The Holy Family (B) and New Year Day


THE HOLY FAMILY (B) and NEW YEAR DAY Lucas 2: 22-40 - December 31, 2017

“Jesus went down with his parents and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them; and his mother kept all these things in her heart.”

When we hear that today we celebrate the feast of the Holy Family, the model for all Christian families, we might get discouraged thinking how difficult it is for our own families or communities to be like the Holy Family. Last year after celebrating this feast with a group of people somebody told me that she did not think the model of the Holy Family is very practical, arguing that what kind of a model is a family made up of two such saints like Mary and Joseph and a son like Jesus Christ himself? She thought that it was too much to ask of any family to follow the example of the Family of Nazareth. I told her, “Do not forget that the Holy Family is holy because they lived a life united to God.” And it really makes a great difference.

Still so, many of us might think that our own families are far from the ideal. In some way it is true. Every family is far from the ideal because every family is made of individuals with their positive qualities and their negative aspects.

The fact is that we realize that there are some weaknesses in our family that become an opportunity to grow. If we make God part of our family, he will do the rest for us. Saint Paul teaches us in his Letter to the Colossians, “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, if one has a grievance against 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.” The compassion that we have for the weakest member of the family, whether that it be physically weak, psychologically weak, or morally weak, becomes our means to grow in union with God. The efforts that we make to accept each other’s peculiarities are themselves acts of virtue.

Being a Christian family means being a holy family, and that means, separate for the Lord. To be holy means to be set different from all that is not holy. So we have to choose what is often contrary to the choices made by other families. Being a holy family requires that our homes be a dwelling of prayer, and participate on Sunday’s Liturgy, read and live the Gospel, and share with the suffering.

Parents are the first teachers of their children in the ways of the Catholic faith. Some parents do not do this because they feel unworthy to teach their children about God. They forget that it is God who makes them worthy. As your authority as moms and dads brought your children to baptism, so also your authority as parents gives you the grace to teach God’s knowledge to your children. You do not have to be theologians to teach about God. You just need to be united to God. And it really makes a great difference. You can and should give them the example of union with God. Your children and your grandchildren still look to you to be holy families. If we are united to God in our homes, then we fulfill the call of evangelization, bringing his presence to all around us. Let’s not forget, the heart of our church is not the parish. The heart of the church is our own family.

Former Pope Benedict in his book on the Infancy Narratives teaches us that in the holy family "freedom and obedience were combined in a healthy manner." And he observes, "The twelve-year-old was free to spend time with friends and children of his own age, and to remain in their company during the journey." It was Joseph, together with his wife Mary, the ones to decide the appropriate degree of freedom for their young son. Every family faces this issue. Parents could ask the intercession of Saint Joseph in deciding what degree of freedom to give their growing children.

We ask the Holy Family, Jesus, Mary and Joseph, to help us know the right balance between freedom and obedience. We should not be opposed to authority, but to follow the example of Jesus, "He went with them and came to Nazareth and was obedient to them." As Pope Benedict writes, "After the episode highlighting Jesus higher obedience, he returns to his normal family situation, to the lowliness of simple life and obedience to his earthly parents." So may it be in our families.

MARY, THE MOTHER OF GOD (B) Luke 2:16-21 – Jan. 01, 2018

“May the LORD bless you and keep you! May he LORD let his face shine upon you, and be gracious to you! May the LORD look upon you kindly and give you peace!“

A young boy was told by his parents that at Christmas everything had changed with the coming of Jesus Christ; that the Messiah had arrived. The kid went outside to the park, came back and turned the TV on, and it was the time for the news, which he watched for awhile. Then he told his parents, “I see no change in anything.” In a sense the boy was right. On January first, on New Year’s Day we celebrate Mary as the Mother of God, and this first day of the year is dedicated to pray for peace. And where is that peace? Has anything really changed for the better in our country or in our world? All we hear and see is hatred, violence, racism, war, murders, and selfishness. The famous French Dominican theologian Congar once said: “We would like to have the kingdom and, if I may put it this way, all we get is the king!” And we might add: And where is that kingdom?

I love to see parents blessing their children whenever they come home or they go away, but I love it more when children ask their parents’ blessing. Today in our first reading from the Book of Numbers we hear that God commanded Moses to give instructions to Aaron, his brother and successor, on how to bless the people. Aaron was the first High Priest and as part of his ministry his role was to pray to God on behalf of the Israelite community. This is a simple and very beautiful prayer: “May the LORD bless you and keep you! May the LORD let his face shine upon
you, and be gracious to you! May the LORD look upon you kindly and give you peace!”

Since the time of Moses and Aaron this has been the blessing of families and people for three thousand years. Saint Francis of Assisi used this prayer to bless Brother Leo and his first companions. We Franciscans, making this blessing our own, usually call it Saint Francis’ Blessing. This prayer is a blessing of God for us his people at the very beginning of this New Year. It tells us that true peace comes from our seeing the face of God. When you bless your child, your spouse, or other people, that blessing, not only help them, but it will come back upon you.

In his letter to the Galatians Paul teaches us that it is because Jesus fully took on human nature that we are able to be saved from our sins. We are no longer slaves of our sins, but adopted sons and daughters of God, and with confidence we dare to call God in a very intimate and familiar way using the diminutive title of Abba, Daddy.

The story read from the Gospel of Saint Luke has three important parts: the first is about “the Shepherds who went in haste to Bethlehem and found Mary and Joseph, and the infant lying in the manger. When they saw this, they made known the message that had been told them about the child.” The second contains a beautiful line about Mary “reflecting on these things in her heart.” The last one is the naming of the child: “He was named Jesus, the name given him by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.” Here we find an important issue, that the Shepherds are the first witnesses to Christ. They saw the infant Jesus and found out that, what the Angel had told them was truth. The Shepherds spread this message throughout the whole area and then they went on their way praising God. It is amazing how these simple characters of the Nativity became models of true discipleship and messengers of good news.

On this, the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God we proclaim and praise the great things God has brought forth in her, giving to her a unique role in the mystery of our redemption as "Mother of God". Mary is named in the Gospels "the mother of Jesus," and under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit Elizabeth called her, even before the birth of her son, "the mother of my Lord." (Lk 1:43) “In fact, the One whom she conceived as man by the Holy Spirit, who truly became her Son according to the flesh, was none other than the Father's eternal Son, the second person of the Holy Trinity. Hence the Church confesses that Mary is truly ‘Mother of God’.” (Council of Ephesus (431) She is Theotokos, which means “God’s bearer” (the one who gave birth to God)

The kingdom of God was inaugurated at the first coming of Jesus. It is in our midst, and yet it is still to come. When we experience that many things in the world have not changed, we realize that the second coming of Christ is not here yet, because much work remains to be accomplished. As we ended our year yesterday, we are aware that there is some progress in our lives, but maybe a lot has not changed, and in this New Year God, with his blessing, is giving us another opportunity for a new beginning.

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