The example of the Holy Family.
Homily given for the feast of the Holy Family, 2019.
The example of the Holy Family.
Homily given for the feast of the Holy Family, 2019.
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.
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
Perhaps the journey to hear John the Baptist preach was half the point.
Homily given for the Second Sunday of Advent, Year A.
“OK, Jesus. Got the message loud and clear. Be prepared. How should I do that?”
Paul tells us that Christ crucified is a stumbling block. Instead of trying not to stumble on the Passion, why not move forward and stumble on it? When we stumble upon Christ’s Passion, we are forced to ask ourselves the question, “How much must our sin offend God that he had to die for us?”1
In the Office of Readings today, St. Jerome writes, “I bid you not to tend tear your garments but rather to tend your hearts which are laden with sin. Like wineskins, unless they have been cut open, they will burst of their own accord.” We rend our hearts when we experience grievance and disgust over our sins and the offense against God that has been committed.
The consequences of sin should grieve us, but they should also show us God’s love. As we continue to stumble upon Christ’s Passion, after being grieved by the consequences our sins have wrought, another question wells up inside of us: “How much must God love us that he was willing to suffer this Passion for us?”2 God’s love is what put our heart and soul back together, allowing us to grow.
In our act of grief, we give God an avenue through which he can love and heal us. Like physical exercise breaks down our muscles, this spiritual exercise breaks down the sinews of our heart and soul.3 Through our recognition of God’s love for us and our subsequent contrition, confession, and repentance we allow God to rebuild our souls. As God love heals us, we become stronger, faster, and more capable in our own love of God and neighbor.
August 31, 2018
21st Friday of Ordinary Time
1 Corinthians 1:17-25; Psalm 33:1-2, 4-5, 10-11; Matthew 25:1-13
Rejoice! Christ is born!
We know these passages in the Bible. The Christmas Gospels are some of the best known literature in the entire world. Whose heart does not flutter, just a little, when they hear, “Now this is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about…” or “In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that the whole world should be enrolled…” We know what comes next: we hear about the birth of a baby, Jesus, who is wrapped in swaddling clothes. We know that “[t]he shepherds said to one another, ‘Let us go, then, to Bethlehem to see this thing that has taken place…” We know that “this [baby] was the light of the human race; the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”
We’ve heard these stories so many times.
But do we really know them?
How has the Birth of Jesus Christ changed my life?
God came into this world as a baby to show us the way to the Himself. Jesus showed us how to live the most human life possible, by doing it himself. God showed us the dignity of human life by taking on human nature himself. Through the Incarnation, God provided humanity a path out of the darkness of sin and into the light of Heaven!
What does this look like in our lives? How have we let Jesus’s birth change us?
Has it helped us to love God with all our hearts, all our strength, and all our minds? Has it helped us to love our neighbor? Has it helped us to recognize that God loves us and sees us as precious jewels within his hands, jewels whom he calls “My Delight”?
This Christmas, let us ponder the gift that God gave us: the gift that excels far beyond any gift we can ever give. Let us ponder Jesus, the God-Man, the Wonder-Counselor, the God-Hero, the Father-Forever, the Prince of Peace. Let us prepare our souls so that they might, in silent stillness, receive him and allow him to transform us. Let us allow God to provide for us, and to transform our lives.
We do not know what wonders God has in store for us, if only we allow him to work within us!
Christ is born! Let us rejoice!
December 25, 2017
Four sets of readings are possible for Christmas. Scriptural quotes and references above come from Matthew 1, Luke 2, John 1, Isaiah 9 & 62.
“[He] will say to them in reply, ‘Whatever you did for one of the least brothers of mine, you did for me… what you did not do for one of these least ones, you did not do for me’ And these will go off to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”
The Golden Rule gets some teeth in today’s Gospel. A number of weeks ago, we heard that we must love God above all things, and we must love our neighbor as ourselves. Today’s Gospel reading makes it clear that to love our fellow man or woman is to love God. This standard—the standard of charity—is the measure by which we will be judged at the end of our days.
God sent his Son into this world to save us. God became human, and experienced humanity, just like you and I. He knows how hard it is to love our neighbor. Yet, Jesus tells us that this is how humanity will be judged.
This teaching is important simply by what it says, but its place in the Gospel also speaks to its important. Right after this parable, he is anointed on his head with expensive nard by a woman. This is similar to how kings were anointed in the Old Testament. He is betrayed, and condemned to death on false testimony. He experienced the absolute opposite of “love of neighbor” in every way: he was hated by the Jewish leaders and abandoned by his followers. His final teaching, “love your neighbor,” could have been lost forever, but in the midst of all his suffering, Jesus showed us that it is the only way we can live.
He refused to fight with the temple guard, and even healed the ear of one of the men who came to arrest him. He did not curse or argue with his false accusers, but proclaimed the truth when commanded to by the earthly authorities. He comforted the women while he was carrying a cross, after having been savagely beaten. He forgave his executioners. He even comforted and forgave one of the men being crucified with him: at the moment when he was most abandoned, most alone, most hater, he comforted the good thief. This is loving our neighbor.
Life can be hard. We won’t understand it. We won’t understand what others, including God, ask of us. Yet, we still must love our neighbors. Last week, when we read of the story of the talents, we learned this. God has loved each one of us, and he wants us to share this love with others. If we do not share our love with others, then we are burying it in the ground, and we will be judged for it. If we do share God’s love, God will welcome us into heaven and eternal happiness.
Christ destroyed death so that we might live with him forever, and all we must do is to have true charity in our hearts. True charity is not comfortable. It is hard, but the reward is so much sweeter. We will grow in our ability to love, and we will grow in our love for God. What a wonderful thing to gain!
How do we love? We love others when we care for them in their bodily needs: by helping at a soup kitchen; by donating to a clothing drive; by comforting those mourning the dead; by simply stopping to say hello to the beggar. We love others when we care for their spiritual needs: when we tell them the truth, even if they don’t want to hear it; when we love our enemies; when we pray for our enemies; when we stand up to evil in the world and say “ENOUGH.”
Love is not passive. It is very active. Love goes out, like the good shepherd, searching for others. It strives to bring them to God, so that they might be healed. It is hard work, but it is how we will be known as Christians. This is the defining character of the Kingdom of God: love. Our Lord Jesus Christ, the King of the Universe, has built a kingdom, and he built it on the firm rock of love.
November 26, 2017
The Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe
Ezekiel 34:11-12, 15-17; Psalms 23:1-2, 2-3, 5-6; 1 Corinthians 15:20-26, 28; Matthew 25:31-46
“So you knew that I harvest where I did not plant and gather where I did not scatter?”
This line bothers me. Out of all the lines in the entire parable, this line bothers me. It makes the master sound like a crook. I’m not sure I would want to work for this guy either. But I suppose that’s the point, isn’t it? The master seems a bit off, but that doesn’t excuse the servant with one talent of silver for burying it.
The parable isn’t about the master, whether he stole other peoples’ crops, whether he was particularly honest. The parable is about the response of the servants. The first and the second servants, after receiving their silver or gold or whatever, took it and worked with it. Eventually, the master returns and they’ve made a nice return. The master entrusts them with more. The third servant, however, decides, “Hey, I don’t want to work for this guy,” so he takes his bucket of money and buries it.
Unlike the other servants who, despite some apparent illicit or odd activity of their masters, decide to make the best of it, this guy doesn’t. I imagine he probably complained about his master a lot, and generally was unpleasant to be around. He acts out of fear and mistrust of the master. He never asks the master to clarify what he’s doing, he just sees something and assumes the worst. Instead of taking the chance given to him by the master to do things his way, the “right” way, he just buries a bunch of metal in somebody’s yard.
Which servant are we?
God has bestowed many great gifts and abilities upon us. Sometimes, he acts in ways we don’t understand or that we really don’t like. But how do we respond to God when this happens? Do we stand firm in our faith, trusting that God knows what he’s doing? Or, do we start acting out of fear and mistrust, second-guessing God?
What about in our daily lives, and our daily struggles? When we are given what seems like an impossible schedule, with an excessive workload on top of it, how do we respond? Do we complain and moan and groan about it? Do we shut down and binge watch three seasons of “How I Met Your Mother?” Or, do we follow the example of the first two servants, and get to work? I’m not saying there’s no place for some leisure, but I’ve recently discovered how much I can get done when I’m not trying to stay current on 5 or 6 different TV shows, and how freeing it is.
This parable is telling us something pretty simple, really. Accept what you’re given, and do your best to make the most of it.
That is what we, as children of the light, are called to do.
That is how we make ourselves alert and soberly await the coming of the Lord.
That is how we remain in the Lord.
Remain in me as I remain in you, says the Lord. Whoever remains in me bears much fruit. 1 For when we remain with the Lord, we are coming to him with our labors and our burdens, and we can lay them at his feet. There, we will find rest… For [his] yoke is easy, and [his] burden light.2
Thirty-third Sunday of Ordinary Time
Proverbs 31:10-13, 19-20, 30-31; Psalms 128:1-2, 3, 4-5; 1 Thessalonians 5:1-6; Matthew 25:14-30
At our baptisms, our godparents lit a small candle from the light of the Easter candle. This candle was then presented to us, or our parents if we were not old enough. This candle was a visible symbol of the light of Christ that had now been lit within us. Jesus calls us to keep that light burning, not just for us, but for all those around us. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus tells us that no one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. 1 We must put the light within us on display so that others can see it, and so that our light can guide others to Christ.
To effectively guide others to Christ and his Heavenly Kingdom, we must ensure that our light shines as brightly as possible, and that it continues to burn. How are we to do this? How do we make the light of Christ within us burn ever more brightly? What must we do to ensure that the light of Christ within us continues to burn?
The light of Christ within us grows with our virtue. As we become better people, people who are more like Christ, the basket around our light is lifted. When we put sin behind us and dedicate ourselves to doing the work of God and his kingdom, we work to remove the basket that covers our light. In addition to the basket around our light being removed, the light itself can grow to hold more fuel and to burn brighter. This happens when we regularly receive the sacraments of Reconciliation and Eucharist.
Reconciliation trims the wick of our light. It may sting, and it may be painful, and we may really hate having to do it, but it is worth it. Just as when a wick is trimmed, the lamp glows brighter, so when our soul is healed by reconciliation God shines more clearly through us. The Eucharist grows the size of our lamp. By increasing our charity and love for others, the Eucharist gives our lamp the ability to hold more fuel. When the Eucharist increases our hope in God, it gives a purity to the flame, allowing it to shine even more brightly and beautifully. The Eucharist strengthens our faith, which makes the light within us stronger, so that it may withstand even the strongest gusts of wind that work in opposition to it.
Let us now turn our attention to the second question: how do we ensure that the light keeps burning? This is the question asked by today’s Gospel. The virgins are awaiting the return of the bridegroom. They do not know the hour at which he will come and call them into the wedding feast. The wise virgins ensure that they have strong lamps, and that they have plenty of fuel—even if the bridegroom comes at a very late hour. The foolish virgins do not take such precautions. Even when the bridegroom is delayed, these virgins do not go to find more fuel. They squander their time, waiting until the very last possible moment, when the bridegroom’s imminent arrival is announced, to search for more fuel. At this point, it is much too late to search for more fuel.
The wise virgins are unable to give them fuel. They can’t give them the fuel, for two reasons. Firstly, their fuel would be too strong for the foolish virgins’ lamps. The fuel of the wise virgins—the fuel that powers the light of Christ within each of us—is purified and strengthened and cleansed by our virtues. It will destroy a lamp not strengthened by the grace of God’s sacraments. Secondly, the fuel is not theirs to give. The virgins have a duty to light to path for the bridegroom. If they give their fuel away, they will be unable to complete the one task which they were called to do. Similarly, the fuel powering our lamps is given to us by God as a gift. This gift is called grace. While we can give some of these graces away for the betterment of others, we cannot give them all away. This grace, sanctifying grace, is necessary for us to enter into Heaven. Only God can give us these graces. Any other source simply cannot give us the graces we need for the light of Christ to burn within us. These graces are free gifts from God, but we must prepare ourselves to receive them, and we must be willing to receive them. We do this by living a virtuous life and by receiving the sacraments regularly.
Where do we get the fuel for our lights?
Thirty-second Sunday of Ordinary Time / Year A
Wisdom 6:12-16; Psalm 63:2, 3-4, 5-6, 7-8; 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18; Matthew 25:1-13
Just two weeks ago, Jesus called out the Pharisees as hypocrites for testing him. Last week, the Pharisees tried again. Today, Jesus preaches against the Pharisees. “They do not practice what they teach,” Jesus says, “they do all their deeds to be seen by others.” Jesus is not pulling his punches. Why is Jesus reacting so strongly to the scribes and the Pharisees?
Jesus condemns them because their observance of the law is merely external. They preach the law, but they do not live it. They may say, “love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind and love your neighbor as yourself,” 1 but they love luxury and accolades more than God and neighbor. They have made idols of their phylacteries and their fringes. They have exalted themselves, and they shall be humbled if they do not repent of their ways—either in this life or the next.
The readings here are pointed at the priestly portion of society in Israel. Each reading speaks of the necessity for the priests to care for the children of God, and strongly condemns those who tie up heavy burdens hard to carry and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they will not lift a finger to move them. The message to the priests and scribes and Pharisees in these readings is clear, and it is strong: practice what you preach, or you will answer to God.
But what does this have to do with everyone else? Why does the church give us all this reading?
The purpose of the priesthood is to sanctify. In the Church, there are two fundamental types of priesthood. There is the ministerial priesthood, conferred through ordination. Its goal is to sanctify the children of God. The priest exists to serve and sanctify the baptized. There is another type of priesthood in the church, on in which each of the baptized share: the common priesthood of the faithful. Through this common priesthood, the baptized are called to sanctify the entire world.
When we understand that all of God’s baptized children are a part of the common priesthood of the faithful, the readings take on a new meaning. We must all follow the way of God. We must care for all our brothers and sisters in this world. We must humble ourselves.
Malachi warns us that if we do not do this, our blessing will become a curse. Our baptism gives us a great blessing and great graces. Baptism transforms us into children of God, and God marks us as his beloved. With this blessing, with this covenant, however, we are given a missionary responsibility. God calls us to sanctify and convert the world: to teach the Good News of Jesus Christ to the world through our words and actions. If we fail to do this, the we will not only lose what we had before our baptism, but we will also lose all the gifts we were given in baptism.
This duty is serious. It is a challenge to each of us. We must allow God to take control of our lives, to reflect him in everything we do. We must all humble ourselves and become servants of our neighbor. Jesus was the greatest man who ever lived, and in today’s Gospel, he tells us that the greatest among you must be your servant. Whoever exalts himself will be humbled; but whoever humbles himself will be exalted.
Thirty-first Sunday of Ordinary Time / Year A
Malachi 1:14b-2:2b, 8-10; Psalm 131:1, 2, 3; 1 Thessalonians 2:7b-9, 13; Matthew 23:1-12
Today we celebrate the Solemnity of All Saints. We take this day to remember all those saints in heaven who may not be known to us or those who may not have their own day. While we don’t the particular people in Heaven (unless they’ve been canonized), we do know there are many. St. John tells us that in Heaven there will be a great multitude, which no one could count, from every nation, race, people, and tongue.
Heaven is where we all desire to go. It is where we set our “aim” in this life. We all must aspire to live a good life, a holy life, a life close to God, so that we might attain the gift of Heaven. While we always remember that Salvation comes from our God, who is seated on the throne, and from the Lamb, we also remember that we must live our faith. We must live the faith we believe, otherwise we can’t honestly claim to believe it!
How do we do this? Jesus tells us. The Beatitudes, which Jesus gives today, are a new law. They are the code of conduct for his new kingdom. If we wish to live our faith, to enter Heaven, we must strive to live the Beatitudes. The entire Sermon on the Mount, in fact, gives us a code by which to live. This is no easy code. It is a challenge. Augustine comments that the mountain signifies that this is a higher teaching than the old law. He continues, “the same God gave the lower precepts to a people to whom it was fitting to be bound by fear. Through his Son he gave the higher precepts to a people to whom it is fitting to be set free by love.” 1 God has freed us from the shackles of fear. He has sent his Son so that he might show us his love.
We must take up God’s challenge to love. Through prayer we can come to understand how to live the Beatitudes, both in relation to God and in relation to our neighbor. In this challenge, when the going gets tough, we remember that the Lord will never abandon us, for he calls us all back to himself, saying “Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, And I will give you rest.” 2 Through Baptism, we become children of God, and God will never abandon his children.
The Solemnity of All Saints
Revelation 7:2-4, 9-14; Psalm 24:1bc-2, 3-4ab, 5-6; 1 John 3:1-3; Matthew 1-12a