Sunday, December 27, 2009

Holy Family

1. When God sent His Son to be born of woman and become a human being, He was sent to live and grow in a human family. Although Jesus was conceived in the womb of the Virgin by the power of the Holy Spirit and it was through Mary alone that Jesus received the physical attributes of His humanity, He could not advance in wisdom, and age, and favor (Luke 2:52) without growing up in a family. That is, Jesus lived and grew in a family with a mother and a father who were committed to one another for each others’ good and the good of the child.
2. There are those who might argue that the presence of Saint Joseph was largely unnecessary except for cultural reasons. A servant or slave could have just as easily protected Mary and Jesus from the dangers on the road to Egypt. They might muse that Mary could have been the successful carpenter/housebuilder breadwinner head of household for Jesus if it had not been the oppressive times of the past. I am not an expert in history but I suspect that there were women raising their sons all alone even back then. A husband might have been a soldier or sea merchant, or he might have died. Saint Joseph himself was going to divorce Mary quietly and let her be alone until the angel intervened in his dream and told him to accept and care for Mary and raise her child Jesus as his own son. Jesus, Mary, and Joseph were a family because the Son of God needed both mother and father to grow into his full manhood. There is a wealth of proof that each person needs a mother and a father- not just in the biological sense, but to be mothered by a woman and fathered by a man. When someone grows up with one of those absent, they do not receive have everything which they need. Furthermore, Mary and Joseph needed Jesus to be the holy woman and man that God had chosen them to be. After all, Jesus is the Savior.
3. The Church promotes this Feast of the Holy Family to remind us of the importance of the family and to help us counteract those forces or circumstances which can harm the family. It is important to reiterate that each person needs both mother and father active and interested and concerned and teaching them in their lives, and many of our present problems are the result of the failure of fathers and mothers giving their children what they need, and the failure of children to receive it. Of course, parents desire what is good and best for their children. Often times, the failure to give all they should is a consequence of not having received it themselves. Thanks be to God it is never too late to receive the blessing of a father and mother, even if those roles have to be completed by another man or woman.
4. The Holy Scriptures present to us the qualities of a good family life. It seems that first of all there should be committment to the others in mutual and lasting fidelity for their ultimate good. This committment begins with the husband and wife and from them flows to the children. Selfishness has no place, and causes the selfish person to lose far more than they gain by self-promotion.
5. Saint Paul exhorted the Colossians to put on, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, bearing with one another and forgiving one another (Colossians 3:12-13a). This meekness and humility does not mean that there is no authority or discipline in the family. Jesus humbly obeyed Mary and Joseph, while Mary and Joseph in turn had to guide Jesus as He grew. Forgiveness is a key to faithfulness. Even among people who want to love another there are misunderstandings. Mary and Joseph did not understand why Jesus was in the Temple talking to the experts in the Law. But through compassion and bearing with one another, the Holy Family was the place that made Jesus the Man that He was and gave Mary and Joseph the Holiness to be what God has called them for us- Mother of Christians and Patron of the Church.
6. Over all these put on love, which is the bond of perfection (Colossians 3:14). The love which the Holy Family put on was the love through which Jesus offered Himself on the Cross for our sins. Really if I was going to describe the behavior/ attitude of any family working for holiness that is what it is: being Christ to one another, seeing Christ in one another. Being Christ is not being a weakling or afraid. Rather, being Christ is standing up for the truth but loving others in spite of their weaknesses or sins. Being Christ is humbly accepting the role that God has given us but serving Him with a joyful heart and a face shining with confidence. Jesus did not accept the Cross as a man condemned. Rather He stretched out His own arms to offer the sacrifice of His body to save us.
7. There is another aspect of the Holy Family to which we ought to pay attention. Scripture does not contain any more stories about Jesus’ youth and education. It is silent. It would be foolish for us to think that nothing worthwhile happened. But what does the silence tell us? For one thing, it tells us that it was in the ordinariness of the life of the Holy Family that Jesus grew in age and grace. It is the same ordinariness that we all can share. The family is rightly called “the Domestic Church” because it is in the family that we learn how to love God and love one another.
8. For another thing, silence is essential to develop a listening heart. It is true that the Holy Family benefitted in having God Himself for the child. But if Mary and Joseph had not spent time with Jesus and spent time reflecting on the meaning of Jesus in their lives, it would have all been a waste for them. Believe it or not, Jesus is already in your family. He has promised to be wherever two or three gathered in His name. His Spirit is present in those Baptized into His Body the Church. But we have to get still to recognize Him. And we all need quiet to hear His voice.

Friday, December 25, 2009


1. The grace of God has appeared, saving all (Titus 2:11). A common theme among Christians at this time of year is to “Keep Christ in Christmas.” Due to our fallen natures, we sometimes get swept up in the material-gift giving aspect of the season. (Do not get me wrong: Material gift giving is good. To give others presents is part of our being made in the image and likeness of God. God has created all things out of love and given us existence and the bounty of creation to live in. Giving of material gifts is a manner of being like God in His generosity and love). Of course, if the focus of our Christmas is the giving and receiving of material things without raising our hearts and minds to the reason we do so, then we miss the mark. If an alien from another planet was to come to the earth at this time of year, it may come to the conclusion that we are celebrating snow, or ribbons, or trees, rather than the birth of Jesus Christ.
2. At the same time, we must contend with those who are not merely forgetful of Jesus through stress but those who would like to wipe Jesus out completely. There are a few who object to the phrase “Merry Christmas” simply because they do not want to hear the name of Christ. And their intolerance for Christians and anything resembling a Christian culture impels them to attempt to forbid Christmas. They have no problem with the gift giving, since that might stimulate business. But they would like to keep the spiritual side of others quiet so as not to disturb the comforts of their thoughts. And many times we are all too ready to keep quiet so as not to appear rude or pushy.
3. One of the popular Christmastime movies is “It’s a Wonderful Life” - a story about a man who got to see what the world would be like if he never existed. It has made me think, what would the world be like if Jesus had never been born? That is, what if there really were no “Christ” in Christmas?
4. Well for one, we would not be reading the story of Jesus’ birth. Mary and Joseph would have traveled to Bethlehem and stayed in a barn because the hotel was full. But they would have been like many other poor couples. No one would know who they were or cared, even if they were holy. The Magi would not have seen the star and travelled to meet the new king. They would not have presented their gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. On a positive note, Herod would not have killed all those children, at least not until some time later for some other reason. But we would not know it.
5. John the Baptist would have preached in vain trying to prepare the people for the Messiah. Peter and Andrew and James and John would have remained fishermen, Matthew would have collected taxes, the blind man would have died blind, Lazarus would have never been raised. Those with illnesses would have continued to suffer. The five thousand would have not eaten the miraculous lunch. Barabbas would have been executed. Paul would have lived out his days as a Rabbi in relative obscurity arguing the minutiae of the Law with others.
6. The Germanic peoples would have continued to worship trees, Egyptians worship the Nile river and the Aztecs would have continued to sacrifice humans to the sun god. There would have been no Saint Nicholas, that is no Santa Clause. There would be no beautiful Churches, no Christian art or music. There would have been no monasteries to preserve the learning of the ancient Greeks and Romans.
7. There would be no Christmas cards or Christmas music. To be honest, we would not be here together, people from every nation worshiping God as one family. There would be no priests, no deacons. No one would have eaten the Eucharist. No one would have had their sins forgiven neither in the waters of Baptism or in the Sacrament of Penance. There would have been no Resurrection, no Ascension, no Sending of the Holy Spirit. The power of death would not have been conquered and we would not have the promise of everlasting life.
8. But as it is, there is a Christ in Christmas. In our weakness, we might forget Him. Or others in their ignorance or jealousy might reject Him or try to get rid of Him. But the Word of God indeed was conceived in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary and became Man. Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah, the Anointed One, the Savior of the World. God did humble Himself to come and be one of us- not just to see what it would be like to be human but to give us a share in His divine nature.
9. That is the joy of Christmas: that God loves the world, that God loves us. God has revealed Himself to us in the person of Jesus the Christ, and has saved us from sin and death in the mystery of His Passion, death and Resurrection. It is therefore right that we celebrate His birth. It is reasonable that we make merry and feast and give gifts and reach out to the needy in our joy. The grace of God has appeared, saving all... And we await the blessed hope, the appearance of the glory of our great God and savior Jesus Christ (Titus 2:11&13). Merry Christmas!

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Be Joyful!

1. Your kindness should be known to all (Philippians 4:5). Traditionally, this Sunday is known as Gaudate Sunday, that is Rejoice Sunday, because Advent is halfway over and Christmas is almost here. To remind ourselves to rejoice, we light the pink candle and the priests wear rose colored vestments. For those who do not know Christ, or for those who might know of Him but do not know His Body the Church, we Catholics are often accused of being a dour and depressed bunch of people. I believe it is largely because we advocate fasting and going to Confession and doing penances and carrying our Cross. Of course on the other hand we are also often accused of partying too much with our general approval of dancing and permitting people to drink responsibly etc…
2. Anyway, even sometimes Catholics themselves look upon our relationship with God as something which is somber or scary or depressing or at least not filled with joy. Maybe it is our fear or misunderstanding of the Sacrament of Penance (that is Confession). We often fear Confession as if it is a moment of condemnation. When in reality it is a moment of liberation and forgiveness. Even the Bible speaks of these somber feelings. In the book of Job, Job begged God to leave Him alone. There are times when people are afraid to pray hoping that God will forget about them and leave them alone.
3. I never had that feeling, but a long time ago I convinced myself that the only way to do God’s will was to accept disasters in my life (which is true in a way). But I became unable to pray for anything good to happen. And worse, I began to expect the worst all the time, as if that was the only way God would treat me. I had to learn that I was God’s son. All of us are His beloved Children. To be God’s child is not to get everything that we want. Our desires are not always what is best for us, or best for the plan of salvation. Still, the Lord desires us to be filled with joy.
4. In John's Gospel, we read: As the Father loves me, so I also love you. Remain in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father's commandments and remain in his love. "I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and your joy may be complete (John 15:9-11). That is what we believe as Catholics- Jesus greatly desires our joy to be complete. But it will not be complete until we know and love Him the way He loves us.
5. The joy of remaining in the love of Christ is expressed in imitating His love. Saint Paul said Your kindness should be known to all. That is, to express our joy in the Lord through kindness to others. This manner of rejoicing is actually natural to us in areas that we would not necessarily define as “religion.” Many people mark the engagement to marry of themselves or their children with gift giving or the renewal of family relationships so that others could share their joy. Or when you get your first job and in your joy look for ways that you can be generous to those who supported you in school. For some, when their team wins a game, they are joyful and generous as well.
6. Those are but a few examples. John the Baptist gives others. For example, treating people fairly, sharing your goods with those in need, or simply being satisfied with your pay. These actions are expressions of contentment and trust. If we really believe that God is the creator of all things, and that He has the power to provide for everyone, and that the Lord is a loving God, then why shouldn’t we be content? If we know that God has prepared a place in His home for us, why shouldn’t we trust? If we claim that God is kind and merciful, what should stop us from sharing that kindness and mercy to others? If Jesus is the One whom we love above all other people and things, we have every reason to be joyful, for His birthday is almost here.