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Wednesday, December 25, 2013

The Holy Family

The Holy Family
December 29, 2013
Sirach 3:2-6, 12-14; Psalm 128; Colossians 3:12-21; Matthew 2:13-15, 19-23

The family of Jesus is honored during the Christmas octave, but we encounter them on the run as they flee to Egypt from Judea to escape the deadly plans of the conniving Herod. From the beginning of his life, Jesus becomes a refugee. During his time away, the insecure king orders the murder of all boys in Bethlehem and the surrounding area to destroy the threat of the prophecy that the King of Israel would rise from Bethlehem. The parents of Jesus are able to give him safety, shelter, and a peace-filled upbringing until it was time to return to their homeland. The family nurtures him and allows him to grow in freedom, and it is freedom that Jesus eventually gives us.

We are often stuck with the dilemma of human freedom. Parents watch their children make terrible mistakes and they wish they could make decisions for those they love, but they know perfect love does not mean making choices for others but letting them choose their own course of action. In fact, every one of us has someone whom we love who we wish would follow our advice. People harm themselves and keep themselves from doing better in life and it breaks our heart that they do not listen to sound, loving words of support. Instead, we sit back and watch harm get piled upon hurt, and we feel their pain.

Herod made his decision based on his insecurity. He felt threatened at the thought of a new king who would challenge his rule would arise. He wanted to circumvent scripture and change human history. Therefore, he killed many innocent boys and ruined the lives of many mothers and fathers in Bethlehem and Judea. I can imagine he had advisors who asked him to listen to them and choose a different course of action, but alas, he did not. If he had only listened, lives would have been spared. If he had only put on the garment of love that gives freedom, not fear, so others may prosper and live in peace. Governments today act out of fear and insecurity; wars are still waged; bullies try to control and dominate others. The cycle will unduly continue until we teach others the way of peace and love and it is our responsibility as Christians to begin this long-desired process.

The wisdom figure, Sirach, gives proverbs and aphorisms for the golden rules of family life. He teaches them how to let tender love reign in our hearts – just as the Christmas message of Jesus teaches us. Sirach teaches respect for elders, children, and in fact, all people. He knows the way of truth and light will win out over the ways of self-centeredness and self-absorption. He instructs people to rule with both head and heart and peace will reign in the household, and God will always remember the good we do to others.

Paul, after having his heart converted by Jesus Christ, learns a new way to live and he gives the most beautiful instructions of our Christian lives. He says, “put on heart-felt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, bearing with one another and forgiving one another. And over all these things, put on love, the bond of perfection.” Other than sounding so beautiful, it shows us that we have to choose to be kind to others and we have to choose to love. The image of actively putting on these attributes is an apt one because it details the choices we make. We wear who we are and we have to deliberately make ourselves up every day and choose what sort of person we will be. We have instant decisions to make when someone is mean to us; we can be mean back or we can go against that impulse and put on kindness. The mercy we show others, the compassion we give, show others that Christ has been born into our lives and that these traits are hallmark expressions of our faith. It is not easy, but it is worth it.

Most of us can stand to be a little kinder and more patient with others and if we do not have these qualities, how are we going to teach our young ones? The family and the schools are our principal sources of learning our virtues and values, and our actions teach with greater impressions than do our words. When we think of a person who has been a hero in our lives, it is usually because of an extraordinary kindness they offered to us. We cherish those moments of learning. What is it that my actions teach others?

We have plenty of resources. When we choose to put on love, we are putting on Christ. We have to listen to him as he guides us in the right paths. We know that his love will protect us; therefore, we do not have too much to risk in reaching out and being kind to others – even when we do not feel like doing it. Forget your individual transgressions, but look on your whole effort in life and watch how Christ is growing within your choices and actions. He did not grow up all of a sudden to become our Savior. It took him a lifetime of learning and choosing. Now, we can let him nourish and teach us to put on those virtues he values so much. Be patient with yourself as you continue to learn. There is a great promise for the future when you return from your Egypt, from all that weighs you down, and you put on Christ as a garment. He makes all things new and he gives you a whole new family of faith to support you and encourage you. Choose to put on Christ today and life in his promise of salvation.  

Themes for this Week’s Masses

First Reading: John the Evangelist lets people know that their sins have been forgiven by the Christ event. Therefore, they are not to love the world or the things of the world. John tells them that they are in the last hours of the world and many antichrists will arise to try to derail those who believe in the Holy One of God. Stay close to the truth and you shall be fine. On the Feast of Mary, Moses tells Aaron how to bless the Israelites, “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!” John the Evangelist encourages the people to let what they have heard from the beginning remain in you. The presence of the Lord will do its work to keep you faithful. “See what love the Father has bestowed on us that we may be called the children of God. We are God’s children now.” Do not be deceived by anyone. The one who is righteous will act righteously.

Gospel: Anna the prophetess comes forward to meet Mary and Joseph. She gave thanks to God and was relieved to know that all that was spoken about the child has come true. The Prologue of John presents Jesus as the Word of God who comes down to dwell among us. In Galatians on the feast of Mary, Paul tells the people that God sent the Son, born of a woman, under the law, to ransom those under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons and daughters.” The Shepherds went in haste to Bethlehem and found Mary and Joseph, with the infant lying in a manger. John the Baptist is questioned about his origins. He denies that he is the Christ, but that there is one who is coming who is the stronger one, the one sent by God. The Baptist points towards Jesus and declares, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.” He is the one who ranks ahead of John and will come baptizing in the Spirit. Two of John’s disciples were watching and saw Jesus walk by. John points him out and they go over to the camp of Jess. Andrew and his brother Simon were brought to Jesus and Andrew declares, “We have found the Messiah.”

Saints of the Week

December 29: Thomas Becket, bishop and martyr (1118-1170), was the lord chancellor and archbishop of Canterbury in England during the time of King Henry II. When he disagreed with the King over the autonomy of the church and state, he was exiled to France. When he returned, he clashed again with the king who had him murdered in Canterbury Cathedral. 

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.

This Week in Jesuit History

·      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.
·      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.

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