Theotokos 2021: All Things Are Possible

Today’s reflection is for The Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God, Friday, January 1, 2021, and the readings can be found by clicking here. The video of the homily can be viewed by clicking here soon.

Let me first wish everyone a very happy new year, as we continue through the twelve days of the Christmas Season. Today we celebrate 8 maids a milking, 7 swans a swimming, 6 geese a laying, 5 golden rings, 4 calling birds, 3 french hens, 2 turtle doves, and a partridge in a pear tree. We also celebrate that Mary is indeed the Mother of God! In Greek, the Theotokos, the God bearer (see CCC 495). Mary gave birth to God, and we must celebrate. 

Mary is the Mother of God because the eternal Son of God emptied himself of all his glory and freely subject-ed himself to the entire spectrum of human existence–from birth to death. St. Athanasius said, “For the Son of God became man so that we might become God.” And God called on Mary to do it. In 431 AD at Ephesus, the Church declared that Mary could indeed be called Mother of God, because she gave birth to Jesus, the eternal Son of God. No wonder Jesus said, “With God all things are possible” (MT 19:36)

With God, all things are possible–which brings us to our New Year, and what is possible in 2021. First off, ALL THINGS are possible with God. Mary knew it, Jesus taught it, and the real question is whether we believe it. For many people, 2020 was one, big dumpster fire. Last night me, Jill, and the boys reflected on all the wonderful blessings this past year brought to us, and the wonderful things God had done in our life–even amid the difficulty and the struggles of a pandemic and worse, the world in pandemonium! God blesses even in the darkness, the New Year invites us to consider our response to that blessing.

Which brings us to New Year’s Resolutions. I have heard that many are choosing NOT to have resolutions, as their first resolution. As Christians, we are too well-aware that there is always room for improvement. And that’s what resolutions are about. God has great things in store for us, and unlike Mary, many of us need to get into shape to embrace the challenge! I’m honestly a bit put-off by people who say they don’t do resolutions. I say, “Let me rephrase what you just said, ‘You have given up on trying to be better tomorrow that you are today. You have given up on being better next year that you were last year. You have given up on growing in virtue, holiness, and quality of your character.”  

My brothers and sisters, we are NOT among those who give up and quit. We are among those who pursue life, and holiness, and goodness, and truth, in our world, in our country, in our family, in ourselves. St. Thomas Aquinas (qtd. In the CCC 460) said, “The only-begotten Son of God, wanting to make us sharers in his divinity, assumed our nature, so that he, made man, might make men gods.” We can admit we are not there yet. But don’t give up. Be resolute. Resolve to make small changes each year to be more the person God calls you to be. Make resolutions. 

If I may offer some practical suggestions: The first, is that in all of these suggestions we take baby steps. No one goes from the couch to winning a marathon. So here are some thoughts from Deacon Stephen:

  1. We are mind-body-soul unities; make resolutions that improve your mind, body, and soul. Exercise daily, pray daily, and read daily. 
  2. We are communal; make communal resolutions. Resolutions that improve me, improve our marriage, and that improve our family. And come up with resolutions as a family.
  3. Write them down. Post them on your refrigerator, your bathroom mirror, on your nightstand.

Finally, never give up. Resolutions are not one-and-done. We resolve for the whole year. Recommitting again and again over the course of the year. Just because you failed, doesn’t mean you’re a failure. I want to encourage you stick with it. By February most people you know will have given up on their resolutions, if they ever started at all–let’s not give up on ours. As my mom was fond of saying, “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.”

Mary gave birth to God and God became one of us. God carried his cross for us. We need to carry our cross for Him. So that we can be like Him. As St. Athanasius said, “The Son of God became man so that we might become God.” May 2021 be an incredible growth year for you, your marriage, and your family. With God, all things are possible.

The Holy Family 2020: The Family and the Church

Today’s reflection is for the Fourth Sunday of Advent, December 20, 2020, and the readings can be found by clicking here. The video of the homily can be viewed by clicking here.

From the Book of Sirach, in the Old Testament, to the Letter to the Colossians, in the New, in the Gospel where we see the example of the Holy Family, and in the Catechism, where we see the people of God and the Holy Roman Catholic Church entirely invested in forming, supporting, and exhorting men, women, and children to be Holy Families – for no other purpose than for the salvation of souls. 

I sometimes hear that the Church has no business telling me how to raise my children. You know, I started wrestling at Chatom when I was in 4th grade, wrestled through high school, and wrestled in college too. I wasn’t one of the great wrestlers in the state, but I was a good wrestler. I worked hard. I never missed a practice, ate very little, and ran a lot. Wrestling is an incredibly demanding sport that requires discipline of mind and body. 

Some of my best coaches always held a parent meeting at the beginning of the year, explaining to parents how they could support their young wrestlers. Coaches talked about the importance of getting enough sleep, eating healthy foods, getting a run in in the evening, and doing pushups before going to bed. I even had someone else’s dad tell me to do 100 push ups every night. Parents were attentive, they took notes, and they thanked the coaches for all the support they gave to young wrestlers, and to their parents, that might give the boys an edge at being a champion, and getting the gold. Incredible. 

I say incredible because many of the same parents who would eagerly change their family’s eating habits, exercise, and sleep routine to give their child a competitive edge in wrestling, or soccer, or cheer, or softball, who would eagerly and appreciatively accept the advice or direction from coaches, who would send their kids to camps, at great expense, pay for travel, tournament fees, uniform and gear costs, would then scoff at the thought of being told they should etch out family time for prayer, for catechism, for a family retreat. They would accept advice from coaches, but scorn direction from ministers of the church and wouldn’t give a second thought to increasing their tithe, and for some, even to attending Mass on Sundays and holy days of obligation. Incredible…and sad. 

The family is charged with the formation of the soul, and to the degree that it is formed, it will spend eternity with God, or eternity apart from God, if that formation is neglected. We are people who believe in heaven and hell, and eternal consequences. We are people who believe that belonging to a community of faith, of fellow believers will help us in our role of raising our children to know and love God. At baptisms, parents and godparents, and the whole community give their “yes” to raising this child to know God and to call him Father. And so, in this church there is help, and there is honesty, and truth, and accountability, and help.

The family has an amazing responsibility. St. John Vianney, known for his fiery spirit said, “Depart, accursed fathers and mothers! Depart into the hell where the wrath of God awaits you, you and the good deeds you have done, while all the time you have let your children run wild. Depart into hell; they will not be long in joining you there.” And so today I want to give thanks.

Thank God for the Church who provides resources, admonition, guidance and support! For Holy Scriptures that families reflect upon and in which a family hears God speak to them in the depths of their being. For the Saints of the church whose lives teach us about priorities and sacrifice. And for the Catechism and the bishops and theologians who brought 2000 years of reflection together in one amazing book. For monks, nuns and priests who seek nothing more in this life than to serve God and his people! For CCD teachers and confirmation leaders. But most of all I give thanks to God for Holy Families.

It is within Holy Families that all of this ink, these texts, and these sacrificial lives find meaning and value. Salvation isn’t magic, it is the promise of God for those who believe. It was only after the Holy Family, “ had fulfilled all the prescriptions of the law of the Lord,” that they returned to Galilee. And it was there, in that family, bound to the Law of the Lord, that the child Jesus, “grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favor of God was upon him.” St. Joseph and the Blessed Virgin Mary loved Jesus, taught him, and taught him to love.

And so let me start with “thank you” to parents. Thank you for being here, outside, in the cold because Mass matters that much. And thank you to those who are not out here in the cold, but are at home watching this with their family. Thank you for all the catechists who volunteer their time to form themselves and our children in the faith of the Church. Thank you for bringing your child to receive the grace of God in the Sacraments. Thank you for praying with your children. For loving them, and showing mercy toward them.

Pope Francis has dedicated 2021 as the year of St. Joseph. In a new Apostolic Letter entitled Patris corde (“With a Father’s Heart”), Pope Francis describes Saint Joseph as a beloved father, a tender and loving father, an obedient father, an accepting father; a father who is creatively courageous, a working father, a father in the shadows.

The Letter marks the 150th anniversary of Blessed Pope Pius IX’s declaration of St Joseph as Patron of the Universal Church. At the conclusion of Pope Francis’ Letter, he adds another prayer to St Joseph, which he encourages all of us to pray together. I encourage you to pray this prayer nightly with or for your family:

Hail, Guardian of the Redeemer, Spouse of the Blessed Virgin Mary. To you God entrusted his only Son; in you Mary placed her trust; with you Christ became man. Blessed Joseph, to us too, show yourself a father and guide us in the path of life. Obtain for us grace, mercy, and courage, and defend us from every evil.  Amen.

Vatican News source’s article about the Year to St. Joseph can be found by clicking the following link: St. Francis Proclaims a Year to St. Joseph

Christmas 2020: The Reason

Today’s reflection is for the The Nativity of the Lord (Christmas) – Mass During the Day, December 25, 2020, and the readings can be found by clicking here. The video of the homily can be viewed by clicking here.

My older sister lives with her three daughters here in Turlock, and when things break, she usually calls me to help her fix them. Just last month, my sister’s lawn irrigation pipe came apart and was flooding the street! I went over there, shut the water off, fixed the pipe, and attached a wall bracket to strengthen it so it wouldn’t break again. Since I was there, she had me add a hose hanger, fix the toilet paper roll holder, and put her fruit basket back together too! The same sort of thing happens at my mom’s house all the time. I go over there to fix one thing and there are five more things that need to be fixed. I’m handy. I have tools, I do the projects, give them my time, and am happy to help.

If someone were to see my truck, see me going in and out, and then ask the question, “Hey why did Steve go over to his sister’s house today?” The most obvious answer would be, “He went over there to fix a bunch of broken stuff.” And that would seem to make sense, but would not be entirely true. I went over there because I love her. Because I love my mom and sister, I go to their house and love them. That love manifests itself in a variety of ways–from fixing broken pipes to toilet paper rolls, but I didn’t go there because I’m a fixer. I went there because I’m a lover, and they (and their house) are the object of my love.

I hear all the time that the Word was made flesh because we sinned. My brothers and sisters, the Word was made flesh because God is love, and love doesn’t stay hidden, it reveals itself, it heals, it teaches, and it inspires us to do the same. The C.C.C. teaches that, “The Word became flesh in order to save us by reconciling us with God, and so that we might know God’s love, and to be our model of holiness, and to make us partakers of God’s own nature” (456-460).

Why in the world would the eternal God come to a cold and broken earth, take on human weakness, and get his hands dirty with sin, and sickness, and disease? Because God loves us that much, and gives us always a reason to hope–no matter how dark it gets. 

Today we celebrate the humility of God, who out of love for us, left the good side of town, to drive across the tracks, and help fix up our house. Healing the sick, casting out demons, feeding the hungry, liberating captives, giving site to the blind, cleansing lepers, forgiving sins, and then sacrificing His very life to conquer sin and death once and for all–that’s love! That’s the light that John was talking about today in the Gospel. “What came to be through him was life, and this life was the light of the human race; the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.” 

God’s gift of himself brought light and truth, warmth, and hope for so many who live in darkness, and the light of Jesus Christ, still brings light, and truth, warmth, and hope…but not directly. We have become and must now be his light in the darkness. Christmas joy and light begins in us; in our heart. And that light radiates out beyond us so that Christ might be born in the hearts of others through us. That’s why we put lights on our house and on our tree, why we bake cookies and give gifts. We share the love of God that we have with others. 

We are reconciled with God, know God’s love, share in His divine life, and follow his example. That’s why he came. That’s why we’re here today: to celebrate life, light, and truth…and to love and bring hope to a world where people still live in darkness–but a darkness that did not, and cannot overcome the light of the world that shines forth through you and me. Merry Christmas everyone. Even in this darkness, be hopeful, be joyful, reconcile with others, and shine brightly with the love of the Savior, whose birth we today celebrate. God bless you.