Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Homily for the Feast of the Sacred Family

Sacrae Familiae

Homily for the Sunday within the Octave of Christmas
The Feast of the Holy Family

December 29, MMXIII

Saint Kateri Tekakwitha Parish (Rosa Road)
Rev. Michael Taylor

Whoever honors his father atones for sins,
And whoever glorifies his mother is like one who lays up treasure.[1]
The Holy Family- Bartolomé Esteban Murillo (1617-1682)

So, one of the joys of being a priest is being able to hear confessions, and especially first confessions. As a classmate of mine from seminary once commented that hearing first confessions is like being pelted to death with marshmallows. There’s just such a sweetness, innocence and genuine goodness that comes with their confessions. That being said, I would like to share with you every first confession, ever.

[In one breath] Bless me father for I have sinned and this is my first confession and I’ve sinned because I didn’t listen to my mother and my father when they asked me to take out the garbage when they asked the first time but I was playing a video game and it was really fun but I should have listened to them, so I’m sorry that I didn’t and then I was really mean to my brother especially when I pushed him into the lake which I have done before but apparently now that it is December it isn’t good for me and my mom got mad with me and said I should tell you in confession and so I am [Huge Breath] and I’m really sorry for all of my sins.

The funny thing is that when I go to hear the confessions of the kids preparing for confirmation it’s pretty much the same confession, although with much more dramatic pauses and sighs.

Bless me father for I have sinned
I didn’t listen to my mom
I argued with my dad
and um….*siiiiiiiiiiigh* I guess I fight with my brother and sister too much
[more Pause]
and I guess that’s it.

The best confessions though are when you get the same family coming in to confess the same event that occurred.
[Child] I sinned because I didn’t listen to my mom and dad

[Mother] I sinned because I lost my temper when my children didn’t listen to me

[Father] Bless me father for I have sinned, I didn’t listen to my wife

[Me] Anything else?

[Father] No…What else is there?

[Me] Fair enough

Those are the best, although I must confess I sit there screaming in my own head, “If only you talked to each other as well as you talked to me, then you would be so much happier.” All of that being said, I will tell you what I tell everyone, from the kid, to the teen to the parents; Being in a family is hard. I mean think of it. Everyday you come home, and there, like, always there! They’re never gone. And what’s worse is not only do you know how to push their buttons (and let us be honest, you do) but they certainly know how to push your buttons. 

Pictured above…button pushing…or criminal assault.
 It's a fine line

And that’s when it gets tricky when we talk about the Christian family. The idea of family has been around since the dawn of humanity, but within in Christianity it has been elevated into something sacred. It’s why Christ elevated marriage into a sacrament, so that it’s no longer a man and woman entering into a relationship but a man and woman being united into a single icon of Christ and His Church.[2] And children are no longer to be viewed as property, but human beings created in the image and likeness of God,[3] one who has been given the very spirit of God, being transformed into his own children,[4] and marked with the indelible mark of the transformative waters of baptism.[5] Of such a precious treasure are parents given charge of, no to put any pressure on you. Indeed, when we think of marriage and family in such a way, it would seem impossible. And as our Lord Himself said, with men it is impossible; but not with God; for all things are possible with God.[6] So it is important for us to remember first and foremost that for a Christian family to truly be Christian, to fulfill what the Lord asks of us to fulfill, we must realize that we are totally and completely reliant on faith and God’s grace. That is why the example of the Holy Family so pivotal for us.
            When we think of Mary and Joseph, we must first realize that their marriage starts out purely through faith. Remember, that before all of the events of the Christmas narrative begin, they are already engaged.[7] They already knew each other and had a relationship. Yet for their marriage to happen, it required them both to make an act of faith. It required an act of faith for Mary to tell the angel, be it done unto me according to thy word.[8] It required an act of faith for Joseph to believe in the words of the Angel, when the Angel said, Joseph, son of David, fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife, for that which is conceived in her, he is of the Holy Ghost.[9] How important is it for us to remember then, that a Christian marriage starts out not as a signing of a civic license, or even a formal ceremony, but an act of faith that what God hath joined together, He will endow with the graces to remain unified?  A profound truth to be sure.
            Furthermore, Joseph realizes that his most important identity is now that of a husband and a father, albeit a surrogate one. Thus, his responsibility is to his family, not career. Consider this. We know that Joseph is a carpenter. We also know that he lives in Nazareth. Now biblical scholars, looking on contemporary documents of the time, have figured out that the town of Nazareth was maybe about 300 families. The real work to be found was in the region known as the Decapolis, a wealthy region where much trade occurred between the Roman empire in the west and the Persian empires in the east. 

Not pictured-Egypt
Now any one who knows construction knows that the way you maintain a business is through connections, reputation, and word of mouth. So you can imagine what it was like for Joseph to be told by the angel in today’s gospel to pick up everything and leave to Egypt. And although our gospel today might give the impression they were there for a short period of time, it was more likely that it was about six to ten years. In six to ten years, you’ve once again settled, made connections, and made a life for yourself. Only to be told once again to leave everything behind and move back. Yet we see Joseph do these things without hesitation. Obedience to God and love and obligation to his family are what drives him.

"Are we there yet?"
            Then we see that Mary and Joseph raise their child in the faith. We see them bring him to the temple to preform the rite of circumcision, eight days after his birth.[10] We know that they participated in the feast days and sacrifices of the Jewish people, as it is during the feast of Passover that Jesus does what every twelve year old in human history has done, and gets lost.[11] From this we learn that the home is where faith is first planted, taught and most importantly, lived out with a sincerity of faith.
            Yet as we contemplate the idea of family, we know that we are facing a crisis of sorts. Pope Francis, in the exhortation he just released, Evangelii gaudium, writes the following

“The family is experiencing a profound cultural crisis, as are all communities and social bonds. In the case of the family, the weakening of these bonds is particularly serious because the family is the fundamental cell of society, where we learn to live with others despite our differences and to belong to one another; it is also the place where parents pass on the faith to their children. Marriage now tends to be viewed as a form of mere emotional satisfaction that can be constructed in any way or modified at will. But the indispensible contribution of marriage to society transcends the feelings and momentary needs of the couple. As the French bishops have taught, it is not born “of loving sentiment, ephemeral by definition, but from the depth of the obligation assumed by the spouses who accept to enter a total communion of life”.[12]

Marriage is not primarily about choice, but, as the Holy Father points out, is a sense of obligation and duty to the other, one that cannot be changed. In Georgia, there was the famous quote from President Carter, who had family issues of his own and said, “Well, you can choose your friends but you can’t choose your family.” The problem is that we’ve gone and tried to do just that. When we choose whether or not a child is to be born, to have any children, or to choose just to have one or two children, we reduce children into commodities, and this mindset is transferred into their psyche. Now a person chooses what movie to watch, where to live, what job to have, what food to eat, and what kind of family to have. It’s a very consumerist, materialistic mindset. When that’s the mindset, a child becomes a product, and now we see we have a generation of children who are convinced their worth and identity can be determined by tests and in comparison to other their peers, the other “products.” Furthermore, the ideology of choice goes even further; “I chose to love your mother, now I choose to leave your mother.” “I chose to love your father, now I choose not to love your father.” When a child sees that even love within a family is something that one can choose, rather than an obligation fulfilled in love, then the child becomes anxious of whether they themselves can ever be loved. After all, couldn’t one day a parent just choose to stop loving them? And these are great evils in our society.
            So we need to rethink how we approach being a family. We need to once again rededicate ourselves to our husbands and wives, our fathers and mothers, our brothers and sisters, and our sons and daughters. Our society can’t help us in this because it has forgotten the language of family. We speak a lot about how someone is doing in school, what grades they’ve received, what colleges they’ve been accepted to attend, and which scholarships they’ve received. Society knows how to talk about success in careers, how much money a person receives, which stock options they use, how large of a retirement fund do they have. Yet being a parent, being a member of a family is never seen as a point of value. If you asked someone what they did for a living, and they responded, “I’m a father” or “I’m a mother” you’d look at them as if they were crazy. Yet everyone here who has ever been a parent knows that those children you have are the most important thing you will ever be responsible for in this life. You could develop a cure for cancer, and it will still not be as important as the children you raise.
            So here are three bits of advice for how to be healthier, happier and more spiritual family. The first point is to forgive one another. Life is too short to allow bitterness to hold reign within your hearts. I cannot tell you how many times I meet people who have been estranged from family for wrongs and grievances that were committed years, even decades earlier. When we don’t forgive, we just allow anger to have a permanent residence within our hearts. It always hurts us more than it hurts the people we are angry with in the first place. Now this isn’t to say that you pretend everything your family has done to you has been all roses, but forgiving people means that you stop holding those wrongs against them. When we don’t forgive, we reduce a person down the sins they have committed, and see them as nothing more. When we don’t forgive a family member, we lose a brother, sister, mother and father because they’re no longer family, rather they’ve become a source of grievance. We must forgive as we have been forgiven.
           The second piece of advice is to pray together. It is oft attributed to Archbishop Fulton Sheen that the family who prays together, stays together. As cheesy as that might sound, it is an absolute truth. Families start together in an act of faith through the sacrament of marriage. Children are introduced into the family of God through the waters of baptism. Thus it makes sense that what starts out in prayer must be sustained through prayer. Pray together before meals. Pray at the end of the day. Gather around as a family and share your lives through the prayers that you offer for one another. Read scripture together. Often times I hear a family say, “I don’t know how to talk with my parents” or “I don’t know what to talk about with my kids.” If y’all are all reading the same passage of scripture, I guarantee you’ll find things to talk about. Start with Matthew’s Gospel and read one chapter a day.
            The third piece of advice is to love one another without ceasing. There is this passage of scripture from Paul to the Church in Rome, where he is telling them how to act around one another. At one point he writes, outdo one another in showing honor.[13] Imagine what a family would be like if everyone was trying to outdo one another in showing honor, compassion and charity? I challenge you to this. When you wake up each and every morning, ask yourself, what can I do to show honor to my family? What act of kindness can I do for my mother or father, my sister or brother? Now imagine what it would be like to come home to a family like that? Knowing that no matter what you went through in that day, no matter what anger or hatred you experienced, no matter what failures you had to endure, that when you come home, you’re going to have people there who’s only goal is to do some act of charity for you? That will be a happy home. That will be a Christian home.
            Forgive one another, pray together and outdo one another in showing honor. These three things will go a long way to having a successful marriage and family. Finally, ask for the intercession of Mary and Joseph. Through the waters of baptism we have become brothers and sisters of Christ. Just as Mary and Joseph cared for Jesus in this earth, so now do they wish to care for us, we siblings of Christ. Lord Jesus have mercy on us. Mary, Mother of God, pray for us. Saint Joseph, patron and protector of families, pray for us.

[1] Sirach 3.3-4
[2] cf. Matthew 19.4-6; Ephesians 5.31-32; Catechism of the Catholic Church §§1603-1605
Marriage in the order of creation

1603 "The intimate community of life and love which constitutes the married state has been established by the Creator and endowed by him with its own proper laws.... God himself is the author of marriage." [II Vatican Council. Gaudium et spes §47 n.1] The vocation to marriage is written in the very nature of man and woman as they came from the hand of the Creator. Marriage is not a purely human institution despite the many variations it may have undergone through the centuries in different cultures, social structures, and spiritual attitudes. These differences should not cause us to forget its common and permanent characteristics. Although the dignity of this institution is not transparent everywhere with the same clarity,[cf. Gaudium et spes §47 n. 2] some sense of the greatness of the matrimonial union exists in all cultures. "The well-being of the individual person and of both human and Christian society is closely bound up with the healthy state of conjugal and family life." [Gaudium et spes §47 n.1]

1604 God who created man out of love also calls him to love the fundamental and innate vocation of every human being. For man is created in the image and likeness of God who is himself love.[cf. Gen. 1.27; I Jn 4.8-16] Since God created him man and woman, their mutual love becomes an image of the absolute and unfailing love with which God loves man. It is good, very good, in the Creator's eyes. and this love which God blesses is intended to be fruitful and to be realized in the common work of watching over creation: "and God blessed them, and God said to them: 'Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it.'" [Gen 1.27; cf. 1.31]

1605 Holy Scripture affirms that man and woman were created for one another: "It is not good that the man should be alone."[Gen 2.18] The woman, "flesh of his flesh," i.e., his counterpart, his equal, his nearest in all things, is given to him by God as a "helpmate"; she thus represents God from whom comes our help.[cf. Gen 2.18-25] "Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and cleaves to his wife, and they become one flesh."[Gen 2.24] The Lord himself shows that this signifies an unbreakable union of their two lives by recalling what the plan of the Creator had been "in the beginning": "So they are no longer two, but one flesh."[Mt 19.6]
[3] cf. Genesis 1.27
[4] cf. Romans 8.14
[5] cf. Ephesians 4.22-24; I Peter 3.21
[6] Mark 10.27
[7] cf. Luke 1.27
[8] Luke 1.38
[9] Matthew 1.20
[10] cf. Luke 2.21-23: And after eight days were accomplished, that the child should be circumcised, his name was called JESUS, which was called by the angel, before he was conceived in the womb. And after the days of her purification, according to the law of Moses, were accomplished, they carried him to Jerusalem, to present him to the Lord: As it is written in the law of the Lord: Every male opening the womb shall be called holy to the Lord:
[11] cf. Luke 2.41ff;  And his parents went every year to Jerusalem, at the solemn day of the pasch,
[12] Pope Francis. Evangelii gaudium. MMXIII. §66; for citation SEE Conférence De Évêques de France, Conseil Famille et Société, Élargir le marriage aux personnes de meme sexe? Ouvrons le débat! (28SEP2012).
[13] Romans 12.10

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