Monday, December 27, 2010

HOMILY - Feast of the Holy Family (Year A)

Today, as we celebrate this Mass/Liturgy, we remember and honor families – especially the Holy Family (Jesus, Mary and Joseph) and also our own families. This Feast of the Holy Family started over 100 years ago, as an effort to counter society’s movement away from the Christian virtues and importance of the family, which is as true and important today as it was 100 years ago.
For Catholics, the household or family is the basic unit of the Church and so we call it the domestic Church. It is in THIS church – in the love between husband and wife and the love between parent and child – that we first form our faith in God; where we learn to know, love and serve God; and in which we receive our first glimpse or taste of the great joy God offers us. We can say with confidence that the joy we can experience in family life is just the tip of the iceberg for the joy God offers us in Heaven.
It is also in family life that we help others to accomplish this goal of our faith. Husbands and wives have as the goal of their marriage to help their spouse live a holy life and to get their spouse to Heaven. Parents are the first and best teachers of our faith to their children and make a promise at their child’s Baptism to do well in raising them Catholic so that their child will join them in Heaven some day.
Because of the value and importance of family in our faith life (not mention the social structure and stability of our communities and society), God blesses family life. This is God’s promise to us in today’s First Reading for those who live out the virtues of family life: atonement for sins and preservation from sin; that out prayers will be heard; stored up riches; will be gladdened with children; will live a long life; and will bring comfort.
But, as we know from our own families, family life is at times messy and complicated, a source of pain, hurt, difficulty and embarrassment. Family life is often NOT the Norman Rockwell picture of joy and happiness. In fact, we know from today’s Gospel that even the Holy Family had their challenges: the non-typical birth of their child, the dramatic flight into a foreign land, and living in fear.
So, as we live out our family lives and help others to do so, even in the midst of pain or fear, we must remember Paul’s words to us in today’s Second Reading: We are God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved. And so, we are called to live extra-ordinary lives; lives full of: heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, bearing with one another and forgiving one another. We are called to put on love, that is, the bond of perfection; to let the peace of Christ control your hearts, And be thankful.
This is how we are called to live as Christian men and women. This is how we know God’s love for us and how we are to love God and others in return.
We learn, experience and share these virtues in family. In family, we practice and perfect these virtues. In doing so, we can then take these virtues to our places of work, our community, and to those in need. In doing so, we perfect our relationship with God which allows us to accomplish our goal: Heaven.
May God bless your family and you.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

HOMILY - Third Sunday of Advent (Year A)

Earlier this week, Pope Benedict XVI recalled God’s plan of love and life on the occasion of the solemnity of the Immaculate Conception, in which we celebrate that Mary was conceived and remained always “full of grace.” He stated that “In the midst of life's trials…Mary, the Mother of Christ, tells us that Grace is greater than sin…and that Grace is able to transform evil into goodness.” It was Mary, full of grace, who said “yes” to God without hesitation or conditions and who remained sinless and faithful even in the face of great fear and tragedy in her life. Each of us are called to follow her example and live lives of love, service and holiness - strengthened and encouraged by God’s grace.
We celebrate with joy in this Liturgy on the Third Sunday of Advent Jesus Christ’s birth, passion, death and resurrection, which happened so that we might know fully God’s love. And, we eagerly await now his second coming in which he will, at the end of time as we know it, defeat sin and death forever. Today, we rejoice and give thanks for Jesus Christ who, as we read in today’s Gospel, gives sight to the blind, helps the lame walk, cleanses the leaper, gives hearing to the deaf, raises the dead, and proclaims the good news to the poor. Jesus’ words and actions fulfill both what Isaiah prophesied in today’s First Reading – that God has not abandoned us, but is with us - AND fulfills what was hoped for in the Responsorial Psalm: that the Lord will come and save us.
I believe that John the Baptist knew this. He knew that Jesus was the Messiah – the fulfillment of everything that the Jewish people had long awaited. It was John who leapt in his mother’s womb when he heard Mary’s voice; it was John who Baptized Jesus in the Jordan; it was John who prepared the way for Jesus; and it was John who suffered in prison for speaking God’s truth to Herod. Jesus says of John in today’s Gospel: “among those born of women there has been none greater than John the Baptist.”
However, maybe John, in a moment of human weakness, sat in prison and was discouraged and doubting who Jesus was, realizing that Jesus was maybe not exactly who he thought Jesus was or who he wanted Jesus to be. So, maybe, that is why he sent his disciples to Jesus. I can just image that Jesus’ words and actions, which were reported back to John, must have been a source of great comfort and encouragement.
It occurs to me however, that maybe, just maybe, John, filled with God’s grace, did not question or doubt who Jesus truly was. Maybe in the humility and simplicity of a prison cell – not distracted by the temptations and pressures of the world – John was clear and confident in who Jesus was. Maybe in that prison cell John was liberated from his own personal wants and expectations and saw perfectly God’s plan for him and us.
And, so, maybe John, who truly makes clear the way for the Lord, asks his question not for his own benefit, but for the benefit of his own disciples. Maybe they were the ones disheartened and feeling abandoned and in need Jesus’ encouragement. And, maybe John’s question was for our benefit, too. That is, John may have asked this question so that we too might know Jesus and be encouraged by what we read in the Gospels AND from what we ‘hear and see’ now living and in action in Christ’s Body: the Church. That through the proclamation of Sacred Scripture, reception of the Sacraments, and in service to those in need – in experiencing Christ in each of these ways - we may know that Jesus is the ‘one’ and share this good news with others. It is in what we now ‘hear and see’ that we have the courage, the wisdom, the faith to reject sin in our lives and grow stronger in our love and service to God and each other. It is in what we now ‘hear and see’ that we might be more holy men and women and in doing so, experience a great joy God offers us now and eternally. This is a source of great joy – a reason to rejoice.
So our challenge this Advent is to be more like Mary the Mother of Jesus and John the Baptist in our relation to Christ. First, we must liberate ourselves from sin that keeps us from seeing clearly who God is and what God is calling us to do. A great first step is to participate in our parish’s penance service tomorrow/this evening at 5:00 pm. I invite you to participate in the Sacrament of Reconciliation and to experience the joy that comes from seeing clearly who God is and what God is calling us to do. Second, we must ensure that we are following God’s plan of love. While I am not recommending a stay in prison, I do suggest that we make time everyday for prayer to discern God’s call – to slow down our busy lives for just a couple of minutes and focus our attention, our thoughts, our actions on Christ coming into our lives and the pure joy that we experience when we follow God’s will for us. Matthew Kelly in his CD, A Call to Joy, which just so happens to be available in the Gathering Space, suggests that we start with just 10 minutes a day in prayer. If you set aside 10 minutes everyday in quite prayer, doing so patiently and without complaint (as James instructs in the Second Reading), I promise you, you will find greater peace and joy in your life.
This Advent challenge is not easy – facing our selfishness and reordering our lives away from our own wants to what God has planned for us is difficult. So, as Isaiah urges us to do, let us strengthen our feeble hands, make firm our weak knees; be strong, fear not! Trust that with God’s grace, any sin or evil in our life will be transformed into goodness. For this reason, my friends, I say to you: Rejoice in the Lord always, again I say, rejoice.