Wednesday, December 26, 2012

The Holy Family

The Holy Family
December 30, 2012
1 Samuel 1:20-28; Psalm 84; 1 John 3:1-2, 21-24; Luke 2:41-52

After many years of dashed hopes, Hannah is able to conceive a son that she names Samuel. She pleaded with the Lord for years and thought that her prayers were not heard. The shame, confusion, and abandonment she must have felt were heavy on her heart. Now that her son is born, her husband goes to make the sacrifice at the Temple, but she does not join him. Instead of making a small gesture to the Lord, she decides to offer her son totally – to become a servant of the Lord.  Her choice shows her great generosity and gratitude. She waited all her life to become a mother and now she gives her son away. She will always be his mother, but she will not have the chance to be a mother to him. Her sacrifice is great, but she gives freely to the Lord what is most important to her.

The Gospel tells us of the annual trip to Jerusalem of Joseph’s household during the Passover feast. This feast is ingrained in the yearly rituals of Jesus. He knows it is the feast that tells of God’s steadfast presence to the Israelites as God delivers them out of slavery in Egypt. He decides to stay in the Temple to hear more about this God with whom he feels a special relationship though his parents are distressed at his negligence. He impresses his teachers with his understanding and answers to theological questions. These conversations certainly energize him and spur his imagination, though it causes his parents worry and heartache. They must have felt like they lost their son in some way, but he goes home with them because they are his family.

St. Ignatius of Loyola, founder of the Jesuits, inserts this contemplation into the heart of the Spiritual Exercises. His point is to show the Jesus learns obedience from his mother and father. He cannot be faithful to God if he cannot be faithful to his parents. He cannot go to the cross in fidelity to God unless he first knows what it means to be faithful to his parents. This is the reason he returns to them where he could advance in wisdom and in age. By doing so, he finds favor before God and friends and family.

The human family is where we learn to relate to one another. We hope that we grow in holiness and develop practices where we share respect, forgiveness, love and caring. It is a place where we learn to balance our needs against the desires of others. We experience great pain from our families because we sometimes do not learn healthy traits and coping mechanisms. All too often, stories of alienation, intense unexpressed anger, irreconcilable differences, and shameful secrets tear families apart. These incomprehensible situations erode the peace and harmony within individuals and families. These tensions sneak out at certain times like funerals and weddings and despite the great drama it brings, it reveals fundamental hurt that comes from wanting to be loved more fundamentally. Everyone deep down in their hearts want to have reconciliation, but we allow certain minor incidences to distract us from reaching for our goal. It is into this world that God chose to be born to us.

Families are the places where hope is nourished. Almost everyone wants to be home for the holidays. Hallmark greeting cards and computer images reveal peaceful, serene, and happy endings and thoughtful sentiments. Classic Hollywood movies show idealized family gatherings where gifts are exchanged, warm embraces are shared, disagreements are resolved, and everyone sings a meaningful song or prays together. This is the type of family life we want. We remember the good old days and we want them again in our present time. These beautiful images stay with us as we anticipate spending time with loved ones and friends.

With wisdom, we are able to see that the good times are right now. We are able to see the wholesale affection we have for those who are placed right before us. Yes, we wish others were with us and we miss people because we love them a lot, but there is no better thing to do than to enjoy the people with whom we find ourselves. We are God’s family. Family is the people we are with. Jesus redefines family once and for all. Anyone who calls upon the name of the Lord is to be treated with an amazingly indescribable mercy. We can find joy today because that is all we have. We have to train it to let it grow and deepen within us. Allow yourself to feel the growing gladness that God loves the person beside you in the same radical way that God loves you – and we are called to love like God too.

Hannah gives away what she loves most. Joseph and Mary lose and recover and lose again their most prized possession. We might be called to give something away that we strongly cherish in order for us to see the beauty that is before us – God’s gift to us of one another. Sometimes what we give away can free us for a new life that we cannot expect. Life always has its pains and sometimes these pains make us grow wiser to God’s ways. Let’s take a great chance today. Let go of those things that separate you from one another and find a way to uphold, revere, and cherish the person who is standing in front of you. God may surprise you and take your breath away.

Themes for this Week’s Masses

First Reading: John, in his first letter, is dealing with many deserters of the faith. He encourages the people to hold fast to the anointing that comes from the Holy One in the face of adversity. (On New Year’s Day): Moses blesses the people: “The Lord bless you and keep you! The Lord let his face shine upon you, and be gracious to you! The Lord look upon you kindly and give you peace.” (Back to 1 John) John tells the people that one who is a liar cannot be a disciple. Anyone who denies the Son does not believe in the Father. The reason that the world does not know the disciples of Jesus is that they do not know Jesus. If they did, they would recognize that the disciples imitate the life of Jesus. One’s behavior will testify to beliefs. If one is righteous, his actions will be righteous. The disciples have heard that from the beginning they are to love one another. Acts of violence, deceit, and dissension show that one does not truly believe in the commandments of Christ.

Gospel: The Prologue in John’s Gospel is read to highlight the identity of Jesus and the knowledge of God’s plan of salvation. (On New Year’s Day): We hear the story of the shepherds as they come to the manger and gaze upon the infant the angels tell them about. When the eight days since birth had pass, Jesus is circumcised and is given the name entrusted to him by the angel before he was conceived in the womb. (Back to John) The Jews questions the Baptist to see if he was the Christ. He tells them that one mightier than he is coming after him. Later on, John the Baptist identifies Jesus to his disciples and tells them “Behold the Lamb of God.” The disciples leave John to follow Jesus. One of the disciples, Andrew, seeks out his brother, Simon, to bring him to Jesus, who promptly renames him Peter. Jesus then calls Philip from Bethsaida. Philip tells Nathaniel about him. Nathaniel dismisses Jesus becomes he comes from Nazareth, but Jesus seeks him out and calls him as a disciple. Nathaniel is amazed that Jesus knows much about him.

Saints of the Week

December 30: The Family of Joseph, Mary, and Jesus, was a feast instituted in 1921. It was originally the 3rd Sunday after Christmas. The Holy Family is often seen in Renaissance paintings - and many of those are of the flight into Egypt.

December 31: Sylvester I, pope (d. 335), served the church shortly after Constantine issued his Edict of Milan in 313 that publicly recognized Christianity as the official religion of the empire and provided it freedom of worship. Large public churches were built by the emperor and other benefactors. Sylvester was alive during the Council of Nicaea but did not attend because of old age.

January 2: Basil the Great and Gregory Nanzianzen, bishops and doctors (fourth century), are two of the four great doctors of the Eastern Church. They are known for their preaching especially against the Arian heretics. Basil began as a hermit before he was named archbishop of Caesarea. He influenced Gregory who eventually became archbishop of Constantinople. Their teachings influenced both the Roman and Eastern Churches.

January 3: The Name of Jesus was given to the infant as the angel foretold. In the Mediterranean world, the naming of person stood for the whole person. Humans were given the power to name during the Genesis creation accounts. If one honors the name of the person, they honor the person. The name Jesus means “Yahweh saves.”

January 4: Elizabeth Ann Seton, religious (1774-1821), was born into an Episcopalian household where she married and had five children. When her husband died, she became a Catholic and founded a girls’ school in Baltimore. She then founded the Sisters of Charity and began the foundation for the parochial school system in the U.S. She is the first native-born American to be canonized.

January 5: John Neumann, bishop (1811-1860), emigrated from Bohemia to New York and joined the Redemptorists in Pittsburgh before being named bishop of Philadelphia. He built many churches in the diocese and placed great emphasis on education as the foundation of faith.

This Week in Jesuit History

·      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.
·      Jan. 2, 1619: At Rome, John Berchmans and Bartholomew Penneman, his companion scholastic from Belgium, entered the Roman College.
·      Jan. 3, 1816: Fr. General Brzozowski and 25 members of the Society, guarded by soldiers, left St. Petersburg, Russia, having been banished by the civil government.
·      Jan. 4, 1619: The English mission is raised to the status of a province.
·      Jan. 5, 1548: Francis Suarez, one of the greatest theologians of the church, was born at Granada.