Feast of the Holy Family 2019: Long To Be Holy

Holy Family

Today’s reflection is for the Feast of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, December 29, 2019, and the readings can be found by clicking here.

Today the readings from Sacred Scripture address the issue of what is a Holy Family and secondly, how we are to become holy families today. Both of these points are derived from our observance of the 4th Commandment, namely, to honor our father and mother, and can be found in the C.C.C. 2197 – 2246.

Though we reflect today upon the holy family, I think it’s important to start with holiness itself. Holiness is what each of us is called toward, and what each of us desires in the deepest part of ourselves—whether we know it or not; admit to it or not. One of my favorite songs is, “Holiness, holiness, is what I long for. Holiness is what I need. Holiness, holiness is what you want from me.” Holiness is the ONLY thing that matters in this life. It should be on our heart and mind every moment of every day. This would be an excellent answer to give when someone asks what you are doing. “Hey Stephen, what are you up?” “Oh, you know, just growing in holiness—same as always.”

What does it even mean to be holy? Does it mean that we’re perfect? Does it mean that our family is perfect? No. To be holy does not mean to perfect, but rather to be “set apart.” People and things that are holy are “set apart” for God’s purposes. Ordinary water, once blessed, becomes holy water…set apart for God’s purposes of blessing people and objects. Oil, once blessed, become holy oil, set apart for God’s purposes anointing at baptism, confirmation, and for anointing of the sick.

Throughout time God has called his people to be a holy nation, a nation set apart, to provide an example to other nations of what it looks like to honor Him. Within his people God has set apart individuals to advance his kingdom: Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Joshua, Deborah, Sampson, Kings Saul, David, and Solomon, the prophets Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and John the Baptist, and today we celebrate that God calls families.

A holy family is a family set apart for God’s service. Scripture teaches us at the end of the 2nd chapter of Luke that Mary and Joseph took their responsibility to prepare Jesus for service to his Father in heaven by teaching him to pray, taking him to Jerusalem, teaching him about the law, and demanding observance of the law. And Jesus was obedient toward them. They were a holy family that prayed together, spoke of God and walked with God, kept the Sabbath holy, and attended “parish festivals.” Shouldn’t we be doing the same? Do we?

I think we live in a world today that has largely forgotten the respect, honor, and obedience that is rightfully due to parents and authorities by children. But also, too many have neglected to do the hard work of parenting, by providing boundaries, creating schedules, teaching prayers, praying together, keeping the Sabbath Holy—an entire day set apart for God’s purposes—and finally, teaching and demanding respect for parents and legitimate authority.

We are each individually, and as a family called to be holy, and to live out our holiness in our schools, workplaces, and nation. The Second Vatican Council’s Dogmatic Constitution on the Church said it like this, “…all the faithful of Christ of whatever rank or status, are called to the fullness of the Christian life and to the perfection of charity; …They must follow in His footsteps and conform themselves to His image seeking the will of the Father in all things. They must devote themselves with all their being to the glory of God and the service of their neighbor.” (#39) Saint Josemaria Escriva, the founder of Opus Dei, also preached the universal call to holiness back in 1928. His emphasis was particularly for lay people, like most of us, living an everyday life and doing ordinary work. He wrote, “There is something holy, something divine, hidden in the most ordinary situations, and it is up to each of you to discover it.”

My brothers and sisters, holiness, to be like God, to be entirely set apart for God’s purposes, begins in the family. A holy family is itself set apart and is obedient to God’s will, and both teaches and lives the value of being other-worldly. It means making family decisions about where to live, what to wear, where to go, what to eat, who to hang around, what to buy, what to watch and especially how to vote, so that we contribute to and promote the kind of Godly nation we want to live in and that God desires.

I’d like you to reflect with me this week on the degree to which your family as a whole, and you in particular is holy—and striving to grow in holiness. You see holiness is not all or nothing, but rather by degree. We grow in holiness, our family reflects holiness, and our nation and world becomes more holy to the degree that we do.

For the next few months we’ll be looking more closely on the Universal Call to Holiness—with a special emphasis on being a holy family. We have much to learn from the Scriptures, the Catechism, the Second Vatican Council, and the Saints of the Church! Be open, be honest, and prepare to be transformed!

For YouTube video presentations of other reflections, please click here.

4th S. of Advent: A Slave? Obey.

Related imageToday’s reflection is for the Fourth Sunday of Advent, December 22, 2019, and the readings can be found by clicking here.

On this Fourth Sunday of Advent, we look closely at whether or not we follow God’s will or our own…really. Joseph, a righteous and good man, discovered that his betrothed was with child–shocking, and sad, to be sure. I am entirely confident that Joseph looked forward to marrying Mary, taking her into his home, and even his bed, and having children one day. It was my hope as a man, and it was probably Mary’s hope as a woman as well.

Of course all that changed for Mary when an angel of God appeared to her with other plans for her life. She gave her “yes” to God and by the power of the Holy Spirit Jesus, the Savior, was conceived in her womb. Any hope and dreams that she might have had for children with Joseph became a distant memory. Joseph is soon not mentioned in the Gospel accounts, and at Jesus’ death, the Apostle John took Mary into his home–unthinkable if she had other children or a husband still alive. No, Mary’s yes to the angel that day would be a sacrifice for the rest of her life. No longer her life, but her God’s.

Joseph too had a difficult decision to make. Mary’s “yes” demanded that he had a choice to make too! Her obedience to God’s will demanded a question of his own obedience too. The angel visited him to say that not only should he not leave Mary quietly, he must embrace her, take her into his home, raise a child that was not his own, and he didn’t even get to name the boy. He too obeyed God, doing God’s will and not his own–a shocking testimony to his willingness to give his life to God. No longer his own life, but His God’s.

This is precisely what St. Paul’s refers to in the second reading today, and is no less an expectation for us today. The “obedience of faith,” to which he refers means that our life is no longer our own. Obedience of faith means first and foremost that we obey. Period. God wants it, we do it. End of discussion. Regardless of cost, we’re in. And St. Paul was all-in and entirely on board with that kind of commitment to his God and Savior, Jesus Christ.

Is it any wonder he begins his letter with a title that would certainly fail to impress anyone on Game of Thrones, he calls himself, “Paul, a slave of Christ Jesus.” What a title! Unlike the sadness, pain, and suffering of forced slavery, however, the slave of Christ chooses to be obedient. There is no less sacrifice, no less suffering, but the difference is that the slave of Jesus Christ sacrifices voluntarily and with joy in his/her heart. The reward is eternal salvation for all who are obedient from the heart.

Jesus doesn’t promise his slaves a rose garden, but he does promise to be with them in it. And to be honest, I don’t know about Mary and Joseph, but the greatest joy that I find in being a slave of Jesus is not only the promise of future glory, but rather present life, love, joy, and happiness. My joy in obedience is seeing others grow closer to God through my witness.

And that must have been what empowered Mary and Joseph as well. As difficult as it was for saints Mary, Joseph, and Paul to surrender to slavery to God and to the obedience of faith, and no less difficult for us as well, our “yes,” our obedience, and our slavery advances God’s kingdom and brings salvation to the world.

If we don’t do anything else in this life other than bring the good news of salvation to others then our life would have been well-lived. In fact, we would be counted among the saints. Slavery = Sainthood. That’s awesome.

So, like Joseph, when we wake let us always do what the angel of the Lord commands us to do, namely, take Mary into our home and obey.

For YouTube video presentations of other reflections, please click here.

3rd S. of Advent 2019: If it walks like a duck…

Rubbe ducks

Today’s reflection is for the Third Sunday of Advent, December 15, 2019, and the readings can be found by clicking here.

On this Third Sunday of Advent, in the midst of our journey toward the creche on Christmas morning, we pause to rejoice. Rejoice (Gaudete in Latin) Sunday, is truly what every Sunday should be–a day to retreat back from the front lines of life, get right with friends and family, be at peace with God and His Church, and rediscover the life and joy that was won for us in Christ Jesus.

This, my friends, is just what I need right now! Too many Christians have become caught up with, and influenced by worldly treasures and pleasures, and the result is stress, sadness, anger, impatience, worry, and fear. The Gospel today seeks to liberate us from all of that! It seeks to remind us of who we are and we’re called to be, and to put the gospel “mirror” in front of our face and ask, “Is this you?”

I like the expression, “If it walks like a duck and talks like a duck, then it must be a duck.” For me the saying speaks to the truth of the degree to which who we claim to be alignes what other people actually see us to be. I don’t know if Jesus knew the saying, but in effect, he told John the Baptist’s disciples that very thing today. Last week John the Baptist charged his audience to, “produce good fruit as evidence of your repentance.” (JN 3:8) John knew that talk is cheap and that the real test of conversion is a changed outlook, a changed attitude, and a changed life.

As John languished in jail, he sent his own disciples to do a little reconnaissance and information gathering about Jesus. John wants to know what all of Israel wanted to know, and what we too want to know,  “Are you the one who is to come, or should we look for another?” What a great question, and a very honest one. John is now in jail, he has lived his life in simplicity seeking nothing else but to honor God and proclaim his kingdom. His time is short and he knows it. He just wants to know if Jesus is the real deal or not.

Jesus does not give John’s disciples a yes or a no–talk is cheap. A lot of people out there today claim the title, but few walk the walk. “Jesus said to them in reply,
‘Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind regain their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have the good news proclaimed to them. And blessed is the one who takes no offense at me.'” Boom! Drop the mic! John tells the Pharisees, “Show me the fruit!” but Jesus delivers it! And so should we.

For John last week, and Jesus this week, if we are who we claim to be, the whole world will notice. I distinctly remember my own conversion in college. I didn’t hang out with the same people anymore, our values were now incongruent. I purged my music playlist, threw a way a whole bunch of movies, dumped the booze, and dedicated myself to living right in God’s sight. Like Joseph, I strove to be a righteous man, and I strive still today.

I do stumble from time to time, and I am grateful for God’s grace and forgiveness, but on the whole I hope that those who know me or who encounter me in the world might see in front of them, a Christian duck. The Christian duck is a duck that lives a life filled with joy, love, and peace. We cannot call ourselves Christians if we are without joy, if we fail to love, are unkind, and bring division and disease. We have been baptized into Christ Jesus, have taken on his life and his priorities. We follow in his footsteps, undergo conversion, announce the kingdom, and make his mission and ministry our mission and ministry.

The evidence that Jesus was the Messiah that John had been looking for were that the blind would see, the lame would walk, lepers would be cleansed, the deaf would hear, the dead would rise, the poor would hear good news, and people would take no offense and the name of Jesus. In our lives, by authentically living the Christian life, we too can open people’s eyes to hope and life in Jesus. People who walk without passion or purpose, by our life and example, might change their gate and walk properly. There would be conversion and forgiveness as people are cleansed of their sins, and those whose ears were closed to hope and good news would have their ears finally hear the trumpets of heaven and angels singing. All of us are called to preach the good news so that others might rise to new life at the name of Jesus.

This is indeed the call of the Christian life. This is the fruit; it is the  evidence, that we are walking with Jesus, walking like Jesus and talking like Jesus. After all, if it walks like a duck, and talks like a duck, it must be a duck. Are you a Christian Duck? Would others think so too? Rejoice! Rejoice! Again I say rejoice!

For YouTube video presentations of other reflections, please click here.