Sunday, December 26, 2010

Homily for the Feast of the Holy Family

In preparing for today’s homily I was scanning over Pope John Paul II’s letter to families issued on February 2, 1994 on the occasion of the Year of the Family. It dawned on me while looking through this letter that most families in the parish have never read this, or a multitude of the letters issued over time by the various popes. I want to share a few of the highlights as the Holy Family is to be an example for our own families.

In the beginning of his letter, Pope John Paul mentions the various paths that leads a person throughout life. He then comments,

Among these many paths, the family is the first and the most important. It is a path common to all, yet one which is particular, unique and unrepeatable, just as every individual is unrepeatable; it is a path from which man cannot withdraw. Indeed, a person normally comes into the world within a family, and can be said to owe to the family the very fact of his existing as an individual. (John Paul II 345)

He continues,

The family has its origin in that same love with which the Creator embraces the created world, as was already expressed "in the beginning", in the Book of Genesis (1:1). In the Gospel Jesus offers a supreme confirmation: "God so loved the world that he gave his only Son" (Jn3:16). The only©begotten Son, of one substance with the Father, "God from God and Light from Light", entered into human history through the family: "For by his incarnation the Son of God united himself in a certain way with every man. He laboured with human hands... and loved with a human heart. Born of Mary the Virgin, he truly became one of us and, except for sin, was like us in every respect". (3) If in fact Christ "fully discloses man to himself", (4) he does so beginning with the family in which he chose to be born and to grow up. We know that the Redeemer spent most of his life in the obscurity of Nazareth, "obedient" (Lc 2,51) as the "Son of Man" to Mary his Mother, and to Joseph the carpenter. Is this filial "obedience" of Christ not already the first expression of that obedience to the Father "unto death" (Ph 2,8), whereby he redeemed the world?
The divine mystery of the Incarnation of the Word thus has an intimate connection with the human family. Not only with one family, that of Nazareth, but in some way with every family, analogously to what the Second Vatican Council says about the Son of God, who in the Incarnation "united himself in some sense with every man". (5) (John Paul II 345)

How important is the family to society?

The family has always been considered as the first and basic expression of man's social nature. Even today this way of looking at things remains unchanged. Nowadays, however, emphasis tends to be laid on how much the family, as the smallest and most basic human community, owes to the personal contribution of a man and a woman. The family is in fact a community of persons whose proper way of existing and living together is communion: communio personarum. Here too, while always acknowledging the absolute transcendence of the Creator with regard to his creatures, we can see the family's ultimate relationship to the divine "We". Only persons are capable of living "in communion". The family originates in a marital communion described by the Second Vatican Council as a "covenant", in which man and woman "give themselves to each other and accept each other". (11) (John Paul II 345)

Pope John Paul mentions a Civilization of Love.

Yet there is no true love without an awareness that God "is Love" and that man is the only creature on earth which God has called into existence "for its own sake". Created in the image and likeness of God, man cannot fully “find him- self" except through the sincere gift of self. Without such a concept of man, of the person and the "communion of persons" in the family, there can be no civilization of love; similarly, without the civilization of love it is impossible to have such a concept of person and of the communion of persons. The family constitutes the fundamental “cell" of society. But Christ--the "vine" from which the "branches" draw nourishment--is needed so that this cell will not be exposed to the threat of a kind of cultural uprooting which can come both from within and from without. Indeed, although there is on the one hand the "civilization of love", there continues to exist on the other hand the possibility of a destructive "anti-civilization", as so many present trends and situations confirm.
Who can deny that our age is one marked by a great crisis, which appears above all as a profound "crisis of truth"? A crisis of truth means, in the first place, a crisis of concepts. Do the words "love", "freedom", «sincere gift", and even "person" and "rights of the person", really convey their essential meaning? This is why the Encyclical on the “splendour of truth" (Veritatis Splendor) has proved so meaningful and important for the Church and for the world--especially in the West. Only if the truth about freedom and the communion of persons in marriage and in the family can regain its splendour, will the building of the civilization of love truly begin and will it then be possible to speak concretely--as the Council did--about "promoting the dignity of marriage and the family". (35) Why is the "splendour of truth" so important? First of all, by way of contrast: the development of contemporary civilization is linked to a scientific and technological progress which is often achieved in a one-sided way, and thus appears purely positivistic. Positivism, as we know, results in agnosticism in theory and utilitarianism in practice and in ethics. In our own day, history is in a way repeating itself. Utilitarianism is a civilization of production and of use, a civilization of "things" and not of "persons", a civilization in which persons are used in the same way as things are used. In the context of a civilization of use, woman can become an object for man, children a hindrance to parents, the family an institution obstructing the freedom of its members. To be convinced that this is the case, one need only look at certain sexual education programmes introduced into the schools, often notwithstanding the disagreement and even the protests of many parents; or pro- abortion tendencies which vainly try to hide behind the so- called “right to choose" ("pro-choice") on the part of both spouses, and in particular on the part of the woman. These are only two examples; many more could be mentioned.
It is evident that in this sort of a cultural situation the family cannot fail to feel threatened, since it is endangered at its very foundations. Everything contrary to the civilization of love is contrary to the whole truth about man and becomes a threat to him: it does not allow him to find himself and to feel secure, as spouse, parent, or child. So-called "safe sex", which is touted by the "civilization of technology", is actually, in view of the overall requirements of the person, radically not safe, indeed it is extremely dangerous. It endangers both the person and the family. And what is this danger? It is the loss of the truth about one's own self and about the family, together with the risk of a loss of freedom and consequently of a loss of love itself. "You will know the truth", Jesus says, "and the truth will make you free" (Jn 8,32): the truth, and only the truth, will prepare you for a love which can be called “fairest love" (cf. Sir 24,24, Vulg.).
The contemporary family, like families in every age, is searching for “fairest love". A love which is not "fairest", but reduced only to the satisfaction of concupiscence (cf. 1 Jn 2,16), or to a man's and a woman's mutual "use" of each other, makes persons slaves to their weaknesses. Do not certain modern "cultural agendas" lead to this enslavement? There are agendas which "play" on man's weaknesses, and thus make him increasingly weak and defenceless.
The civilization of love evokes joy: joy, among other things, for the fact that a man has come into the world (cf. Jn 16,21), and consequently because spouses have become parents. The civilization of love means “rejoicing in the right" (cf. 1Co 13,6). But a civilization inspired by a consumerist, anti-birth mentality is not and cannot ever be a civilization of love. If the family is so important for the civilization of love, it is because of the particular closeness and intensity of the bonds which come to be between persons and generations within the family. However, the family remains vulnerable and can easily fall prey to dangers which weaken it or actually destroy its unity and stability. (John Paul II 345)

I guess the real question that comes up is how does one create this “civilization of love”? This civilization of love is based upon our giving of ourselves within the family. We need to get beyond the utilitarian aspects of which Pope John Paul speaks. The late holy father further points out in his letter that we need to hold on to the basic principles of married life. A marriage is between one man and one woman. A marriage is a total giving of self, including one’s fertility, to the other.

The family is a community of persons and the smallest social unit. As such it is an institution fundamental to the life of every society.
What does the family as an institution expect from society? First of all, it expects a recognition of its identity and an acceptance of its status as a subject in society. This "social subjectivity" is bound up with the proper identity of marriage and the family. Marriage, which undergirds the institution of the family, is constituted by the covenant whereby "a man and a woman establish between themselves a partnership of their whole life", and which "of its own very nature is ordered to the well-being of the spouses and to the procreation and upbringing of children". (40) Only such a union can be recognized and ratified as a "marriage" in society. Other interpersonal unions which do not fulfil the above conditions cannot be recognized, despite certain growing trends which represent a serious threat to the future of the family and of society itself.
No human society can run the risk of permissiveness in fundamental issues regarding the nature of marriage and the family! Such moral permissiveness cannot fail to damage the authentic requirements of peace and communion among people. It is thus quite understandable why the Church vigorously defends the identity of the family and encourages responsible individuals and institutions, especially political leaders and international organizations, not to yield to the temptation of a superficial and false modernity. (John Paul II 345)

I wish I could keep going on with more about the family, but I realize that families with little ones find it difficult to sit through long homilies. I’d like to sum this up with a few points.

The family is the basic building block of our society. We need to hold on to the true nature of family life.

We can all look to the faithfulness of the holy family of Nazereth as an example for our own families. While Joseph did not understand all that the angel proclaimed, he trusted. While we may not always understand all the God proclaims through the Church concerning families and family life, we need to trust her and her God given wisdom.

On this feast of the Holy Family, may each of you be blessed within your families both here and in heaven.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Homily for Christmas

Our psalm response for Midnight Mass is, “Today is born our savior, Christ the Lord.” With great joy we gather here to celebrate the birth of our Lord and Savior. We come to commemorate that event some 2,000 years ago when the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us. We are gathered here for “Christ’s” Mass. The Prince of Peace has come into the world and shares in our human nature so that one day we may come to share eternal life with him forever.

When we look around today, our surroundings are far different from the stable at Bethlehem. Most of us came here in heated cars. We were in heated houses before we began our journey, and we gather in a heated church. Tonight we’ll sleep in comfortable beds. Yet, we look into the creche and we find a reminder that God came among us and began his earthly existence in a humble stable. There was scandal surrounding his very beginning. The angels called out to the shepherds and directed them to the new born King. They came, now knowing what to expect.

As we gather here tonight, we are familiar with the rest of the story. We know about Christ’s passion, death and resurrection. We have heard the good news he proclaimed. We have had the time to reflect upon what these things might mean in our hearts.

Throughout (tonight) today, and hopefully for the full twelve days of Christmas, we will be opening gifts. Perhaps we’ll open a package that has that book we’ve been wanting to read. Perhaps, if we are a child, or child like, we’ll find the toy we’ve been wanting. Maybe we’ll have a package with new clothes, or tools, or . . . . whatever it is that we really want for Christmas. It is important to remember that these gifts pale in comparison to the gift of God himself.

When we look around during this time of year we see houses with all sorts of decorations. Some of the decorations are definitely winter in theme such as overgrown snowpersons. Others start to get a grasp of our celebration by bringing in St. Nicholas. They still miss the point, besides his feast day was earlier this month. And then there are some that portray the birth of Christ. The real reason for the season. The reason for the season is the joy that Christ brings into the world. This joy is our hope as we look to our own futures. What are the decorations that adorn our lives? As we adorn our hearts and souls, do we continue to make Christ the center of our lives, not just on special days like Christmas, but always?

It is God’s love for us, and ours for him, that leads us to keep Christ as the central focus in our lives. We hear in a letter from Leo the Great,

The mystery of this boon is great, dearly beloved, and this gift exceeds all gifts that God should call man son, and man should name God Father: for by these terms we perceive and learn the love which reached so great a height. (Leo 2026)

This great gift of God taking on flesh becomes even more present in our lives when we participate, not just in the celebration of Christ’s birth at Christmas, but when we share in the fruit of that gift, the holy sacrifice of the Mass. Whenever we gather for Mass the baby we see represented in our creche is truly present in our midst in the Eucharist. It is with great joy that we gather, not just on Christmas, but in some places, daily for Mass. The Word is in our midst in so many ways. As you celebrate this Christmas season, don’t forget the reason for this season. Don’t forget it is the reason for our lives as we celebrate the gift and adorn our lives with Christ.

May God bless you.

Homily for 4th Sunday of Advent

I'm a bit slow in posting this


Skies, let the Just One come forth like the dew, let him descend from the clouds like the rain. The earth will open up and give birth to our Saviour. The heavens declare the glory of God, and the firmament proclaims the work of his hands

This verse, rooted in Isaiah, is a translation for the opening antiphon assigned to the Mass today.

One of the things I remember from my boy scout days is wilderness survival lessons. There was a secret for collecting water over night, even in most dry climates. One would dig a hole, place a cup in the bottom of the whole put a piece of plastic over the hole and secure it in place with dirt around the edges. One would then put a rock in the middle of the piece of plastic to create a low spot over the cup. Over night, dew would collect on the underside of the plastic, roll down to the low point created by the rock and drip into the cup. This bit of dew fall could save a person’s life.

At the time of Isaiah, the people were anxiously awaiting the arrival of the messiah. The image of the life giving water from heaven in the form of dew fall, or rain, was evident. The messiah would save the life of the people of Israel.

What the people of Israel did not expect was that the long awaited messiah would come to the world as a simple child. Despite the word of the prophet Isaiah, “Therefore the Lord himself will give you this sign: the virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall name him Emmanuel”, many were looking for a temporal messiah. They were looking for one who would lead them triumphantly over their enemies.

When the events from today’s Gospel started to occur, there were many who would not accept this child as the messiah. As he grew older, they did not understand his teachings about having come from the Father, having come down from heaven and returning to heaven.

We have the benefit of knowing the rest of the story, as Paul Harvey said. We know that this child, born simply in time, is the Savior of the world.

We are now in the time of immediate preparation for the celebration of the Nativity next Saturday. Last week we heard, “Rejoice in the Lord always, I say again rejoice. The Lord is near.” As we prepare for our celebration, let us take time to reflect upon the story. I would suggest that as we prepare for Christmas, that we take some time to read the beginning of the Gospels of Matthew and Luke. Both contain the true story of Christmas.

Let us also continue to pray in the spirit of the opening antiphon that the Lord would send down the life saving dew into our own lives. As I said last week, as we fall in love with Christ, we have reason to rejoice. As we realize all that Christ does and has done for us, including coming among us in time, we realize the love God shares with us. This is the source of our love for Him and for each other.

May God bless each one of you as you prepare for the celebration of Christmas.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

3rd Sunday of Advent Homily

Short and sweet this week

When most Catholics are asked how many scripture passages are assigned to the Sunday Mass they’ll answer 3. They are quick to remember the 1st reading, 2nd reading and the Gospel. When asked if there are more, and with a little more thought they throw in the psalm. Yet, that is still not all of the scriptures readings that are assigned to a particular Mass. We still have our alleluia verse, or during Lent our Gospel Acclimation.

There are two additional verses that are assigned to each Mass which usually do not come to mind because we have an option which often replaces these other two verses. Using our common terminology, these two verses would be the opening antiphon and the communion antiphon. I’ll have to admit that occasionally, these verses are not strictly taken from scriptures, but they allude to the feast which is being celebrated. It is common in many places to use the option for a hymn in place of one or both of these verses. Those who attend daily Mass know that I routinely use a hymn in place of the introit, or opening antiphon, but I recite the communion antiphon.

That being said, I’d like to share the introit that is assigned to our celebration of this Third Sunday of Advent, “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say, rejoice! The Lord is near.” This comes from the fourth chapter of Phillipians, verses 4 and 5.

I sometimes wonder if we are truly filled with the joy that this holy season anticipates. I know from my own experience that it is easy to get caught up in the stress of the season as opposed to the joy of the season. But, even when we get away from the stress, what is the source of our joy? Is it the fact that we’ll be gathering with friends and family? Is it watching our children preform in their winter concerts? Is it the joy we have because we’ve reached out to someone else in need during this holy time of year?

As joyful as each of these events may be, there is something far greater in which we rejoice. We rejoice in the Lord who is near. Sometimes we need to really work on rejoicing in the Lord. It starts with our relationship with the Lord. How often do we spend time in prayer? When we do pray, how much time do we spend? Do we look forward to the opportunity to pray, or do we try to avoid prayer time? Do we “have to go to Mass because it’s Sunday”, or do we “get to go to Mass”? How we answer each of these questions gives us an idea about how we are doing as far as rejoicing in the Lord.

What do we do if our focus on the coming of Christ has gotten off track? The first thing we do is start with prayer, preferably before Christ present in the Blessed Sacrament. We should, in our prayer, ask God to help us fall in love with the Mass. As we fall in love with the Mass, we can look forward to attending Mass, not only on Sunday, but on other days as our schedules allow. As we fall in love with the Mass, we also come to appreciate the other sacraments as well.

The second half of our antiphon deals with the fact that the Lord is near. He will soon return. As we fall in love with Christ, it is easy to rejoice about the fact that he is near. Just as we get excited about the family and friends that will be joining us when we celebrate Christ’s first coming at Christmas, we can look forward with joy to his return in glory.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Homily for 2nd Sunday of Advent

As I was preparing for today’s homily I came across an encyclical that was written by Blessed John XXIII which he issued on July 1, 1962, shortly before the Second Vatican Council. I will be making frequent reference to his work throughout the homily this morning.

In our Gospel, we hear the story of John the Baptizer calling for all to “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” He was that voice crying out in the wilderness.

In our own times, we too need to take a fresh look at our lives to see how we are living out the faith in the modern world. In preparing for the council, Blessed John XXIII begins his encyclical,

Doing penance for one's sins is a first step towards obtaining forgiveness and winning eternal salvation. That is the clear and explicit teaching of Christ, and no one can fail to see how justified and how right the Catholic Church has always been in constantly insisting on this. She is the spokesman for her divine Redeemer. No individual Christian can grow in perfection, nor can Christianity gain in vigor, except it be on the basis of penance.

After making a few remarks about praying for the council and our need to do penance for the success of the council he continues by talking about the calls to penance in the bible.

5. Now we have only to open the sacred books of the Old and New Testament to be assured of one thing: it was never God's will to reveal Himself in any solemn encounter with mortal men—to speak in human terms—without first calling them to prayer and penance. Indeed, Moses refused to give the Hebrews the tablets of the Law until they had expiated their crime of idolatry and ingratitude.(5)

6. So too the Prophets; they never wearied of exhorting the Israelites to make their prayers acceptable to God, their supreme Overlord, by offering them in a penitential spirit. Otherwise they would bring about their own exclusion from the plan of divine Providence, according to which God Himself was to be the King of His chosen people.

7. The most deeply impressive of these prophetic utterances is surely that warning of Joel which is constantly ringing in our ears in the course of the Lenten liturgy: "Now therefore, says the Lord, Be converted to me with all your heart, in fasting and in weeping and in mourning. And rend your hearts and not your garments... Between the porch and the altar the priests, the Lord's ministers, shall weep and say: Spare, O Lord, spare thy people, and give not thy inheritance to reproach, that the heathen should rule over them."(6)

8. Nor did these calls to penance cease when the Son of God became incarnate. On the contrary, they became even more insistent. At the very outset of his preaching, John the Baptist proclaimed: "Do penance, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand."(7) And Jesus inaugurated His saving mission in the same way. He did not begin by revealing the principal truths of the faith. First He insisted that the soul must repent of every trace of sin that could render it impervious to the message of eternal salvation: "From that time Jesus began to preach and to say, Do penance, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand."(8)

9. He was even more vehement than were the Prophets in His demands that those who listened to Him should undergo a complete change of heart and submit in perfect sincerity to all the laws of the Supreme God. "For behold," He said "the kingdom of God is within you."(9)

10. Indeed, penance is that counterforce which keeps the forces of concupiscence in check and repels them. In the words of Christ Himself, "the kingdom of heaven has been enduring violent assault, and the violent have been seizing it by force."(10)

11. The Apostles held undeviatingly to the principles of their divine Master. When the Holy Spirit had descended on them in the form of fiery tongues, Peter expressed his invitation to the multitudes to seek rebirth in Christ and to accept the gifts of the most holy Paraclete in these words: "Do penance and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ, for the remission of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit."(11) Paul too, the teacher of the Gentiles, announced to the Romans in no uncertain terms that the kingdom of God did not consist in an attitude of intellectual superiority or in indulging the pleasures of sense. It consisted in the triumph of justice and in peace of mind. "For the kingdom of God does not consist in food and drink, but in justice and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit."(12)

Penance and Baptismal Innocence

12. However, a rude awakening is in store for the person who thinks that penance is necessary only for those aspiring to membership in the kingdom of God. He who is already a member of Christ must learn of necessity to keep a rein upon himself. Only so will he be able to drive away the enemy of his soul and keep his baptismal innocence unsullied, or regain God's grace when it is lost by sin.

13. To become a member of Holy Church by baptism is to be clothed in the beauty with which Christ adorns His beloved Bride. "Christ loved the Church and delivered Himself up for her; that he might sanctify her, cleansing her in the bath of water by means of the word of life; in order that he might present to himself the Church in all her glory, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she might be holy and without blemish."(13)

14. This being so, well may those sinners who have stained the white robe of their sacred baptism fear the just punishments of God. Their remedy is "to wash their robes in the blood of the Lamb"(14)—to restore themselves to their former splendor in the sacrament of Penance—and to school themselves in the practice of Christian virtue. Hence the Apostle Paul's severe warning: "A man making void the law of Moses dies without any mercy on the word of two or three witnesses; how much worse punishments do you think he deserves, who has trodden under foot the Son of God, and has regarded as unclean the blood of the covenant through which he was sanctified, and has insulted the Spirit of grace?... It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God."(15)

As we hear these words from Blessed John XXIII, it is a call to us to sincerely look into our own lives. Many times it is easy for us to look at others and see them as the scribes and pharisees. Yet, sometimes we too take on those same tendencies. We are like the ones who attempt to remove the splinter from the eye of a brother while having a beam in our own eye. I know that in some of my homilies I have preached the message that I need to hear almost as much as those gathered in the congregation. I speak from my own experience of being a fallen human being, recognizing that I am far from perfect. Because of our attachment to the things of this world caused by the sin of Adam, Blessed John XXIII went on to remind us,

17. The very frequency with which this call to penance is reiterated [throughout her history] makes it imperative for Christians to recognize it as coming from the divine Redeemer for the purpose of bringing about their spiritual renewal. It is transmitted to us by the Church, in her sacred liturgy, in the teaching of the Fathers and the precepts of the Councils. "Make our souls to glow in Thy sight with desire of Thee."(17) "Help us to repress our worldly appetites, that we may the more easily obtain the blessings of heaven."(18) That is how the Catholic Church prays to God's Supreme Majesty in these ancient prayers from the Lenten liturgy.
Hearing the end of today’s Gospel reminds us all the more why personal penance is important for each one of us here today.

He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.
His winnowing fan is in his hand.
He will clear his threshing floor
and gather his wheat into his barn,
but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Thoughts from the past for this season of Advent

I was doing some searching for material for my Advent homily for this weekend and ran across this from John XXIII just before the opening of the Second Vatican Council.

Here is a taste

Doing penance for one's sins is a first step towards obtaining forgiveness and winning eternal salvation. That is the clear and explicit teaching of Christ, and no one can fail to see how justified and how right the Catholic Church has always been in constantly insisting on this. She is the spokesman for her divine Redeemer. No individual Christian can grow in perfection, nor can Christianity gain in vigor, except it be on the basis of penance.

I would almost just take his Encyclical and use it for my homily this weekend. Maybe I can make use of extensive quotes. Hum!!!!