Christmas II – Holy Family

Christmas II – Holy Family
2014 – Cycle B
Genesis 15: 1-6, 21:1-3; Psalm 105; Hebrews 11:8, 11-12, 17-19; Luke 2:22-40

family 1family 3family 2

Do you appreciate and recognize that your home and the relationships that inhabit them are a holy place?

At the recent Synod of Bishops in October, the bishops listened to husbands and wives speak of the deep joy they had experienced in their marriages and family lives – as well as the difficulties they had overcome and the struggles they had faced. Pope Paul VI called the family, “the domestic church”. John Paul II reminded us that the future of humanity passes by way of the family.

The Synod looked at and invites us to continue this year to reflect on family life and the importance of marriage. From the beginning, the Church was formed from believers and their whole household. The Acts of the Apostles records the story of the Roman centurion, Cornelius, who when encountering the preaching of Peter called together his relatives and friends. It was upon all present that the Spirit descended and they were all baptized into Jesus Christ. [See Acts of the Apostles 10] It is thus in the midst of family, in our homes, that we have our first experiences of God and the Son, Jesus. It is in the midst of family that we first learn how to pray in the Spirit.   These familial relationships teach us how to love and forgive and where healing can be experienced.

The unconditional fidelity and commitment that God offers us is first experienced in the human commitments we make to each other as husband and wife and between parents and children and extended family relationships of grandparents, aunts and uncles and cousins. These commitments are then reflected in the baptismal vows of the wider Christian community that surround each family and is comprised of all of our families. There is no church without family.

Many people have voiced that marriage and family life are under attack. Cited reasons for this observation are…

  • cohabitation among couples and the legalization of same-sex marriage,
  • the lack of commitment in many aspects of society and life in general,
  • divorce, resulting in multiple marriages for some people and single parent families for others,
  • the cost of living and people’s lifestyle expectations,
  • the misunderstanding and misuse of sexuality resulting in shallow relationships, unwanted pregnancies and abortion,
  • and pornography.

In this environment, how might the church support families and marriage and while being faithful in her preaching of the Gospel encourage people who miss the mark?

In regard to supporting good solid marriages, the church first needs to better prepare couples – not for a wedding day but for married life. Compare how many years of formal prayer, discernment and preparation is required of a man to be ordained a priest with the number of hours of formal preparation couples are offered before entering married life. Those of you who are married, did you bring to prayer and seek the insight of the community the man or woman you were considering to marry? How long was your preparation prior to marriage?    Were Christian married couples involved in your preparation along with the priest? Were you prepared for a wedding day or married life?

In respect to people who are married,

  • are family prayer and regular reading and sharing from the Bible a part of your daily lives?
  • Would you gather periodically with other Catholic spouses and families if the opportunity were made available for prayer and mutual support?
  • Are we as a parish welcoming and supportive of young, new families? Do we welcome their infants and children into our midst for worship and offer understanding, a smile and help if needed?
  • Are Catholic individuals, parishes and organizations willing to be supportive of single parent families caused by divorce, abandonment and immaturity? Are we willing to financially support a woman so that she does not consider an abortion? Would you be willing to welcome a woman into your home who was in crisis? Protesting against abortion and putting up tombs stones is not helpful to women in crisis. Women need understanding, mercy and concrete assistance if they are to choose to bring forth new life into this world.

The spirit of Pope John XXIII and the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council offered no condemnations but moved toward dialogue with modern society. Persuasion rather than judgment and censure came to be understood as the ground from which hearts and minds are changed.

In considering this, we might first ask ourselves, how persuaded are we of our own moral tradition when Catholics, divorce, cohabitate, abort children and watch pornography like the remainder of society? The old adage, “practice what you preach” seems apropos. In addition, the cover-up of the sexual scandal has cast a long shadow of doubt upon the teaching authority of our bishops. But it is not just the bishops, how many of us have yet to be converted to Christ? Checking off the reception of sacraments and habitually going to church each Sunday is not being converted to Christ. Being converted means living like Christ. It is a change of heart. Have we, the Catholic people, reflected on our lives in the light of our moral tradition and the Gospel?   In its Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, Lumen gentium, the Second Vatican Council spoke of the call to holiness of every member of the church [Lumen gentium, Chapter V]. Have we responded to the call of conversion that is required for the blossoming of holiness?

While heeding the call to holiness and striving to live what we proclaim, Johan Bonny, Bishop of Antwerp, Belgium offers another facet that needs our attention. Bonny has argued that there is a gap between church moral teaching and “the moral insights of the faithful”. He urged bishops to bring church teaching more in line with the lived experience of the laity.  American Catholics experienced this when our bishops in the writing of their peace and economic pastoral letters in the 1980s humbly sought out and listened to the experience and knowledge of experts in the fields of economy and peacemaking including military and government leaders as part of their reflection . As I stated, the bishops of the Synod listened to married people; might they also listen to Catholics who are cohabitating, gay, divorced, addicted, single parenting and struggling? These people are not faceless, they are our children, relatives, friends, co-workers, neighbors and fellow parishioners; many silently sitting among us feeling unheard and unwanted. Might such a listening session assist the Church to understand the broad spectrum of people’s experiences? And if we cannot be persuasive of the Gospel message and moral tradition among our own people how can we be persuasive in our dialogue with the world with its many contradictory voices?

Pope Francis has spoken often about a Church which is in need of mercy. The Pope stated, “The thing the church needs most today is the ability to heal wounds… I see the church as a field hospital…. You have to heal wounds. Then we can talk about everything else. [From “A Big Heart Open to God,” America magazine Sept. 19, 2013]

We expect support, mercy and healing for ourselves. It amazes me that there are Catholics, clergy and laity, who would refuse it to others; refuse even the open discussion of issues and insights as Francis encouraged among the bishops of the Synod.

If we are to support family life and marriage;
if we are to recognize that our homes and the relationships within them are holy places;
if we are to experience Church as family…
we need to first seek within our own lives conversion. We need to listen and trust God.

…descendants as numerous as the stars of the sky? …from a childless aged couple?
What must Abram and Sarah have thought?

Mary and Joseph in their respective annunciations had to struggle with what God was calling them to accept and live out. They had to wonder what “the fall and rise of many in Israel” meant. And what was this sword that would pierce deeply Joseph’s as well as Mary’s heart? What did they discuss on their way when they returned home to Nazareth in Galilee?

To reflect on the Holy Families of sacred scripture we must enter into the struggle with the issues and with God.

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