FEAST OF THE HOLY FAMILY OF JESUS, MARY AND JOSEPH
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This is a season of feasts and celebrations! Beginning this past Tuesday, on Dec. 25, we entered the season of Christmas with the great Solemnity of the Nativity of the Lord. The Christmas season traditionally runs to Epiphany (January 6 - hence the "Twelve Days of Christmas"), but the Church has in more modern times extended the celebration of Christmas to the feast of the Baptism of the Lord (January 13). So don't be too quick to take down your holiday decorations!
The eight days which consist of Christmas Day and the week following are considered the Octave of Christmas, which is celebrated as one great continuous feast day in the liturgical year. Within the Octave of Christmas we have many individual observances, which I think are telling.
Starting Dec. 25 we celebrate the birth of our Savior, the entrance of God the Creator into human history; not arriving on a chariot with a great army to be seated on a golden throne, but born as a helpless, dependent baby into a human family with a mother and a father. a manger filled with straw, where animals slept. The world was made new and things would never be the same.
Immediately following this joyful celebration, we have on Dec. 26 the Feast of St. Stephen. Stephen was the very first Christian martyr, the first person to die for his faith in Christ. You can read about him in Acts chapter 7. As he was being stoned to death, his final words were to ask God to forgive those who were killing him. Some people may not feel that celebrating the death of the first Christian martyr fits the "tone" of the Christmas season. It's supposed to be a time of joy and peace, right?
But I believe it is a perfect fit for this season. Stephen's martyrdom tells us exactly what is demanded of us who rejoice at the Lord's birth in Bethlehem. Now that the Christ has arrived in this human scene, we must be prepared to follow him -- even unto death. Do you or I have that kind of commitment and devotion to Jesus today? Are we willing to face those who would stone us because of our beliefs? Even if it is just the metaphorical stoning of social pressure and derision?
On Dec. 28 we celebrated the Feast of the Holy Innocents. This is the day the Church honors all of those young people who were killed by the order of King Herod in his attempt to destroy the Christ child whom he saw as a threat to his reign. He ordered all boys in Bethlehem and the surrounding area under the age of two to be massacred. The magi would not divulge to him where Jesus was, so Herod had to cast a wide net to catch him. He failed. But he slaughtered countless innocents in the process. The Church recognizes that these innocent babies, too, gave their life for Christ in a way, even though they did not consciously know it.
Sadly, Herod's spirit is still alive and with us today, as an even greater number of innocents is slaughtered through the holocaust of abortion. 1.5 million lives are snuffed out each year in our country alone. Who knows how many worldwide? Do we have the courage of St. Stephen to continue to stand up and speak out for those without a voice; the most vulnerable and innocent among us? Can we take the stoning that today's culture may throw our way for being pro-life?
And today, Dec. 30, we celebrate the feast of the Holy Family. This is especially important in our time, as the family itself is under attack. The foundation of the human family is marriage. Many today mistakenly believe marriage as the union in which a husband and wife form a couple. But that is not true. It is a union in which a husband and wife form a family. The purpose of every marriage is to engender children. This is true even for those married couples that are unable to conceive a child. There are other ways to share the spirit of selfless love that is parenting with the world -- adoption, foster parenting, community involvement, devotion to nieces and nephews, etc. None of us are allowed to live selfish, self-centered lives because of a lack of children. Every marriage is a vehicle for God to potentially bless with new life, and must be lived out in that spirit.
For the great majority of marriages, that means children; conceiving and bearing them, and raising them in a loving household. This requires stability, which is why marriage is a life-long commitment. Marriage creates a new family, and the family is the basic building block of human society. Families make the culture, not the other way around. Governments are established to protect and serve families, not vice versa. But marriage and the family are under attack in a very real way in our society.
It began back in the 1930s when the Anglican church decided to allow, with limitations, the use of contraception. Their decision -- the first time any Christian body had allowed contraception for any reason -- said that it was permissible, only within marriage, and only for grave reasons. But contraception is an evil, and once it had its foot in the door, it was not long before it came all the way in. Now, contraception is considered "smart and safe" in our culture, the "responsible thing to do," and the Catholic Church alone stands as the only Christian body who continues to oppose it.
What does this have to do with marriage? Marriage, sex, and children have always been considered part of the same one good. They could not be separated, for they belonged to one another. The acceptance of contraception started to divide them. People started to see sex as something one could enjoy without children. And if one could enjoy sex without worrying about children, there was no real need for the lifelong commitment of marriage. These three aspects of the same reality started to be treated as interdependent and unrelated pursuits.
No fault divorce soon became common in our culture. Abortion was demanded as a back-up for when contraception failed. Sex is no longer seen as something one must wait until marriage to enjoy, but something which should be tried out before marriage (like taking a car for a test drive). Children? Only if you want them, and only when you are ready.
Today one can have sex with no children (and indeed children without sex), sex without marriage, marriage without children, and children without marriage, and we are taught to view each option as an equally valid choice.
The end result is that today in America 51% of all new births are out of wedlock. For the first time in our history more children are born to unmarried parents than to married parents. How many of those children will never know their father, or see him only every other weekend? More than half of all marriages end in divorce, with multiple marriages being far too common - even expected. The birthrate in many western nations is falling below replacement level, which means the population in most European countries is actually shrinking. The only factor keeping American births above replacement level are minority birthrates, which are higher than for whites.
And now, more and more people -- Catholics included -- no longer believe that gender has any bearing on marriage, and people of the same gender should be free to enter into marriage just as a man and a woman. This is advocated for under the banner of fairness and equality, but it is only conceivable today because our culture has lost sight of what marriage truly is.
Today, we celebrate the Holy Family. Mary and Joseph were married for the explicit purpose of raising a child. Their marriage was devoted to their son, the Son of God, our Savior. They were devoted to each other and to Him. He was obedient to his mother and father. This is the model family for us. Please join me today in praying for the intercession of the Holy Family, for the healing of families in our world today. And pray that Christians would have the courage of St. Stephen, and St. Thomas Becket, whose martyrdom we celebrated on Dec. 29, to stand up for our faith and convictions; to stand up for the family.
Please also say a prayer for my wife and I, who started our own family on this day twelve years ago, as we entered the sacrament of marriage. She has been like a fruitful vine in my home, and given me children like olive plants around our table (Ps 128). I am a blessed man, and give thanks to God each day for the family He has given me.
God bless, everyone! And Merry Christmas!
WCU Catholic Campus Ministry
Matthew Newsome, MTh, campus minister
(828)293-9374 | POB 2766, Cullowhee NC 28723
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