Sunday, December 31, 2017

Real Life, Joy of Love - THAT Makes Families Holy

Christmas - Holy Family Yr B (2018)
Ss. Peter & Paul, Danville

“Just you wait until your father gets home…”  I wonder if Jesus ever needed to be scolded or corrected.  We know Jesus didn’t sin…but…does that mean He never got into trouble?  That He never needed to be put in “time out”?  I’m not sure…  “Listen to your mother and take out the trash before you go play with your friends.”  If Jesus had to grow and become strong and filled with wisdom, surely some of the same things that we go through in our families had to be commonplace in the Holy Family for those first years.  They were a poor family, and for several years they were refugee immigrants living in a foreign land.  Did the other children make fun of Jesus?  Did He get His feelings hurt?  How did Mary and Joseph love and nurture Him through the challenging and amazing moments?

I’m not a good enough theologian to have many of the answers about life in the Holy Family – but I do have lots of questions.  How did Mary and Joseph guide Jesus as He came to a full understanding or awareness of who He was?  Mary had some important answers – “Yes, Son – you are the Messiah.  God is your Father in a way different from the rest of us.”  But…did Jesus have questions about all that in His younger years?  He was fully God, so certainly He had some awareness – but He was fully human, too – so, did Mary and Joseph have to help Him understand it ever more completely as He grew?  At the very least, they had to parent Him through those quiet years where Scripture is silent.  Dirty diapers.  Scrapped knees.  Learning to speak, learning to read.  Practicing their faith. 

Jesus, Mary and Joseph were unlike any family there ever was – there’s no doubt about that.  But there’s also absolutely no doubt that Jesus, Mary and Joseph were also in some ways exactly like every family.  The Holy Family in many important ways was exactly like your family; like our parish family here at Ss. Peter & Paul.  They didn’t have all the answers – though they did have the important answers.  God’s plan unfolded itself in their lives in the slow and steady pace of life, sunrise-midday-sunset-night-repeat, day after day, year after year.  Ordinary moments and extraordinary moments stringing together to weave a tapestry of human experience interwoven with the thread of the divine plan and person in every stitch. 

And…we’re supposed to imitate them.  All the prayers for the Mass today point us to that lesson, that moral, that priority for family life.  Imitate the Holy Family.  I see our families doing that.  I see parents not pretending to have all the answers or be the expert on absolutely everything, who are willing to learn to serve Mass with their children – learning together, serving together, growing in faith together.  I see parents faithfully serving the various ministries and efforts of our parish family together with their children, packing meals for Soups On Us, teaching CCD.  I see families gathering together at our “Family Night Catechesis” events, learning together about the Mass, parents guiding the children and sometimes children guiding parents closer to Jesus Christ, becoming stronger in the faith, opening themselves to the call of authentic discipleship and friendship with the Lord.  I see parents and teenagers struggling through the real-life of growing up, self-awareness, tough choices...

I think it’s things like that which make a family holy.  Real life, with very little pretending.  Acknowledging gaps in knowledge, a need to develop virtue, recognizing when the priorities of the world we live in have creeped in to overshadow the priorities of the world that is our home in heaven and striving to do better.  All while holding tight and fast to the bond of love above all else.  Disagreements, frustrations, mistakes, misunderstandings healed and held together in love.  Letting go of the imaginary image of perfection to experience the perfection of living this life – this Christian life – authentically, willing to work together and move forward in what is and is true, rather than what is pretend.

Oh…I’m not blind.  I know our families aren’t always doing this.  We are, after all, imperfect families even as we strive to be holy families.  But, little by little we’re continuing to “get it” – continuing to try, willing to admit we haven’t already got it figured all out.  Seems to me that’s the centerpiece of the authentic holy family.

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Pope Francis recently said something beautiful:  “The joy of love experienced by families is also the joy of the Church.”  The joy of love experienced by families is also the joy of the Church.  There’s a connection between what it means to be a holy family and what it means to be a holy parish, a holy Church.  The first connection is love – the bond, the unity, the oneness that makes the family perfect.  In this coming year, I hope we continue to be that kind of family at Ss. Peter & Paul – connected to one another above all else in love for one another and love for Jesus and the Church.  The second connection is joy.  Joy!  Think of the joy you felt – I hope you felt – at seeing our worship space completed for our Christmas celebrations.  Through all the twists and turns of the last year together, I hope we’ve grown together in both love and joy – and that we work hard to do that in the year to come.

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Friends – family – the new year is upon us.  There are so many exciting things on the horizon for us.  Change and same.  Expected and unexpected.  Growth and expansion along with pruning and refocusing. As we round out our celebration of Christmas by celebrating the Holy Family and prepare for the year ahead, will you commit with me to being in our families and in our parish family a holy family.  A family that doesn’t necessarily have all the answers, but nevertheless has the important answers fixed firmly in mind:  love, joy, Jesus Christ, the Eucharist, the spread of the Gospel and the salvation of souls.  A family that isn’t afraid to acknowledge what we don’t know and ask the questions that lead us to the answers.  A family that is willing to name its opportunities for improvement as easily as we’re willing to name our strengths – and invest effort to work with both. 

You’ll hear much more about who we are continuing to become in 2018 – you’ve heard it before and we’ll hear even more of it in the weeks and months to come.  We are a family of missionary disciples of Jesus Christ, empowered by the Eucharist and strengthened by the sacraments, eager to live life for the spread of the Gospel and the salvation of souls.

Can we make this the mission of your family and our parish family.  Can we continue to become a holy family of holy families – filled with the joy of love working together to be friends and followers of the Lord Jesus Christ.  Yes…we can.  And, in Christ Jesus we will.  Amen?

Holy Family…pray for us.

Monday, December 25, 2017

Jesus Comes to Us...As One of Us

Christmas Day Yr B (2018)
Ss. Peter & Paul, Danville

Christmas has always been my favorite time of year.  It gets harder some years, as we learn how to celebrate the joy of the holiday without those who used to be part of our lives.  And some years are busier than others – seem like there’s less time to enter into the Christmas spirit.  But when I see lights begin to twinkle, cards start coming in the mail with pictures of your families that I love so much – when Amazon begins to send the gifts I’ve chosen for those I love most – I usually begin to get very excited.  Christmas is a time for great rejoicing – we celebrate with family and friends – we sing songs that bring smiles to our faces – we laugh – we remember – and as much as we are able we find that we’re filled with joy.

But…why?  Why do we celebrate?  What do we celebrate?

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I think the root of our joy sometimes passes from our awareness.  In all the hustle and bustle, the seed – the reason – for our joy might get overlooked.  It’s like we get so filled with joy, we might forget why we’re so filled with joy.  It happens to the best of us – and it’s OK.  We’re human after all.  I mean, there are presents under the tree, the roast or the turkey may be in the oven, travels to visit family still in front of us – we’re eager to get home and enjoy the other parts of our celebration – so it just makes sense that we might be here in Church and our minds wander.  Did I get that present out of the closet and wrap it yet?  Did I turn the coffee pot off?  Will there be room for Cousin Eddie if he shows up in his busted green RV at the last minute and decides to join us?  It happens to the best of us…

That’s why Christmas Mass – every Mass, really, but Christmas Mass especially – is so important.  It reminds us why we celebrate.  Why the joy of Christmas fills our hearts.  Joy to the world, the Lord has come – let earth receive her king! Let every heart prepare Him room.  And heaven and nature sing, and heaven and nature sing, and heaven and heaven and nature sing.  We celebrate because Jesus has come to us!  Well, of course – most of us say – we know that; we just sang the song with you!  We know it, of course, but do we know it?

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Two things happen at Christmas Mass that help connect us with this great joy.  The first one has already happened – we sang the Gloria for the first time in several weeks.  The sounds of the Gloria lift our hearts and the words remind us of that first announcement of glad tidings of great joy that will be to all people.  We hear in our own voices the song of the angels announcing the arrival of the Savior, the Long Awaited One, the Prince of Peace, the One Who Comes to bring us back to God.  We who have walked in darkness now see the great light!  Jesus busts through whatever clouds over our hearts and brings the light of love and truth and eternal joy to us.  Yes!  Yes!! That’s why we celebrate!

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But this isn’t just any coming – not just any arrival.  In a few moments, we’ll kneel during the Creed one of two times during the year.  We’ll kneel at a Christmas when we usually bow at important words in the Creed.  When we proclaim our faith that Jesus became one of us we kneel because that was a game changer forever.  He didn’t just come to us; He came as one of us!  The little baby who came to us at Christmas wasn’t just any baby; this tiny little baby – is God Himself.  Come to show us how much He loves us.  Not just hanging out up there in the majestic glory of heaven shooting down grace on us like rain to help – because that hadn’t been enough.  No – this baby – this Jesus – our God comes to us Himself, not just like one of us, but as one of us.  Jesus is God’s love so present in the life of this world that He bound His life to this world.  Jesus – here in the tabernacle waiting for us like the little baby resting in the manger waiting for the shepherds and the wise men to encounter Him.  Jesus here on this altar, looking for a corner in our lives to sew Himself in love right into our hearts…to set us free, and make a way to be friends with us forever.

He comes to our humanity in our humanity.  Our struggles, our minds wandering, even our forgetting about the source of our joy on occasion – these are parts of our humanity.  But not the only parts.  There’s something so amazing and wonderful about being human, even in our frailty, that Jesus chose to knit His divinity to our humanity to save us.  That means we don’t have to work so hard to be holy that we forget our humanity.  That means that life isn’t only about struggle and working to be perfect.  It means that the biggest part of our struggle is not to reject our humanity, but to make room for Jesus in our humanity.  Just like Jesus found a way to come and save the world with no more room than a small corner of a small barn in a small town, if we make just a little room for him in our lives, He’ll do the heavy lifting.  God is faithful and patient – He preserves and strengths us!

Wow!  What a God!!!  What a cause for joy!  Jesus does the hard work of saving us – if we can find a way to make even just a little bit of room for Him, He’ll take care of the rest.

So…when you leave here and fall even more head over heels into the joy and celebration of Christmas…go for it!  Let yourself go!  Be swallowed by the joy of Christmas.  Just find a place for Jesus – He’ll work with whatever you can give Him.  A moment while you unwrap presents.  Thinking of His great love when you’re gathered around the table with your family for the meal.  A quiet prayer when you set out for your travels.  Resting in His love when you recline from the day’s festivities.   Wherever we make a little bit of room for Him, the joy of Christmas will overshadow us like the Holy Spirit overshadowed Blessed Mary…and Jesus – who is faithful and patient with us – will save us.

Joy to the world, indeed!  Glory to God in the highest, indeed!

Merry Christmas!