The Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph

Today's readings

From the first time I came here to St. Raphael's, my favorite piece of artwork was this, the statue of the Holy Family. The figures looked so real and compassionate. I loved that Joseph has the scroll of the Law, since he would have been the one to teach the Law to his son in a good Jewish family. There is a peace, and a great love that is conveyed by the figures' eyes and faces. I have spent many moments sitting here praying.

But I am aware that the idyllic holiness, peace and love this statue depicts is often quite foreign to the experience of many families, including many families in this congregation. I know there are families where communication is anything but good. There are families who may never have known the kind of love that is shared between Jesus, Mary and Joseph. There are families who struggle with abuse: physical, sexual, or emotional.

Even in the "best" of families, there is often hardship. I know there are families who struggle to keep up with all the activities that are required of them. There are families who can't find time to have a meal together, let alone take a trip together. Families often struggle to make ends meet. There are families who struggle with the changing needs of children as they grow older. Families may be separated by great distance, or may have suffered the sickness or death of one of the members. Other families may find themselves changing roles as a parent, the one who provided for his or her children, grows old and becomes ill and needs care.

Families can be and are the source of our greatest joys and our deepest anguish. Sometimes all in the same day. The truth is, and perhaps you find yourself thinking this as you sit there and listen to these readings today, none of our families is perfect. Few of us would rush to describe our families as well-functioning, let alone holy. And so we can sit there and look at that statue and find its serenity meaningless in the hectic anxiety of our day-to-day family lives.

But maybe we need to look a little deeper or listen a little harder today. "Holy" and "perfect" are not the same thing. We don't need to be perfect to be a family. That was true of Jesus, Mary and Joseph as well. Would a perfect family have lost their child on the way home from a trip? I don't think so, but that's exactly what happened, isn't it? Mary says to Jesus when they find him that she and Joseph had been looking for him with "great anxiety." Those of you who are parents can well imagine the anxiety and can totally identify with what Mary and Joseph had to have been feeling.

Jesus' response shows the struggle that so often happens in families when the children are trying to grow up faster than the parents would like to see. He knows his mission and feels ready to take it on. They still see him as a child, a child for whom they feel great responsibility, not to mention great love and concern. This story is the last time we see Jesus until he begins his ministry at the age of about thirty. It has been theorized that the reason for this is that he was grounded until he was thirty.

I don't know if that's true or not, but the point is that even in the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph, there were struggles. Nothing was perfect in that family, not even from the beginning. Right at the beginning, there was a hint of scandal about the pregnancy; they had to flee for their safety; they suffered from poverty and violent threats. Like many modern families they suffered under political and military oppression, had to settle far from their original home and had to start a new life in a foreign place. Two thousand years may separate the modern family from the "Holy Family," but there is much to link us, much that we share.

So it is not perfection that we are supposed to be seeing in the Holy Family on this, their feast. I think what we are supposed to see in them is faithfulness. Faithfulness to God and faithfulness to one another: indeed, it is this faithfulness that leads them to the holiness we celebrate today. Look at the way the situation in the Gospel reading today was resolved among them. Even though they were panicked and anxious about the disappearance of their son; even though they did not understand what was going on with him, yet they appreciated his uniqueness, and Mary kept all of these memories in her heart, kept them to be sorted out and understood much later. And even though Jesus was ready to grow into adulthood and ready to begin his mission, yet he understood the concerns of his parents and continued to be obedient to them as he continued to grow in wisdom and grace. They were faithful to one another.

Our first reading today from Sirach addresses these same concerns. The family members are instructed to care for one another, to honor one another, to love and respect one another all their days. Even as parents age and the roles become reversed, still we are to respect them for all they have been for us. We are called to be faithful to one another.

I continue to be aware that even as I pull that theme of faithfulness out of today's Scriptures, that can still seem insurmountable to many of you. Why should you be faithful when the hurts inflicted by other members of your family still linger? That's a hard one to address, but the call to faithfulness is still there for all of us. And we're not told to be faithful just when everyone else is faithful. Sometimes we are called to make an almost unilateral decision to love and respect the others in our families, and let God worry about the equity of it all. I know that's easier to say than to do, but please know that this Church family supports you with prayer and love as you do that.

Every single one of us is called to be holy, brothers and sisters. And every single one of our families is called to be holy. That doesn't mean that we will be perfect. But it does mean that we will be faithful in love and respect. It means that we will unite ourselves to God in prayer and worship. It means we will love when loving is hard to do. Mary loved Jesus all the way to the Cross and watched him die. What we see in the model of the Holy Family for us is not perfection, but faithfulness and holiness.

That holiness will make demands of us. It did for Jesus, Mary and Joseph. Our church still has the Nativity scene on display; we are still celebrating Christmas. But today's story of Jesus in the temple reminds us that our faith in the Incarnation does not stop at the crib. The Gospel already has hints that Jesus' disciples will be asked to make a break with the past and accept a new life of sacrifice. Just as Jesus is beginning to show signs of entering a larger world and responding to its needs, so too must we move out of the confines of the safe and serene and enter and respond to the areas of need that the world presents to us. It will take holiness for us to be able to do that.

Jesus, emerging from childhood to adulthood, reminds us that in his name, we must be ready to live faithful and holy lives, regardless of whether others are doing the same, and no matter what the personal cost. Because the cost of rejecting holiness in our lives is just too great, and the loss of an earthly family is nothing compared to losing our place in the family of God.

The Fifth Day in the Octave of Christmas

Today's readings | (St. Thomas Becket)

The birth of Christ in our world ought to mean something to us. I mean, of course, it ought to mean something more than rich food and brightly wrapped gifts (although there's nothing wrong with those!). The birth of Christ ought to mean a change in our attitudes and our behaviors and even in the course of our lives.

Today is a commemoration of St. Thomas Becket, the archbishop of Canterbury who ultimately lost his life to the man who gave him that prestigious post. When King Henry began to usurp Church rights, Thomas Becket found himself in a bind. Would he be beholden to the king, or would he protect the Church on behalf of the King of Kings? While it was a struggle for Thomas, he ultimately knew that the he must take a stand, no matter what the cost.

In today's first reading, St. John makes the point very clear. We cannot say we love God and yet defy his commandments. And we certainly cannot love God who is love itself, while at the same time refusing to love our brothers and sisters. Being Christian looks like something, and the world looks at us to see what it is. If the birth of Christ means something to us, we have to share that meaning with the world by loving, no matter what the cost.

Perhaps the one who knew this best was Mary herself. Simeon the prophet knew that he had seen the promise when he looked at the child Jesus. Then he clearly told his mother that this Savior would cost her some happiness in life. Because Jesus would be a contradictory sign in the world, her heart would be pierced with sorrow. But all of this was to make manifest God's glory, no matter what the cost.

The birth of Christ in our world and into our lives this Christmas ought to mean something to us. A watching world should be able to look at us and see Christ. May this Christmas find us changing our hearts and minds so that we can be that Christ for all the world to see, no matter what the cost.

Feast of the Holy Innocents

Today’s readings | Today’s feast (more)

holy innocents

On the face of it, this is just a horrible feast. The slaughter of many innocent children is a stark and frightening juxtaposition to the joy and glory of the Christmas Octave. The numbers of children actually murdered is variously estimated. Early estimates were in the thousands, but more modern estimates limit the victims to twenty or less, due to the relatively small size of the community of Bethlehem and the surrounding vicinity. But let’s think about that proportionally: Naperville’s population is about 30 times the population of Bethlehem at that time. So if 600 children were murdered here, the loss and horror would be devastating. That’s what was going on in Bethlehem at that time.

As I said, in some ways, this is a horrible feast. But the Church, in recognizing the contribution of the Holy Innocents to the kingdom, asserts that this is just the beginning of the world’s seeing the glory of Jesus Christ. Even in the horror of this event, innocent children bear witness to the Child Jesus. St. Quodvoltdeus, an African bishop of the fifth century writes of them:

The children die for Christ, though they do not know it. The parents mourn for the death of martyrs. The Christ child makes of those as yet unable to speak fit witnesses to himself. But you, Herod, do not know this and are disturbed and furious. While you vent your fury against the child, you are already paying him homage, and do not know it.

To what merits of their own do the children owe this kind of victory? They cannot speak, yet they bear witness to Christ. They cannot use their limbs to engage in battle, yet already they bear off the palm of victory.

Maybe the key is in the first reading. The line that really caught me is “God is light, and in him there is no darkness at all.” We can see all kinds of darkness in an event like the murder of even twenty innocent children. Yet only God could turn something that horrible around to his glory. They may have lived extremely short lives on earth, yet their lives in eternity were secured forever. They become some of the first to participate in the kingdom that Christ would bring about through his Paschal Mystery.

The Nativity of the Lord

Today (tonight), we gather to celebrate that GOD KEEPS HIS PROMISES.

nativity

God promises us salvation. Even though we were lost, having wandered far away from our God, preferring to pursue our own bleak interests and passions, even though we had turned away from the One who formed us and gave us his very breath that we might have life, even though we looked away from all the many gifts God had given us, preferring to pursue everything we saw that someone else had, even though we had spurned our God, yet our God continued to love us and desired to have us close to himself. Even though we gave up on God, God never gave up on us. God’s Word told us on the First Sunday of Advent that God promised us salvation. He said to us, “I will fulfill the promise I made to Israel and Judah … I will raise up for David a just shoot.” This just shoot would be our Lord Jesus Christ, who would lead all of us wandering souls back to the God who created us for himself. We have the great promise of salvation, all we have to do is look to our God, and “be vigilant at all times.”

God promises us a Savior. The thing is, having wandered away from God, we did not know how to get back to him all on our own. Even if we had known the way at one time, we long since forgot, and perhaps had even given up the desire to return to God. It’s kind of like getting lost in the woods. After a while, it’s hard even to see your footprints so that you can go back the way you came. The trees and underbrush all snap back into place once you’ve passed and it looks like you had never been there in the first place. You need someone to come and show you the way back. God promises us a Savior. On the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception, we heard about a young girl named Mary who was told she would give birth to a Savior. Even though it would be a hard and sorrowful life in some ways, Mary extolled God’s greatness and said “May it be done to me according to your word.” Through the fiat of Mary, God promised us a Savior.

God promises us forgiveness. When someone we love wanders away from us, preferring to be with others, it hurts us deep within. If a child or loved one gets caught up in the wrong crowd, we cannot help but feel abandoned and discouraged. Forgiveness is so hard to offer when another person refuses to even accept it. It would be easy to understand if God gave up on humanity, when we so often reject him in our day-to-day lives. But God’s love is bigger than our sin. On the Second Sunday of Advent, God promised to prepare in our hearts a place for his Son, if only we would seek out his forgiveness. Wherever we are on the journey to Christ, whatever the obstacles we face, God promises to make it right through Jesus Christ. We may be facing the valley of hurts or resentments. God will fill in that valley. Perhaps we are up against a mountain of sinful behavior or shame. God will level that mountain. We may be lost on the winding roads of procrastination or apathy. God will straighten out that way. We may be riding along on the rough and bumpy ways of poor choices, sinful relationships and patterns of sin. God will make all those ways smooth. God promises us forgiveness.

God promises us renewal. Sin has a way of making us feel dead to anything. We may have rejected God so often, that we fail to find life in worship or prayer. We may have made the wrong choices for our lives so habitually, that we cannot find joy in our lives. But all things are possible for God, who promises to raise us up out of our darkness and sin and give life to our hardened hearts and stony souls. On the Third Sunday of Advent, we heard that Jesus would come and baptize us with the Holy Spirit and with fire, that fire that would kindle the coldness in our lives and renew the zeal in our spirits. We heard that the penalties that we have paid for our sinfulness are gone and we can now look forward to a renewed life and spirit. Far from rejecting us, the prophet Micah tells us that God will “rejoice over you with gladness and renew you in his love.” God promises us renewal.

God promises us holiness. Having been saved and forgiven and renewed, we are now God’s holy people. God visits his people and promises to do great things among us. On the Fourth Sunday of Advent, the prophet Micah told us that God promised it in ancient days, shepherding and guarding his flock, calling them to concrete peace in days of great evil. St. Luke reminded us of the wonderful, incredible, holy things he did in the lives of Mary and Elizabeth. Elizabeth bore God’s prophet to pave the way for the Son of Mary who would be our Savior. Elizabeth was too old to bear a child, and Mary never had relations with a man, but none of that matters to God, through whom all things are possible. God promises to do holy and incredible things in and through his faithful people. God promises us holiness.

Throughout Advent, we have prayed “Come, Lord Jesus.”
Come, Lord Jesus, and bring us salvation.
Come, Lord Jesus, and be our Savior.
Come, Lord Jesus and give us your forgiveness.
Come, Lord Jesus and renew your chosen people.
Come, Lord Jesus and do incredible deeds in and through your holy people!

God’s promises have sustained us through Advent and brought us here on this holy (night / day). On the way into Church today, we stopped to bless the Manger scene, which reminds us that God has visited his people to keep his promises. Even if we sometimes think our flesh is expendable and even profane, God proclaims that it is good enough for him, by taking on flesh and becoming one of us. Sinful humanity is given salvation and forgiveness. We who are graced with a Savior are renewed and revitalized. Having been renewed, we are made holy by God’s grace, and God does incredible things with us and in us every day.

If this holy (night / day) is to become anything more than a commercialized cliché in this darkened and jaded world, it has to happen by all of us becoming God’s holy people yet again. We don’t just celebrate something that happened two thousand years ago; we celebrate the fact that God is born into our lives and into our world every time we open ourselves up to his forgiveness and renewal, and become his holy people. When we stand up for the rights of the unborn, the powerless, and the disenfranchised, Christ is born among us and warms up our cold and heartless world. When we reach out to others who are needy or lonely or oppressed, Christ is born among us and gives light to our darkness. When we introduce someone to the Church or witness to our faith by being people of integrity, Christ is born among us and revitalizes a world grown listless in despair. When we receive our Lord in the Eucharist and go forth from this place to love and serve the Lord, Christ is born into a world that desperately needs his presence. Christ is born in every moment when his people make him present through their lives.

On this Christmas, a watching world looks to all of us to be more than a Christmas cliché. Will God’s holy people let God’s promises be fulfilled in them and through them? When the world sees that happen, when enough people take notice, maybe all the earth can take part in our singing:

Glory to God in the highest, and peace to God’s people on earth!

On behalf of Fr. Ted, myself, and the parish staff, may God bless you and your families this Christmas. May you find Christ in every moment of the coming year.

Whether Santa Claus Exists?

santaaquinasFeeling kinda scroogey? This will put it all in perspective for you. The ancient question of the existence of Santa Claus is settled by the Angelic Doctor, St. Thomas Aquinas. I had no idea he had addressed the topic. Then again, he did write on just about everything before calling it all so much straw…

Whether Santa Claus Exists?

We proceed thus to the Third Article: –

Objection 1: It seems that Santa Claus does not exist, since Christmas gifts are able to be given by good elves. Therefore Santa Claus does not exist.

Objection 2: Further, if Santa Claus did exist, there would be no narrow chimneys. But there are narrow chimneys, and sometimes no chimneys at all. Therefore, Santa Claus does not exist.

On the Contrary, Kay Starr says: “I saw Mommy kissing Santa Claus underneath the mistletoe last night.”

I answer that, The existence of Santa Claus can be proved in five ways…

[more…]

Hat tip: The Ironic Catholic

Merry Christmas to all!

The Fourth Sunday of Advent

Today’s readings

candle4I don’t know about how it’s been for you, but this has been kind of a strange Advent for me. I suppose some of that is because, being newly ordained, I am taking a new role in all the celebrations of the season. But that’s not it entirely, I don’t think. Advent began kind of late – as late as it could possibly get – and here we are on the Fourth Sunday of Advent. But that doesn’t mean we have a full week of celebration. No, in just a few hours, we’ll be packing this place with Poinsettias and calling it Christmas!

On Tuesday, we’ll likely see the Christmas decorations that we have been enjoying since mid-October coming down in most stores, and perhaps in some homes as well. Christmas trees, many still green, will be out at the curb, waiting to be taken away and ground up for mulch. The music on WLIT will return to secular light rock, and even the Christian stations like WMBI and WBGL will be back to plain old Christian contemporary. Our society will be done with Christmas.

But we won’t. For us, Christmas includes the feast of the Holy Family, which we will celebrate next Sunday, and also the Solemnity of the Epiphany of the Lord, celebrated on January 7th. We will officially end our Christmas season on the 8th of January, with the feast of the Baptism of the Lord. But even then, we have some remnants of Christmas that will permeate our prayer all the way through the feast of the Presentation of the Lord on February 2nd.

But even all of that isn’t the end for us Catholics. For us, the birth of Christ is merely the beginning. The real mystery of the Incarnation of Christ that causes us to celebrate on Christmas leads us all the way through the Church year, encompassing Jesus’ passion, death, resurrection, and ascension into heaven. The outpouring of the Holy Spirit will enliven us to continue to make Christ present in the world, and that same Spirit will let Christ be born again into hearts that are opened to him throughout the year. We celebrate Christmas all the time.

The real message of Christmas is also the message of this Fourth Sunday of Advent. God, who loves his people, visits his people and promises to do great things among us, his holy people. The prophet Micah tells us that God promised it in ancient days, shepherding and guarding his flock, calling them to concrete peace in days of great evil. And today’s Gospel reminds us of the wonderful, incredible, holy things he did in the lives of Mary and Elizabeth. Elizabeth bore God’s prophet to pave the way for the Son of Mary who would be our Savior. Elizabeth was too old to bear a child, and Mary never had relations with a man, but none of that matters to God, through whom all things are possible. God promises to do holy things in and through his faithful people.

And this Fourth Sunday of Advent, we are those holy people. If we open our hearts and lives to God our Savior, he will do great things among us too. We just can’t be among those who throw out the Christmas decorations first thing on December 26th. We have to remember that Christ longs to be born in us every day. When we realize that and live it, Elizabeth can also say of us, “Blessed are you who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled.”

Come, Lord Jesus!

O Emmanuel

Today’s Readings

O Emmanuel, king and lawgiver, desire of the nations, Savior of all people, come and set us free, Lord our God.

The greatest title of our Lord, the reason for our celebration of Advent and Christmas, is today’s antiphon, “O Emmanuel.” Emmanuel, as we well know, means “God is with us” and this gives us great cause for joy and expectation. Today we celebrate our Savior as the presence of God in our midst, the one who has been desired in every age and nation, and who sanctifies this broken world by his presence among us.

O come, O come, Emmanuel,
And ransom captive Israel,
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appear.

Jesus Christ is the promised one who has come among us to bring us God’s presence. This world, of course, is broken in so many ways. Death, sin, selfishness, greed, war, terrorism, fear, disease, and pain all seem to have their way in our world, and we see them at every turn. It might even be easy to understand if God were to give up on us, decide that we were just some failed experiment, and obliterate the world in frustration. But that is not the God we believe in. Our God created us out of nothing and breathed the breath of life into us. Our God came to live among his people, taking our own form, redeeming its brokenness, and setting us free to live eternal life.

Jesus Christ is the one who dwells among us and ransoms us from our captivity to sin and death. In these final moments of Advent, we truly mourn in lonely exile, awaiting the appearance of the Son of God, our Redeemer and Lord. But we know that God keeps his promises. Just as he promised a son to barren Elizabeth, so he promises us redemption through Mary, who conceived by the Holy Spirit. We wait in hopeful expectation in these waning moments of Advent, knowing that God is among us and our Savior is very near.

Come, O Emmanuel!
Come, Lord Jesus!