Saturday, December 28, 2013

Holy Family, Holy Families, Holy Church

Holy Family 29 December 2013   Deacon John McMullen

The book of Sirach calls families to tenderness and compassion: “Whoever honors his father atones for sins....he who obeys his father brings comfort to his mother.... Children, take care of your parents… even if their minds fail, be considerate, for kindness to a father or mother will not be forgotten.”

Saint Paul takes up the topic of family life as well. These verses of scripture are often abused. "Wives, be subordinate to your husbands, as is proper in the Lord. Husbands, love your wives, and avoid any bitterness toward them." The husband is to be Christ-like to his wife. That is, being a man of heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience, love, and peace. 

In Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, he writes that both husbands and wives are to both “be subordinate to one another out of reverence for Christ.” He also reminds husbands that they must love their wives as their own body, and be willing to die for them. “…just as Christ loved the Church” (See Ephesians 5.21-33).

In the ancient world, marriage wasn't based on love. So by calling on husbands to love their wives to the point of death must have turned the male chauvinism and misogyny of the ancient Roman world topsy-turvy.

Paul also writes: “Children, obey your parents…. And parents, do not provoke your children, else they may become discouraged.”

Actually, these passages are rather radical because the women in the Roman Empire had no say… and children were property! So for the women and children to be considered persons is quite revolutionary.

In family life, it’s all about mutual respect and love. In many ways it is what makes our families our home.

Marriage and family life isn’t about power or dominating another person; it’s about surrendering to one another for the good of all.

Christ calls us to tenderness. And this is certainly the rule for family life.

And as a result we can become a community of love for one another and for the world.

Unfortunately, there is much confusion about married love today. We see it all too often: someone is in love with being in love and then rushes into a relationship just be in a relationship. Others only plan a wedding – and fail to prepare for a life-long marriage commitment.

Too many folks are out are there looking for someone to come along and fix him or “complete” her; looking for Ms. or Mr. Right to fulfill his or her every desire, but no human person can do that. Until each of us seeks to become the right person each of us are called to be, then we will not likely be right for anyone else.

We are all aware that the members of our family today have many faces: the youth; the single person; the separated and divorced; the estranged; the single parent, often a single mother raising a child or children alone or with help from her parents; the divorced and remarried with blended families; the widowed; the elderly; and, yes, the addict and the incarcerated. Yet all are called to live as the family of God, loving and caring for all.

But let’s admit it, the Holy family did not have it easy either.
Joseph nearly divorced Mary. And Mary could have been stoned to death for her questionable pregnancy. Then the expectant couple had to travel 90 miles to Bethlehem for the Roman census and taxes. Where Jesus was born in a manger, in the shadows of a world dominated by Roman tyranny.

The first Christmas itself was marred with tragedy.

In the gospel King Herod felt his whole world threatened by an infant! So he ordered the slaughter of all the baby boys in Bethlehem – two years and under.

Saint Joseph is told by the angel of the Lord to protect his family, to flee Judea and go down to Egypt; he is obedient to the Word of God. Joseph teaches us by his silent witness that he is a man for others, willing to lay down his life for Mary and Jesus when he does as the angel instructed.

Yet each of us is called to protect our families and each other. Joseph’s example calls us to support the lives of others and protect others from evil and deathYou and I are responsible for the care of each other.

There are many threats to family life today: alcohol, drugs, and violence, murder. (On Christmas Eve there was a murder and stabbing not far from here off of Washington Avenue).

There is a malignant spiritual force that seeks to destroy our lives, our souls, our families. There is certainly something diabolical in our current culture that has become so blatantly anti-life, anti-child, and anti-family.

We see marriages that are nothing more than a prom date gone wrong; and may last a day to a week, Christian marriage itself being redefined by society, reduced to mere emotional sentiment; purity ridiculed, human sexuality cheapened and debased; while others regard pregnancy as a disease or the gift of human life is treated as one more consumer good, a product that one has a right to purchase, manipulate, or destroy at whim.

For the children that are born, human personhood is now considered by a few something that should be earned, and only granted to those human beings that are desirable or meet certain physiological or cultural standards.

Yes, I hear the concerns, the anxiety, the discouragement from many of you: “It’s hard to believe what is happening in our world; sometimes it’s very difficult believe, to be hopeful in the face of such evil.” “How did we ever get so far away from kindness, tenderness, and love?’”

Yes, our culture has grown cold, cruel and violent, but there is hope! We are called to be the warmth of God, a light in the darkness, a tender loving presence in the midst of evil.

We have hope. Christ entered into our sinful world to redeem us! And this is our hope, the very same hope of the holy family.

The Sacrament of Matrimony is the foundation for the Christian family; the place where children first learn the love of God through the love of their parents. The family is the domestic church, “the Church at home,” where children first witness the faith proclaimed and lived as a community of grace and love, learning the art of forgiveness. Children also learn the dignity of work, participating in family chores and responsibilities, helping to make the house a home. 

Parents are the children’s first teachers in the faith. Families should gather for family prayer and worship regularly at the parish. Children should especially see their parents praying and; helping those in need, serving others, and forgiving each other. Often. Often.

The family that eats together stays together. How appropriate that the kitchen table is sometimes called the altar of the domestic church. For every home is a church and, just as we gather here at this altar to share in the feast of the love of God, when we gather around our kitchen tables, we find consolation and nourishment and prayer.

A family that eats together and prays together will then share their faith with others. As a result true joy will be a radiant light in the darkness, the tender loving presence of God mercifully welcoming all.

This is what it means to be a holy family.

Together, then, let us grow as holy families,

and as holy families we will become a holy Church,

a welcoming parish family and home for all.

Intercessions: Holy Family Sunday

That the example of the holy family may inspire the Church of God and all of the baptized to imitate the virtues of family life and extend us in acts of charity, we pray to the Lord…

For an increase in charity for those called to the vocation of marriage: may their love for each other and their openness to children, be a sign of Christ’s love for the Church, we pray to the Lord…

For children everywhere, especially those who are neglected and abused: that Christ in His mercy may free them from evil and distress, and that their abusive parents or guardians may have a change of heart, we pray to the Lord….

That Christ may guide the minds and hearts of all those who govern us: may they promote the common good, especially safeguarding the lives of families, children and the elderly, according to his will, we pray to the Lord….

For all of our parents, especially those who are ill or suffering mentally, emotionally, or physically; and all those who have no one left to comfort them, may we patiently and tenderly love them, we pray to the Lord….

That all of us might open our doors to those who have no family or those who are estranged from their families of origin, as Jesus taught us, we pray to the Lord….

For the lives of the unborn and newborn: that all might see the dignity of human life in Jesus the infant child, we pray to the Lord….

That the souls of our dearly beloved dead, especially _______: may the souls of the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rejoice in the presence of Christ, we pray to the Lord…..

Friday, December 20, 2013

It is intellectually dishonest to claim that Jesus, the scripture, or the church from the beginning did not oppose abortion

Too many times I have heard talking heads on radio and television claim that Jesus never took issue with sexual ethics or abortion. Let's think that one over.

Pope John Paul II wrote in 1995: “Choices once unanimously considered criminal and rejected by the common moral sense are gradually becoming socially acceptable.... The end result of this is tragic: not only is the fact of the destruction of so many human lives still to be born or in their final stage extremely grave and disturbing, but no less grave and disturbing is the fact that conscience itself, darkened as it were by such widespread conditioning, is finding it increasingly difficult to distinguish between good and evil in what concerns the basic value of human life” (Evangelium Vitae).

It is intellectually dishonest to claim that the scripture or the church from the beginning did not oppose abortion. 

From the very beginning of the Bible human life is regarded as a gift of marriage and the Lord is the giver of life from the time of conception. 

Whether it relates to the Book of Exodus where the Egyptian ruler decreed that all the baby boys be drowned in the River Nile because the Israelites were “prolific” (hence the term “pro-life”; Ex. 1.8-22; Ex. 2.1-10), and Moses’ mother’s fear for her son’s life and hiding him, to Jeremiah’s receiving his vocation from the time he was in his mother’s womb: “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I dedicated you as a prophet” (Jer. 1.4-5), to the Psalmist who prays: “O Lord, you formed my inmost being; you knit me in my mother’s womb…my very self you knew…when I was being made in secret, fashioned as in the depths of the earth” (Ps. 139.1, 13-16), human life, human personhood is granted by God at conception.

And what of Isaiah? The prophet declares: "Before birth the LORD called me, from my mother’s womb he gave me my name...For now the LORD has spoken who formed me as his servant from the womb... Can a mother forget her infant, be without tenderness for the child of her womb? Even should she forget, I will never forget you" (Isaiah 49.1, 5, 15)

In the Gospel of Luke, Elizabeth and Mary’s pregnancies refer to the children within their wombs as John and Jesus; John the Baptist is filled with the Holy Spirit while within His mother’s womb, and Jesus is referred to as the Lord from the moment of His conception, by both the angel Gabriel and when Elizabeth declares to Mary: “But who am I that the Mother of my LORD should come to me?” (Luke 1.26-45).

Jesus’ was insistent that “Whoever receives one child in my name receives me…see that you do not despise one of these little ones…in just the same way, it is not the will of your heavenly Father that one of these little ones be lost,” [the Latin word for little one is 'fetus' in Latin] (Matt 18.5, 10, 14). 

Jesus' words, “Let the children come to me, for the Kingdom of Heaven belongs to such as these” (Matthew 19.14), reveal that the gift of a child is never to be discarded or regarded as expendable. Human life is precious gift. 

And although the word abortion is never used, one will not find any positive suggestion in scripture that children may be terminated in their mother’s womb! 

In fact, as Jesus is carrying his cross to Golgotha, he meets the women who are lamenting him with these words: “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me, but weep for yourselves and for your children.  For the days are surely coming when they will say, ‘Blessed are the barren, and the wombs that never bore, and the breasts that never nursed.’  Then they will begin to say to the mountains, ‘Fall on us’; and to the hills, ‘Cover us’” (Lk 23.27-30). 

Certainly this is damning evidence that Jesus clearly loved children and would never have encouraged the destruction of a child in the womb. Those who argue that Jesus considered abortion permissible are guilty of blasphemy.

And what of Jesus’ reference to the Last Judgment: “Whatsoever you do to the least of these, that you do unto me”? (Matt. 25.40) Jesus identifies himself with the most vulnerable. How more vulnerable can one get than being orphaned in the womb of her or his own mother?

This doesn't even begin to touch upon the early church’s condemnation of the pagan practice of exposing infants and abandoning the unwanted. Christians would retrieve children from dung heaps to save them. And abortion procedures, though barbaric, were practiced in ancient times. 

And “since the first century the Church has affirmed the moral evil of every procured abortion. This teaching has not changed and remains unchangeable. Direct abortion, that is to say, abortion willed either as an end or a means, is gravely contrary to the moral law: “You shall not kill the embryo by abortion and shall not cause the newborn to perish” (The Didache 2.2,; Epistle of Barnabas 19.5; Letter to Diognetus 5.6; and Aplogetics of Tertulian 9).  [CCC 2271]

“God, the Lord of life, has entrusted to men the noble mission of safeguarding life, and men must carry it out in a manner worthy of themselves. Life must be protected with the utmost care from the moment of conception: abortion and infanticide are abominable crimes” (Vatican II, Gaudium et spes, 51.3).

Medical science has also revealed that the message of the scriptures is true: the unborn child is a member of the human family, called into being by God. Each newly conceived child has his or her own unique DNA.

These are truths that will stand the test of time and eternity. 

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Let Us Climb the Mountain of the Lord - Second Sunday of Advent 2013

I went to the grocery store Thursday evening before the winter storm – snow-mageddon – hit. There was urgency in the air amid weather reports and folks in the store looking for bread and milk and meat and cheese, yet there was a camaraderie in the aisles. We were friendly, sharing with one another our concerns about the ice storm, tales of the last time we had an ice storm, and just friendly banter. We were all going out of ourselves, genuinely realizing that we were all in the same situation—we were about to FACE A MOUNTAIN OF ICE and SNOW – or both. It was a wonderful sense of community in the middle of a grocery store….

Now compare and contrast this shopping trip to the chaos and madness of Thanksgiving Day and Black Friday shopping. In some places people were injured fighting over products and still others were trampled for a bargain.

Our culture of prosperity and unbridled consumerism has reduced human beings to just one more consumer good to be used and discarded, trampled underfoot – literally – in favor of material goods. “We have created a 'disposable' culture…” (Evangelii Gaudium #53).

It is unfortunate that some people behave like animals to one another. And I apologize to the decent animals out there.

Is it any wonder then that Pope Francis has challenged the world’s rugged consumeristic culture?
Too many Christians are indifferent to the poor in their midst

I find it disturbing how many Christians have reacted negatively to Pope Francis when he is merely challenging us to repent of our greed and envy.

It’s the human heart and mind that must be renewed this Advent Season. We must put on the mind of Christ so that our hearts can become fleshy again, "capable of feeling compassion” for the poor and needy (EG #54).
I have a friend who is a UPS driver. He told me makes a regular stop at this person’s home nearly every day. It is comical, yet sad, he says, because the homeowner just has him put the packages with the others in the garage. The garage is overflowing with a mountain of boxes and most remained unopened. Evidently after the thrill of buying the product, the shopper goes on to buy something even newer, ignoring the previous purchase.

If we look for a mountain of things to satisfy our restless hearts, we experience unhappiness.  We may believe the top of the mountain is in materialism or consumerism, but the joy we seek is not obtained through things. It cannot be. True joy comes “from the experience of love we share with God and others” (Archbishop Charles Chaput).

Who shall climb the mountain of the Lord?

The Psalms in the Old Testament give us great insight into those who are able to climb the mountain of God.

Whosoever acts with justice…; Who does no harm to a neighbor… (Psalm 15)

He is a light in the darkness…. She is generous, merciful, and just. The good man takes pity and lends…open-handed she gives to the poor; His justice stands firm forever.

Meanwhile the wicked sees and is angry; grinds his teeth and wastes away; for the desire of the wicked leads to doom (Psalm 112).

Christ will come again. He is the rightful king—the shoot of Jesse—the babe born n Bethlehem—who will one day return and set things all right. 

“Not by appearance shall he judge, nor by hearsay shall he decide, but he shall judge the poor with justice… the ruthless and the wicked will no longer harass the people of God. On judgment day, people will have to render an account for every careless word and deed (Matthew 12.36).

But justice and peace shall reign. The wolf shall be a guest of the lamb and there shall be no harm or ruin on the holy mountain of God.”

Christ will restore all of creation to harmony.

And all the animals and humans will live in peace and harmony.

We look forward to that day!

But in the meantime we are the ambassadors of Christ; envoys of the Kingdom because we are climbing the Mountain of God.

We are called to be a people of mercy and tenderness. The gospel call is an invitation for each of us to turn from sin and “consumer gluttony that divides people from each other, that breaks down our families and communities, and that deadens us to the urgent needs of others” (Archbishop Charles Chaput).

To those who came out to John the Baptist, he said: “Bear good fruit as evidence of your repentance.”

Jesus himself says: “A branch cannot bear fruit on its own unless it remains on the vine… I am the vine, you are the branches. Whoever remains in me and I in him will bear much fruit. But the unfruitful branches will be gathered and thrown into the unquenchable fire” (John 15.9-10, 4-6).

We burn things that have ceased to serve their purpose; they no longer have a purpose. If we are in Christ, then we will live our lives on purpose, with a purpose and for a purpose, helping draw others to Christ and the Church.

AND if we are truly changed by the love of Christ, we will want to share that love and hope with others.

Can we imagine if we were to really believe this message of hope? Seriously.  People would come for miles, on pilgrimage, to the house of God, be lining up at the front to church, waiting for the doors to open, longing to join us as a welcoming family, yearning to hear the Word of God, hungering to receive the Eucharist!

It’s not at the Wal-Mart, the liquor store, or at Victoria’s-not-so-Secret, and not even at the football game, but right here at our parish! 

People will be attracted to the gospel lifestyle.  And Jesus calls to us to bear fruit through our lives.

Saint Paul says: “Welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you.”

So besides evangelizing the unchurched, we also need to go out and warm the hearts of our Catholic brothers and sisters whose faith has grown cold; we need to breathe on the dying embers of their faith, and allow the Holy Spirit to lead them back to Christ.  When we live our lives in Christ we will attract others to Christ and in the case of those whose light of faith has gone dark, they will be inspired to once again climb the mountain of God in HOPE.

If our lives have been changed by Christ, then our very lives can help change the lives of others!

So if we have encountered the Lord Jesus, what are we waiting for?

We must come down the mountain of the Lord and proclaim this Advent joy! The Lord is alive!

As Saint Paul puts it, “Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel!” (1 Corinthians 9.16).

“If we have a passion for Christ, then we will also have a passion for his people” (EG #268).

“Being a disciple means being constantly ready to bring the love of Jesus to others, and this can happen unexpectedly and in any place” (Pope Francis) even at the grocery, the mall, or at a ballgame.

Yet as evangelizing believers we “cannot passively and calmly wait in our church buildings” expecting people to come to us. We must go to them. We have a mission to seek out and save the lost (Pope Francis).

So can we imagine the joy our communities of Christ the King and Holy Spirit will experience over the next year if we can lose ourselves in the very mission of Christ?!

Therefore without hesitation or fear – let us go forth from this place, with Advent Hope, bringing Christ to others.

“Preparing the way of the Lord! Making straight his paths!”

Let us continue to climb, leading others up the Mountain of the Lord!

What are we waiting for?