Sunday, December 29, 2013

Gospel for Today - Feast of the Holy Family

FEAST OF THE HOLY FAMILY OF JESUS, MARY AND JOSEPH

During the four weeks of Advent we anticipated the birth of our Lord, Emmanuel, God is with us.  And now for the past few days of Christmas we have been celebrating that birth.  The incarnation of our Lord and God as the smallest and most innocent among us - a human baby - is one of the great mysteries of our faith.  We will continue to celebrate that mystery for the remainder of the Christmas season, which ends with our celebration of the Baptism of the Lord on Jan. 12.  

In a way, celebrating Jesus' baptism so soon after we celebrate His birth seems fitting.  The common Christian practice is, after all, to baptize our babies soon after birth.  St. Paul compared Christian baptism to Jewish circumcision, which occurred eight days after a male child was born (Col 2:11-12).  In fact, some Christians advocated early on that parents should also wait eight days to baptize their children, but the Church, at the Council of Carthage in 253 AD, said there was no reason to delay baptizing an infant at all - it should happen as soon as possible.  

But when we celebrate the Baptism of Jesus we must remember that Jesus was an adult.  His baptism by John in the Jordan river marked the beginning of His public ministry, and would have occurred when our Lord was around age 30.  The feast of our Lord's Baptism is then a fitting start to the season of Ordinary Time, when we recount the many deeds of Jesus' public ministerial life.  But jumping so quickly from celebrating His birth to His public ministry at age 30 is kind of jarring.  It rather begs the question, what happened during all those intervening years?

Jesus is Emmanuel.  He is "God with us."  He is the Word made flesh.  He is the Creator, transcendent God, the Alpha and Omega come to enter into history as a part of His own creation.  That's what we, in theological circles, call a Big Deal.  So He is born, we have an angel appear to the shepherds, a star appears to the eastern sages, He is adored as King and then...  seemingly not much happens.  We get a little glimpse of Jesus as a child when he is discovered in the temple at age twelve.  But apart from that one brief scene, we hear nothing of Christ's life until three years before His crucifixion.  What was God-with-us doing all that time?

The answer is as simple as it is sublime.  He was living in a family.  Being part of a family is something that is easily taken for granted.  Compared to the mystery of the Incarnation it doesn't seem like that big of a deal.  But consider that when the Word did become flesh, He chose to spend the majority of His time in a family.   The day to day events of Jesus' life as the Son of Mary in her household are unrecorded by history because they were likely unremarkable.  He did ordinary things.  He talked with His mother.  He ate with her and with His cousins.  He did chores around the house.  He helped out.  He played.  He learned from His parents.  He loved them and was loved by them.  He was a son.  By spending His time in this manner, Christ blessed and baptized family life for all of us.  

The Church calls the family the "domestic Church."  Conversely, the Church herself is called "the family of God" (CCC 1655-6).   It is no surprise, then, that the Church's teaching on the family is rich.  Most of us might not notice this, because when we think of Church teaching we tend to think of things like transubstantiation, papal infallibility, venial and mortal sin, the sacraments and all that.  We don't need the Church to teach us about the family, we think.  We know what being in a family is all about.  But if we bothered to look up the word "family" in the index of the Catechism, we'd discover thirty-three subheadings!  (By comparison, "gospel" has fourteen subheadings, and "infallibility" only gets four).

Some of those subheadings under family are duties of children, duties of parents, evangelization of children, the image of the Trinity, in God's plan, a privileged community, and a reflection of the Father's creative work.  There is also social defense of and offenses against the family.  The Church takes the family very seriously indeed.  It is in the family that we typically learn first about God.  Even in an indirect way, we are taught to respect and obey authority.  We are taught to care for others, to make sacrifices for the good of others.  We are taught to love.  When we grow and learn to call God Abba, Father, the lessons taught us by our human father resonate and influence our relationship with God.  When we learn to regard the Church as Mother, our relationship with our own mother colors our view of the Church.  

If we compare the Ten Commandments given by God to Moses with the two Great Commandments of Christ, we discover that the first three commandments correspond to Jesus' injunction to love God, and the final five commandments correspond to Jesus' command to love our neighbor.  The fourth commandment, to honor our fathers and mothers, is the bridge that links the others, for by this commandment we are taught to love both our human parents as well as our Heavenly Father.  The family teaches us to honor the commandments.  It is where we learn to live a holy life.

From the beginning, God made us to be in families.  He made human beings as men and women, complements to each other, so that there may be husband and wife, mother and father.  He told them to be fruitful and multiply, filling the earth with children.  God is love, and love requires both a lover and a beloved.  Our Trinitarian God has this within Himself.  We have it within the family.  It is not unfair to say that, in certain respects, we are most like God when we are in a family.

It is no surprise that our Church has so much to teach us on the family.  At the end of that list of thirty-three subheadings in the index of the Catechism it says, "see also Marriage."  There we find another sixty-seven subheadings, including greatness of,  in God's plan, as cooperation with the love of God, directed toward the salvation of others, and transmission of faith in the domestic Church.  Marriage is the foundation of the family, and therefore is rightly considered very holy and revered by the Church.  Christ, in fact, elevated marriage to a sacrament.  This means that, as in all sacraments, God is present in marriage in a very special way.  And the Church is concerned with marriage in a very special way.

As a sacrament, and as something established by God, we believe that sacramental marriage is indissoluble.  Jesus said, "What therefore God has bound together let not man put asunder" (Mk 10:9).  Sadly, it is no exaggeration to say that marriage - and by extension the family - is under attack in a very directed way in today's world.  I have heard some Catholics complain about the frequency and perceived ease with which the Church grants annulments today.  They sarcastically refer to them as "Catholic divorces" and imply the Church is hypocritical in not allowing divorce while granting so many annulments.   An annulment, of course, is not a divorce, but a recognition that a true sacramental marriage never existed to begin with.  I heard a wise priest remark once that perhaps the reason there are so many annulments today is that there are so few sacramental marriages.  I believe this to be true.

I recently saw a cartoon that inadvertently illustrated this point.  It consisted of three panels.  In the first was a rather intoxicated couple in wedding attire.  The caption above them read something like "met 30 minutes ago and married by an Elvis impersonator in Vegas."  In the second panel was a scruffy looking older couple.  The caption above them read, "She's been married and divorced four times, and she is his seventh wife."  Finally in the third panel were two attractive, clean cut men holding hands, with the caption, "Been in a committed, loving relationship for twenty years."  Below it all the caption read, "Why are the first two marriages right and the last one wrong?"

The proper reaction to the cartoon is that none of the scenarios pictured is right.  None are true marriages.  Same-sex marriage is not the bugaboo that will corrode marriage in our society.  It is a sign of the fact that marriage is already very badly corroded.  No-fault divorce laws and the widespread use and acceptance of contraceptives that has happened since the 1930s have seen to that.  Marriage is a life-long partnership between a man and a woman that is ordered toward the good of the spouses and the procreation and education of children (CCC 1601; CIC 1055; GS 48, 1).  When we enter marriage without being open to children, without an understanding of marriage as a life-long covenant, without the will or desire to help our spouse and our offspring enter heaven, then we do damage to God's plan for marriage.  We do damage to God's plan for the family.  

That, my friends, is something which our society needs to change.  It is something that society needs to repent from.  But "society" is made up of families like yours and mine.  And the only way to change society's view of marriage for the better is for you and I to live God's vocation of marriage faithfully in our own lives.  Most of you reading this are college aged.  And most of you will be married at some point in your life, some of you relatively soon.  What have you done to prepare yourself for the vocation of husband or wife?  

I suggest three things:
1. Look up "marriage" and "family" in the Catechism.  (You have a copy, don't you?)  What the Church teaches is the ideal for the family life.  It gives us something to strive for.
2. Take a look at a special web site our bishops have established, www.foryourmarriage.org  Whether you are married, engaged, dating, or thinking about dating, there is good material here for you.
3. Meditate on the example of the Holy Family.  Pray to Mary and Joseph to be inspirations for you as wife, husband, father and mother.  Give Jesus a place of honor in your life now, so that He may continue to have that place of honor in your marriage.

Merry Christmas!  Today our Savior is born and the angels rejoice!  May Emmanuel be honored during this season and the whole of the year in your home and in your family.

God bless,
Matt

--
WCU Catholic Campus Ministry
Matthew Newsome, MTh, campus minister
  
(828)293-9374  |   POB 2766, Cullowhee NC 28723

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