Sunday, December 29, 2013

Family: Fidelity not Perfection

1.  Why this feast day?
One might ask, "Why do we celebrate a day honoring or recalling the Holy Family?"  An answer well might be "So that we can learn how Jesus grew up, shaped as a man by Mary and Joseph.  This feast calls each of us to think about living with our family.  Pope Francis recently noted that "family is where we learn to live with others despite our differences and to belong to one another."  Today's readings are about our we belong to each other.

2.  Sirach and Paul
From these readings we are taught that family involves more than loving one another.  Even with a father's mind fails him, we are charged to take care of him.  The person who reveres his/her mother stores up riches.  When we take care of the elderly, our acts of love and charity "will not be forgotten" by God when final judgement occurs in our lives.  Our attention to parents especially earns for us God forgives of our debt to him for our sinfulness.

In Paul's letter to the Colossians, we read how this great apostle views the various virtues we need to practice toward not just our parents but toward each other.  It is evident that Paul had some experience in dealing with family.  He strongly encourages his audiences to practice virtues that at times are quite difficult in family situations.  But he is clear how we are to be "bearing with each other and forgiving one another."

3.  St. Matthew's gospel today.
We are placed with Mary and Joseph as they flee from the threats of Herod.  Joseph had a dream that gave him the direction and strength to take Mary and Jesus to Egypt for a while.  Consider what they were doing for their new child.  The royal edict was to destroy all male children under the age of two to make sure that their child would not live.  So they traveled some distance without any comfort.  They moved to a new land; to new languages; and to new customs.  Not easy for sure.

They held each other throughout the journey and while living in Egypt.  A work of a sculptor in the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception portrays a time of rest for the family on the way to Egypt.  Mary holding Jesus close to her body and Joseph lying next to Mary and the child.  Holding each other seems to be an innate reaction to human tragedy.  Think of pictures or scenes you have experienced dealing with deep pain or loss:  there is no shaking of hands when greeting each other in those moments, there is only hugs in silence and usually tears.  We even grasp the bodies of some who are not exactly living as we might like, but none the less there is in tragic moments that inner drive to give comfort to someone who is suffering.  This is where we learn that family life is not about perfection.  Rather it is about our faithfulness, our fidelity to each other in these difficult moments.

This day of looking at one family and then at ourselves in the mirror of our family live teaches us that  family life involves even respecting at times the messy bedrooms or the scattered dirty socks left here or there in a house, or even the tube of tooth paste left uncapped on the bathroom sink's shelf.

Family life demands of us much patience, forgiveness and understanding.  Family life rewards us when we are down and out, when we have come upon difficult times.  Perhaps a great need in our culture at this time is for us to strengthen the love we have first and foremost for our families.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Christmas Day

[Please note:  the following is the homily that will be delivered to a number of
Jeuite Alumni and their families at Georgetown Prep at midnight Christmas Day.]

Good morning!  Merry Christmas!  Peace be with you!

Let’s begin with just who am I since this hallowed campus was never a part of my history.  Former Jesuit priest; now priest of the Archdiocese of Washington, retired and doing more than when serving as a Pastor etc.; with you this evening because my dentist bartered a hygienist appointment and a dinner.  So now let’s get to some serious thinking about this nativity feast that brings you together in prayer and fraternity. In true Jesuit style, the remarks that follow will be presented as “three points.”  See:  Still very much the Jesuit at heart.

The First Point:  This Christmas let me call you, “miles Christi” —
a soldier of Christ if you have forgotten the days of Latin.  You were trained to be with Ignatius Loyola a follower of Jesus Christ. I call you “miles Christi” because your Church needs you to see and become involved in the renewal.  And true Jesuit that he is,  Pope Francis through word and action, again so Ignatian, has given strong impetus to the universal call for a new evangelization. Along with the Holy Father, we, all of us, are called to be one with the Holy Spirit in this new 

Pentecost, this new renewal that is being born in the Church.  The drive for the renewal that the Holy Spirit has put into the mind and heart of Pope Francis actually had its foundation in Bethlehem when Jesus began what might be called the first renewal.  This is what Jesus’ birth was all about: his accepting the Father’s will that from this pauper’s birth scene to the horror of a Good Friday with the purpose of bringing salvation to humankind.

True sons of Ignatius, as most of you are, you called by this newborn Son of God to invest time in learning and sharing what it means to carry the gospel to those who accept it, to those who reject it and to those who do not know it.  Let the gospel become for you a style of life that challenges so much of the lifestyle in our society today.  Come to know the gospel messages of a Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.  Let their heartfelt words become a source of true joy in your life; words of the man Jesus that are meant to make a difference in your life and mine.

The Second Point:  As Pope Francis wrote recently, “Goodness always tends to spread.”  It is the notion that goodness cannot be repressed that has encouraged the Bishop of Rome to discuss with the Church at large that evangelization takes place in obedience to the missionary mandate of Jesus:  “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations …”  I believe that we should take note of this command.  However we must recognize that it is nothing new.  In the birth of Jesus Christ we see the beginning of genuine missionary activity that will become the basis, the foundation, for the efforts that mark the lives not only of the Church but of each of you and all others who seek to follow Jesus Christ.  On this day when Jesus was born, the name Christian became ours not in a courthouse but in a simple stable.  The title is akin to a universal passport as well as a universal responsibility to all our sisters and brothers.  In this early hour of the morning we quietly in our hearts renew our commitment to follow the Jesus.

As missionaries, aligned with the Son of God, we might look to this annual celebration of his birth as a calling to discern and pledges to  follow the path the Lord points out for us in going “from our own comfort zone in order to reach all the ‘peripheries’ in need of the light of the gospel.”

Let the celebration of Christmas be an occasion when we can renew  our own missionary vocation that comes to us as an invitation from Jesus Christ in our Baptism, Confirmation, and Eucharist.  Furthermore, take some time to consider these words from the First Letter of St. John.

Whoever is born of God conquers the world.
And the victory that conquers the world is our faith.

The Third Point:  Our faith is a particular experience that is peculiar to each of us here this morning.  I encourage each of you not to confuse “our faith” with “our religion.”  Faith is my personal relationship with God the Father, Jesus his Son and the Holy Spirit.  When I look upon a manger scene today, at the young child lying on hay or in his mother’s arms, and find myself praying or placing myself with Jesus in Bethlehem, actually I am affirming or reaffirming my personal relationship with God.  

Now fear and distress did not shake Mary or Joseph in their faith or in fulfilling their God-given vocation.  It did not shake St. Ignatius in all that he endeavored to accomplish.  It was not their religion that enabled them and many like them in the centuries since the first Christmas to live their faith.  We are no different:  I believe faith is a matter of a personal relationship with God.  Our faith is what gives us the strength for fidelity and loyalty to Jesus Christ.  Let this night and this encounter with Jesus Christ be for you a renewal of that fidelity to your faith, your personal relationship with God.  Again hear words from the Evangelist, St. John, that stress the importance of our faith. 

Who is victor over the world
but the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God.

Let me begin to conclude now with a challenge to all here present on this Christmas morning, again using the heart and mind of Pope Francis.

The Holy Father wrote that the Catholic Church is not a fortress.  Only when we have the fortitude and courage to move outside its walls, when we meet the poor, the lonely, the mentally challenged, the elderly sick, the confused and frightened immigrants of our generation, the gays, lesbians and transgendered among us, the hurting divorce, the marginalized of so many different kinds, only then we reach out to them as true missionaries, men and women of faith, can we share in the true freedom of God.

This is what we are challenged to consider when we look at a new-born child, resting on straw in a manger, who would in just a few years after his birth would become a man who would bring salvation to every human being from his throne atop Calvary Hill.  This is the mystery we celebrate today.  This is the gift God the Father has given each of us.  This is our faith; this is our challenge.  When you lift high the cross of Jesus Christ, you authenticate the mission of the Son of God for yourself and for others.  Let this Christmas Day be a day when once again you renew the pledge all Jesuit students learned:  Ad maioren Dei Gloriam … All for the Greater Glory of God.

Again, Merry Christmas and, please God, bless all who are here early this morning and their families.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

The Signs of the Kingdom

Fourth Sunday of Advent
December 22, 2013

In the first reading from the Liturgy of the Word, we encounter moments we God asks Ahaz to ask for a sign from God and Isaiah speaks to the house of David about wearying God with so many requests to God and that the Lord will give … this sign:  the virgin shall conceive and then bear a son. (Isaiah 7:10-14)

Let this be a starting point for this homily as we are but some 61+ hours before we encounter that sign mention in Isaiah 600 years before the actual event.  We repeat this event every year on December 25th.  When Jesus was conceived and then born, it was a new beginning.  Were you alive before Jesus was born, would you have written the Jesus epic as we encounter it in the scriptures as well as in our own times.

Would you have had this child Isaiah foretold, this Son of God, this Redeemer, would you have had him conceived and born of an unwed mother?  Would you have portrayed him as being homeless when he was born?  His life, would you have painted a picture of a some times refugee?  Surely you would not have thought such a Redeemer would face torture and crucifixion.  Who would believe your facts if you added a resurrection from the dead?

This is now how anyone except a prophet would have written the predictions of a Savior for humankind.  But that was centuries ago.  Today, however, we do not celebrate a beginning as the 

Bethlehem story was.  In our times we live in the Kingdom of God on the face of our earth.  If you did not know the story, how would you describe this Kingdom were you asked to describe what the Kingdom would look like?  

Surely you would incorporate what Isaiah and some of the other prophets had written:  Jesus this Savior would be a sign of the Father’s love for us.  You would also probably tell stories about saints, lucky people, joyous events, trusting people.  Would you incorporate some of the surprises that we know to be what Jesus did?  What surprises?  Would the poor be promised so much goodness from God in your story?  Would you portray women who became single mothers?  Would gang members have any part of your vision of God’s Kingdom?  Would you enemies be taught as the object of your love in the Kingdom?   Indeed, few if any would include such people or events in the description of the Kingdom.  These individuals and events are signs, like the signs the prophets mentioned years before Jesus’ birth.  Why should the Kingdom be a place for such people?  Why?  Because all of us begin our lives as signs, signs that God loves us.  And we continue to be signs of His love when we fail, when we sin and seek God’s forgiveness and His pardon.

The real surprise for us to realize and accept in our Church today, the Kingdom among us, is, as Pope Francis has written, “a Church which is bruised, hurting and dirty because (it is a Church) 

that has been out on the streets rather than a Church which is unhealthy from being confined and clinging to its own security.  What the birth of Jesus and the Church’s mission teach us is this:  God’s Kingdom is not a fortress!

Only when we have the fortitude and courage to move outside the walls, when we meet the poor, the lonely, the mentally challenged, the elderly sick, the confused and frightened immigrants of our generation, the marginalized of different kinds. only then can we share int he freedom of God.

Again this is not what most would have portrayed as the Kingdom of God.  It is not what some want the Kingdom of God to be today.  The reality is that all these different people, the ones who may make us feel uncomfortable at times, they are a part of our relationship with God.  Why?  Because, like you and me, they are children of God. 

This is what we are challenged to consider when we look at a new-born child, resting on straw in a manger, who would in just a few years become a man who would bring salvation to every human being from his throne atop Calvary Hill.  This is the mystery we celebrate in just a couple of days.  This is the gift God the Father has given each of one of us.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Rejoice! Rejoice in the Lord! Rejoice!

Gaudete!  Gaudete!  Gaudete!

The opening word of the Entrance Antiphon for this 3rd Sunday of Advent you may not hear recited. Singing of an entrance hymn takes priority.  But in the title for this posting, you have read it:  Rejoice!  What a marvelous command.  Rejoice because the birth of the Lord is near!

In Isaiah's words today we are reminded that God grants to "those whom the Lord has ransomed (that they) will meet with joy and gladness."  Likewise the evangelist, St. John, also mentions the gift of joy that can fulfill a lifetime.  "We are writing these things," writes John, "so that our joy may be complete."  In two other sentences found in John's writings, he quotes Jesus as speaking/praying "that your joy may be complete.”  So this joy is something out of the ordinary.

Hearing homilies and reading Church documents we can easily take "joy" phrases as just another repetition of what some might consider a space-filler.   While serving as Archbishop of Buenos Aires, Gorgio Bergoglio described joy as "the fruit of the presence of the Holy Spirit."  It is important to note that joy is a gift and that gift comes to us in the presence of the Holy Spirit.  Furthermore, the Archbishop stated "Joy strengthens us in times of trials." Here note, as well, that the future Pope sees joy as an antecedent reality to being victorious in times of trail. Perhaps some among us feel their times of trial perdure for what seems to be an eternity.  If they would stop and consider this thought of the Holy Father, they might be able to understand that it is joy that exists in our hearts and minds which enables us to become victorious in times of testing.  What lies hidden within these words of Archbishop Bergoglio is this:  if joy is strong within our normal way of being, we should see that it is like a magic potion that can change our lives.

Our times no longer have the "strengthening" traditions that were the hallmark of strong, faithful and happy believers. Somehow what was meant to be a potion to help us in our faith and in our daily lives has been lost or forgotten.  In the place of genuine joy and the virtue of hope, we find an abundance of negativity, cynicism and their likes.  Joy is a consolation lost by many!  If, as some suggest, we believe that joy is a sign of harmony and unity, it is not surprising to hear that true joy is not a plentiful commodity in our marketplace of life.  

A renewed sense of joy brings to us a sense of astonishment. Consider, please, the sense of awe and astonishment younger children at this time of the year that is so evident in their excitement and expectations of Christmas morning.  Naive, yes, at least to a degree.  But these younger ones are teaching us about the value of joy and happiness that seem to send weak signals to our hearts hearts unless there is some extraordinary event or moment.  A dose or two of astonishment is a remedy for unhappiness.  It is this very sense in the hearts and minds of truly happy people that can become a genuine gift for those suffering loneliness or frustration.  What a Christmas present that would be when or where it is needed.

In our society a genuine and full sense of freedom is missing, is lacking.  I am speaking of the freedom that captures a heart when there is a definite intention or activity each day to recall that each of us is a child of God. Does this arouse astonishment in the heart?  It should give us a super-charged awareness of how blessed we are.  It should make joy a reality and give freedom a new power in our lives independent of the usual association with political or historic moments.  Have you ever encountered a joyful heart that is not at the same time a heart alive with freedom, the freedom that is the gift of the Holy Spirit?  Why do these realities come about?  Because, as Pope Francis and his spiritual advisor, St. Ignatius Loyola, have noted to peace as the basic component of joy.

As we draw closer to yet another celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace, let us pray to be free of bitterness, independent of harmful gossip and free of the all-too-often moments of destructive criticisms of others.  Let us incorporate in daily living the powerful sentiment of St. Paul:  "Love does not rejoice in wrongdoing but rejoices in the truth" (1 Cor 13: 6-7).  Do what you can to drive sadness from your heart.  Let us, during the Advent season and surely afterwards, come to make joy, the fruit of the Holy Spirit, a characteristic of our essence as a human being, as a child of God.  Open your heart to goodness and awe:  the reward to true joy!  Rejoice!  Rejoice in the Lord!