Families Save the World

God saves the world through the family. If you don’t believe me, read through salvation history. Everything starts with a family.

Homily for Feast of the Holy Family, 2020.

Families Save the World

Now, more than ever, we need the Feast of the Holy Family. When we look out at the world around us, the family is not much respected. Families are broken and shattered by the tragedy of divorce. We see families whose members prefer to spend time with screens over each other. We see the attempted redefinition and unmooring of the family from the structure God gave it at the dawn of creation. All of this is a result of sin in the world. Satan hates the family, because it is through the family that salvation comes into the world. If we look at salvation history, we see that this is true.

The family comes at the very dawn of creation: Adam and Eve, our first parents, were wedded as husband and wife in their original innocence. God is a communion of Three Divine Persons: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Adam and Eve, being the pinnacle of God’s material creation, mirrored that communion of love here on earth. Together, they were given the gift of communion with God.  Satan hated them so very much that he deceived them and tempted them into the original sin that shattered the order of the entire universe. The breakdown of our families, even now, is a tragedy of universal order, because it is in the family where we are supposed to learn to love one another as God loves himself and as God loves us. When this love is violated, it has universal consequences.

Abraham, our Father in Faith, and his beloved wife Sarah did not receive the gift of a Son until their old age. They show us that the family must always be oriented to the worship of Almighty God. When they received the gift of their son Isaac, they recognized him to be a gift from God. We all remember the nearly tragic sacrifice Abraham was called to make of his son Isaac. It was not Abraham’s son that God desired, but his faith to follow God wherever he might lead. From Isaac, God promised to bless Abraham with descendants as numerous as the stars. What Abraham did not know was that one of these descendants would be the Son of God himself, Jesus, the Christ.

We see this pattern of salvation through the family or utter disaster through the breakdown of the family play out again and again. Joseph, the son of Jacob who was sold into slavery in Egypt, saved the entire family of Israel by bringing them to Egypt in time of famine. King David, while extraordinarily successful and victorious in uniting Israel, wrought destruction on Israel and himself by violating the family of Uriah. David’s wanton violation of what a family ought to be led to infighting amongst his children who, in some cases, slaughtered one another outright. David’s broken family led to the breaking of the 12 tribes of Israel: the original covenant family was shattered.

It would not be until that quiet night in Bethlehem when the family would be restored to its original glory. Jesus, Mary, and Joseph provide an antidote to the ails of the family. Theirs is a wholly pure and chaste love for one another, one which transcends sin. The entire Holy Family was to be a light to all of the world of the glory of the family. Jesus spent 30 years with his mother and foster-father before beginning his public ministry. God himself spent 30 years obedient to his earthly parents, honoring them and caring for them. His first public miracle was at the celebration of the establishment of a new family: the wedding at Cana. His final act from the Cross before he expired was to establish a new covenant family: giving John to Mary as her son. While there were many reasons for this, one was undoubtedly that this final act of filial reverence would ensure John would honor and care for his mother.

We must care for our families. Husbands: love your wives. Wives: love your husbands. Parents: love, discipline, and teach your children. Children: obey and honor your parents now, and care for them in their old age. Above all, love God, who will bring your closer together. If we do these things, our families will bring peace and redemption to the entire world, because the Holy Family will be incarnated in this world again: shining out to all nations through our families.

Today’s Readings:
December 27, 2020
Feast of the Holy Family, Year B
Sirach 3:2-6, 12-14; Psalm 105; Hebrews 11:8, 11-12, 17-19; Luke 2:22-40

Family Life

The example of the Holy Family.

Homily given for the feast of the Holy Family, 2019.

Family Life

It seems like every time Joseph goes to sleep, an angel of the Lord appears to him and give him more work. Joseph, incredibly, appears to have no problem whatsoever with following the commands of God’s messengers. Whether it was to take his wife into his home or to flee with his wife and infant to Egypt, the Bible records no protest from Joseph. When God asked, Joseph simply acted. Joseph was able to act because he trusted God. He had confidence that God would provide, as God always had for his people, and so he did not fear.

This complete and utter trust in the Lord enabled Joseph to lead his family, the Holy Family. If Joseph had not trusted God completely, he would never have been able to complete the task he had been given: to protect his young wife, Mary, and his foster child, Jesus, and to raise up and teach Jesus—he was fully human, after all—in cooperation with Mary. Joseph did so through his example. Scripture records none of his words; only his actions are recorded. His trust and confidence in following the will of God became an example to his family.

We see this trust and confidence in God within Mary and Jesus too. Sometimes it can be easy to get caught up in the miraculous events that surround the Holy Family. Sometimes we forget that Jesus lived with his family, mostly in silence, for the better part of 30 years. Not much has been recorded during those 30 years. It is safe to assume that the Holy Family lived much like any other family, that they experienced the same things any family would experience: living on a budget, working to make ends meet, going to the synagogue to worship God, saying your daily prayers, and raising a child. At some point between the Finding in the Temple and the Baptism of Jesus, Joseph dies: so the Holy Family experienced the loss of loved ones too. Jesus knows the pain of losing a parent. Since we don’t know particular stories about the home life of the Holy Family, and can’t draw examples from them, we must instead look in other places.

The book of Sirach tells us that both a father and mother exercise authority over their children, that children should care for their parents, and that children should honor their father and revere their mother. In other words, Sirach is calling for children to learn filial piety. Fr. Scalia, in his book That Nothing May Be Lost, describes this as simple devotion to one’s family, country, God, and all that bestows and shape’s one’s life. (p. 21) Jesus is a perfect example: he is a devoted son, of his parents, his country, and his Heavenly Father. He begins his ministry at home. Even when he ventures out, he remains in Israel. It can be easy to forget the importance of our home and our roots in our society. Our American way is tragically individualistic. We seek to make a name for ourselves, and convince ourselves that the familiar is our enemy. In the meantime, we lose our sense of community and belonging, things which are vital for us to thrive as humans. (see pp. 22-24)

Paul gives us a lot also, but it can be summarized in one word: love. Husbands and wives must love each other with a sacrificial, self-disinterested love. The husband, in particular, should be willing to lay down his life for his spouse. Their relationship must be rooted in Christ, because only he can give them the grace needed for all of the compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience, and forgiveness they will need to make a marriage work. Parents should love their children, and children should love and obey their parents.

None of this is easy, but it is not really supposed to be easy. God never promised us easy, and his Son, Jesus, certainly didn’t have it easy. Families are hard. But it is through our families that we learn to love our God, our neighbors, and our fellow human beings. It is through our families that we learn how to interact with God and the world. It isn’t easy, but it is possible. We just have to allow ourselves to trust the Lord.

Trust in the Lord, and do not fear, for God is with us.

Today’s Readings:
December 29, 2019
Holy Family Sunday, Year A
Sirach 3:2-6, 12-14; Psalm 128; Colossians 3:12-21; Matthew 2:13-15, 19-23

Life-giving Love and Humanae vitae

Ancient Israel had a problem: there were too many prophets. With so many competing voices, the Jewish people couldn’t tell a true prophet from a false prophet. They eventually found a solution, and they wrote that solution down in Deuteronomy 18:21-22. It’s very simple: wait a little while and see if the prophecies come true. If they don’t, the prophet does not speak words from God. If the prophecies do come true, then the prophet is from God, and we had better listen up and do what was said! This rule is intuitive and simple: everyone could follow it. Whether the people actually changed their lives and followed the prophet was a different issue, but at least they knew that the prophet was from God.

The spiritual gift of prophecy did not end in the Old Testament. Fifty years ago, on July 25, 1968, a document was released which closely followed the prophetic model: it reminded us that we must always follow God’s law. Then, it predicted what would happen if we didn’t:

  1. The way would “open wide” to marital infidelity.
  2. Because of human weakness, failing to follow this teaching in one way would make us accustomed to evil, and society’s moral standards would decrease.
  3. Men would forget the reverence due to women, and they would treat them as objects, not as humans with equal dignity in God’s eyes.
  4. Public authorities would use the evil practices which were condemned in the document to achieve their own goals.

That document was Humanae vitae, or in English: Of Human Life. The author was Blessed Pope Paul VI. He reminded us of the beauty of marriage, of how marriage is an image of God’s own love, of how marital love is a fully human kind of love, and of how, through the marital act, a man and a woman become, in cooperation with God, the creators a new human life. Because of the immense goodness of marriage and of the marital act, Blessed Paul VI also reminded us of God’s teaching that the use of artificial contraception is morally wrong, and that if we were to use it, those serious consequences I mentioned would be the result. People didn’t want to hear this, and so they didn’t listen. Sadly, every single one of Paul VI’s predictions came true:

  1. Marital infidelity is rampant in western society. We see alarming rates of adultery, divorce and remarriage without having the first marriage annulled, and epidemic-level misuse of the internet to find obscene images and videos. You get the idea.
  2. Moral standards haven’t just declined—they’ve nearly disappeared. Look at the recent scandals involving so-called leaders in sports, politics, and the media. Look at what passes for quality television and movies these days. Compare a movie from just 20 years ago and to a similarly rated movie now. We’ve changed, and not for the better.
  3. Our society has lost any sense of reverence due to women. Things weren’t perfect before, don’t get me wrong, but we at least tried to respect women.
  4. Public authorities have used society’s acceptance of contraception for their own ends. In China, it manifested in the brutal One Child policy. In our very own USA we’ve dealt with the HHS Mandate and public funding of organizations like Planned Parenthood.

Blessed Paul VI predicted that these things would happen. No one, not even Catholics, sadly, expected him to be right, but he was. Now, that we’ve seen his predictions, his prophecies, come true, we must look again at what Blessed Paul VI called us to do, and we must do it. Every time the Jewish people failed to follow God’s prophets, the results were terrible: they were conquered, enslaved, or worse. We may not be physically conquered or enslaved for not following God’s teaching on contraception, but we will certainly be conquered by evil and enslaved to sin. This is not where we want our society to go.

Brothers and sisters, today, 50 years after the release of Humanae vitae, we stand at a crossroads. Our culture is suffering. Our families are suffering. Something is wrong. But we are not helpless. We have the power to change this. We do not have to accept the status quo. We must not accept it. Change will take sacrifice. It will take all the courage and virtue we can muster. It will take prayer. It will take faith in God. I will be blunt here: it will take each of us here accepting Catholic teaching on contraception. That teaching is clear: “any action which either before, at the moment of, or after [marital relations], is specifically intended to prevent procreation” is wrong. (HV 14) Furthermore, the Church has repeatedly condemned “direct sterilization, whether of the man or of the woman, whether permanent or temporary.” (HV 14) This issue touches the very meaning of human life, and it is therefore incredibly important. It is sometimes difficult to tell people the truth, especially when it is about an issue that is so personal, but Jeremiah warns against misleading the flock in the first reading today, so I have a moral obligation to be absolutely clear. It is not simply a moral obligation, though. I am motivated out of love for all of you here and out of a desire to see every person here today go to Heaven, and so I must be absolutely clear about the truth on this issue. The use of any birth control pill, implant, mechanical device, or medical procedure that is designed to prevent conception or pregnancy is against Catholic teaching, against God’s teaching, and against what it means to be human. If I had any reservations at all, I would not be so adamant that we must rid ourselves of the evils of artificial contraception. We cannot do these things. Our eternal lives are at stake if we do.

We shouldn’t get the wrong idea from this teaching, though. The Church is not demanding that we have as many children as biologically possible, nor is she saying that we don’t care about women’s health. God calls us to use reason to govern our lives, including family size. This is possible without violating Catholic teaching! The Church doesn’t just leave us hanging! Many ways exist that don’t violate Catholic teaching which can help postpone or achieve pregnancy. Together, we call them Natural Family Planning.

You may have heard people—especially doctors, sadly, even Catholic doctors—claim that NFP does not work or joke about it. They are, at best, wrong; at worst, they are being dishonest. The old rhythm methods were ineffective, but medicine and science have developed. Modern NFP, used correctly, has been scientifically proven to be more effective than artificial contraception at postponing pregnancy. Artificial contraceptives, as they are commonly used, are between 82% and 98% effective. NFP, as commonly used is 89.4% to 99.5% effective.1 One of the NFP studies was done here in Wichita at St. Francis hospital! If that’s not enough of a reason to stop using artificial contraceptives, consider this: NFP—unlike “the pill”—has not been declared a Group I carcinogen by the World Health Organization. Some other Group I carcinogens are asbestos, arsenic, mustard gas, plutonium, and engine exhaust. NFP has never been linked to severe health conditions, such as those which can arise from implants. NFP can strengthen marriages, because it requires both spouses to work together. NFP can even save lives, because the regular observations involved can give an early warning for certain cancers that would not be seen otherwise. NFP is not just for postponing pregnancy though, it can also be used to achieve pregnancy! NFP, together with new medicals treatments consistent with Catholic teaching (NaPro), is more effective than IVF.2 NFP requires sacrifice. It’s not always easy, but it is a good thing. It works better; it’s more flexible; and, it’s better able to help women with health issues than artificial methods. Finally, NFP is more respectful of women and their inherent dignity. Most artificial birth control methods work by harming the normal functioning of a woman’s body, this increases the chances of health problems for women, such as depression, blood clots, stroke, several types of cancer, and many others.3 Additionally, NFP is a shared responsibility, and yes, challenge, between a husband and wife, while using artificial contraception is a one-sided burden that largely falls on women. If you want to learn more about NFP, there are classes across Wichita all the time!

Our bodies are gift from God. They are meant to be used in a certain way if we want to be happy. We can’t continue to separate marriage, sex, and babies. Whether we want to admit it or not, at the deepest levels of our humanity we know they belong together. We must do better, because we deserve better than artificial contraception. We deserve to be loved, not used. In Humanae vitae, our holy Church stood up to society and, again, said “no more” to people who desire to use others for their own pleasure. The Church will never stop trying to help us understand ourselves, and today she reminds us that we are not made for pleasure, but for true, life-giving love. Thankfully, when we do make mistakes, the Church is always there to help us pick ourselves up and to set us on the right path again by providing the Sacraments for us. In the Sacrament of Confession, God forgives our sins. He wants to forgive our sins, especially those that touch us so deeply and personally as the use of artificial contraception does. After we have received forgiveness of our sins and have become clean in that most intimate encounter of God’s mercy, God then invites us to share in the most excellent of all the Sacraments, that heaven-on-earth encounter with God’s love: the Eucharist. The Eucharist reminds us of God’s love for us and teaches us that God made us for greatness: he made us to receive his life-giving love, and to share that life-giving love with others. For those who already are following this Church teaching, thank you for being witness to God’s love and for being witnesses to God’s amazing plan for us. For those who are not following Church teaching, I invite you to simply try it out, and I want you to know that the Church will be here for here each and every step of the way.

Today’s Readings:
16th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year B
50th Anniversary of Humanae vitae on Wednesday, July 25.
July 22, 2018
Jeremiah 23:1-6; Psalms 23:1-3, 3-4, 5, 6; Ephesians 2:13-18; Mark 6:30-34