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Saturday, December 25, 2010

The Holy Family

December 26, 2010

The Holy Family is abruptly celebrated the day after Christmas Day as the liturgical custom is to celebrate this movable feast the first Sunday after Christmas. It may seem rushed for us to hear it so soon after the nativity and yet it helps us feel the rush Joseph and Mary experienced when they had to quickly leave for Egypt to flee Herod's wrath. And to further quicken matters, Matthew focuses more emphasis on the return of the family from Egypt to settle in Mary's hometown of Nazareth.

Matthew, as he is writing to an informed Jewish audience, is setting up Jesus to be the new Moses. Jesus is cast as the one to fulfill the Hebrew Scriptures. The prophet Hosea's words are recalled, "Out of Egypt I called my son," which also sets up the reminiscences of the Hebrew's release from bondage in Egypt during the great Exodus. The name of Jesus means "God saves" and God is continuing his saving action through the life events of Jesus. From the start Matthew's readers know that God will be acting to save his beloved people. Jesus is replacing Moses at the authoritative teacher of God's laws.

Jesus is also the fulfillment of God's wisdom. Sirach provides a warm set of instructions to a young person who is heading out into the world to begin his new life. He encourages him to take care of his parents in their old age. He is not to forget them or leave them without food, shelter or livelihood. Old age has its own vulnerabilities. God will remember a person's kindness to his or her parents and will erase one's debts because of one's other sins. Social justice begins in one's ancestral home.

The days of old age much like today. They too felt an ambivalence about care for elderly parents as we do. Many people today want to and feel an obligation to care for parents, but for many, timing isn't right. The sandwich generation is trying to launch their children into adulthood, just like Sirach is doing, while balancing the needs of failing or diminishing parents. We would want the first event to settle so we can take a breath before we care for our parents, but life doesn't happen that way. It is a struggle.

We find parents' needs to be much more enveloping than just physical diminishment. Emotional, spiritual, and psychological needs are to be fulfilled and we can't plug those holes all by ourselves. Dysfunctional family systems kick into gear and we feel vulnerable when power and authority is used in the same old ways that hook our behavior and responses. We want liberation from parents and we want some issues resolved and their diminishment further hooks us so that we can't even realize what we want for ourselves. This is our holy family. Paul's words are inspirational but we set them aside for a different day and time when ordinary life is more settled, and yet, it is never going to settle down in the way we hope it can.

It seems like we are much like the family of Joseph and Mary who leave Bethlehem to escape the wrath of Herod and then relive the Exodus from Egypt. We need our own liberation from slavery - not that we leave our parents and family systems behind, but that we become un-hooked by the events that can ensnare us. We can live in charity the way Paul describes authentic Christian life. We can love our parents and families with greater care and affection because we allow Christ to liberate us from that which holds us back. This is the bond of perfection. And remember: God is continuing to act - continuing God's saving work within you.

Quote for the Week

From Paul's third chapter in his letter to the people of Colossae:

Put on, as God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, bearing with one another and forgiving one another; as the Lord has forgiven you, so must you also do. And over all these put on love, that is, the bond of perfection. And let the peace of Christ control your hearts, the peace into which you were also called in one body.

Themes for this Week’s Masses

First Reading: John's poetic proclamation of faith is expressed: What we have heard and seen we now proclaim to you. On the day of the holy innocents, John tells us the blood of Jesus Christ cleanses us from all our sins. He then tells us that we are children of the light and those who show love to his brother or sister lives in the light. The new commandment is to love one another. Those who do the will of God remain with Christ forever. John reminds us that we are in the last hour of creation. We do not need to fear because we have been anointed by the holy One and we have all knowledge needed to remain firm in our faith. On New Year's Day, we hear the blessing of Almighty God upon the Israelites.

Gospel: On the feast of John the Evangelist, we hear the account of John running ahead of Peter to the empty tomb of Jesus when he came to belief. We hear Matthew's account of Herod's slaughter of every male child in Bethlehem under two because he feared the rise of a king after the Magi deceived him. On the fifth day of Christmas, Luke provides an account of Mary's purification and the presentation of Jesus in Jerusalem. His parents meet Simeon who blessed the child and declared the boy would become a symbol of the rise and fall of many and Mary's heart would be pierced by a sword. They then meet Anna, the elderly prophetess, who thanks God and speaks about the boy to all who were awaiting the redemption of Israel. On the eve of the new year, John's prologue is read again - a synopsis of the entire Gospel that declares God has become human and will be rejected by many.

Saints of the Week

Monday: John, Apostle and Evangelist, (first century), is considered the author of the fourth Gospel, the Book of Revelation, and three letters. John, the Apostle, is the brother of James, sons of Zebedee - a fishing family. John was in the inner circle of Jesus with his brother and Peter. He is said to have died in Ephesus.

Tuesday: The Holy Innocents, (first century), were slain by King Herod in his attempt to eliminate the child who would become king of Israel. Matthew sets this account in contrast to the Magi from the East who revere the infant Jesus. This commemoration reminds us that the innocence of Christmas is short-lived because many forces in the world are opposed to the good that Jesus will do.

Wednesday: Thomas Becket, bishop and martyr, (1118-1170), became Archbishop of Canterbury in 1162 by King Henry II, but disagreed with him over the sovereign nature of the Church and was exiled. Upon his return, he clashed again with the king who developed disdain for Becket as a priest of low-stature. Shortly after his murder at Canterbury, pilgrims flocked to the site to venerate their saint.

Friday: Sylvester I, pope, (d. 335) became pope shortly after Constantine allowed Christians to freely worship in the Roman empire. He served for 21 years and established a pattern for church-state relations. During his pontificate, public churches were built for the first time. The Council of Nicaea was held during his time, but he was too old to attend.

Saturday: Mary, the Mother of God is celebrated on January 1st on the threshold of a new year. We honor her for being a mother to Jesus and therefore mother of God. By virtue of this title, she becomes our mother as well.

The Titular Feast of the Society of Jesus is celebrated on January 1st in commemoration of the naming of the boy Jesus. Jesuits honor the day as God gave Ignatius the name "Company of Jesus" for his new religious order. May we honor Christ through the company to which he gave his name.

This Week in Jesuit History

• Dec 26, 1978. The assassination of Gerhard Pieper, a librarian, who was shot to death in Zimbabwe.
• Dec 27, 1618. Henry Morse entered the English College at Rome.
• Dec 28, 1802. Pope Pius VII allowed Father General Gruber to affiliate the English Jesuits to the Society of Jesus in Russia.
• Dec 29, 1886. Publication of the beatification decree of the English martyrs.
• Dec 30, 1564. Letter from Pope Pius IV to Daniel, Archbishop of Mayence, deploring the malicious and scurrilous pamphlets published against the Society throughout Germany and desiring him to use his influence against the evil.
• Dec 31, 1640. John Francis Regis died. He was a missionary to the towns and villages of the remote mountains of southern France.
• Jan. 1, 1598: Fr. Alphonsus Barréna, surnamed the Apostle of Peru, died. He was the first to carry the faith to the Guaranis and Chiquitos in Paraguay.

Happy New Year

Blessings upon your 2011. May the Lord richly bless you with many graces, give you lots of laughter and good cheer, provide you with good health and an enlightened mind that remains open to his love, and much prosperity. May Almighty God bless you: + Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

Auld Lang Syne

Should old acquaintance be forgot,
and never brought to mind?
Should old acquaintance be forgot,
and old lang syne?

For auld lang syne, my dear,
for auld lang syne,
we'll take a cup of kindness yet,
for auld lang syne.

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