just as joyful being sent to Haiti as they were getting to see their family the first time in five years.
7. That same joy is available to us. Some of you may be called to religious life, but the majority of us are not. (A diocesan priest makes promises of obedience and celibate chastity, but we do not make make vows to enter religious communities, our community is the parish and the local presbyterate). Saint Paul tells us: Rejoice always. Pray without ceasing. In all circumstances give thanks. It must therefore be possible to do these, and they are connected. If every facet of our life is saturated with prayer and gratitude, then joy will be ours even in the midst of problems.
8. I once visited a man in the hospital who had a heart attack. He and his wife were saying how grateful they were that the EMT's had arrived so soon and taken such good care of him. And how they were thankful that they were able to be in a hospital that could care for him correctly. A few days later, he had another heart attack in the hospital. I visited again. And once again this couple could do nothing but rejoice and thank God that the man had his second heart attack in the hospital, nears the nurses and doctors. Their grateful and prayerful spirits exuded joy.
9. How does one pray without ceasing? It certainly does not mean praying vocal prayers the whole time, although those are necessary. The first step of praying without ceasing is to realize that God is present in every situation. We may think that there is a part of our lives that God is not in, or a part of our house that God is not present, but He is there. Even when we sin, God is right there. He does not approve, but He is present. The Lord is closer to us than we are to ourselves.
10. The second step is to absolutely believe that through our baptism we are the beloved children of God the Father. The Father might not approve of everything we do, but He loves us and sent His Son Jesus to save us.
11. The third step is to focus our hope on the resurrection at the end of the world. All these things in the world which we like to pay attention to may be beautiful, and some may even be holy. But this world will pass away.
12. If we love Jesus in every thought, word, and action. If we do that, we will pray always. And the joy of loving Jesus will fill us to overflowing and it will not end.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Here comes with power the Lord GOD! (Isaiah 40:10).

1. Saint Peter prophesied that the world will be consumed by fire and all the elements will go up with a roar (see 2 Peter 3:8-14). This image is at least a little bit disturbing. Of course, his reason for telling us is so that we can be prepared for when it happens. When I was reading this earlier in the week, I began to think of how one might avoid being destroyed in a fire. One tactic in fighting outdoor fires is to start a small fire and burn out an area so there is no more fuel. Then you wrap up and hunker down. When the large fire arrives, it will have nothing to burn and skip over you.
2. In some ways this is a good tactic to imitate. Saint John the Baptist tells us that the Messiah will plunge us into the Holy Spirit, who is the fire of God’s love (Mark 1:8). (Baptize means plunge). At Pentecost, the disciples received the Holy Spirit which came upon them like tongues of fire. Furthermore, the faith spread like a fire throughout the world. It still does, there are people who are hungry for the Christian faith. God has prepared them to receive the faith. All we have to do is go spread it to others.
3. If we are consumed with the fire of the Holy Spirit, then we do not have to worry in the least about the fire which will consume the world at the end. Now, usually, when a person has a conversion experience toward God, they can practically feel the fire of God’s love inside. It might even be easy at first to experience God’s power given to us through Jesus Christ. With time, however, our fervor may begin to falter. Sometimes it is a matter of getting tired out, or falling in love with the good things of the earth. To keep the flame of faith going, we must be careful to obey the commandments, lest sin put the fire out. And if we do fall into sin, we must be quick to go to confession, so that we can regain the status that we had when we first received the faith, and even progress in our love of God and neighbor. Like the firefighter who builds a firebreak, the fire of the Holy Spirit will protect us from the fires of Hell.
4. The image of the firebreak maybe does not fit completely when we consider that the unquenchable fires of Hell are not equal in any way to the fire of God’s love. The agony awaiting those who reject God’s love in no way measures up to the joy which await those who are consumed by His love. So maybe we should apply the image in the opposite. God’s love is everlasting and all consuming. And the only sure way for someone to avoid being caught up in it is to deliberately choose the fires of perdition. To do so makes no sense! Who would willingly choose being apart from God’s love? It seems insane. But there are times when we may have wanted to be in control of our own fire so much that we have in fact prevented ourselves from being taken up into God’s love.
5. There is a time however, in which a person can in fact be doing everything in their power to keep the fire going, and yet it seems to die out. In those times, we are like the people of John the Baptist’s time- eagerly awaiting our Lord, but not seeing Him anywhere. We are led into the desert and it may seem as if God is not speaking or listening. In those moments we must be especially careful to not permit the fire to go out. For it is a moment in which God is about to do something great, although it may seem insignificant, or be so delicate that we could miss it. It is in fact a period of testing and preparation of our hearts so that we might love Jesus more deeply. Even those blessings we have received at Jesus’ hands must be offered up so that they may not interfere with our focus on the Lord.
6. Saint Peter asks us the question what sort of person ought we to be? (see 2 Peter 3:11). Not fearful, but ones whose desire for Jesus drives everything that we do.