Homilies for December 2015

Adoration of the Shepherds by Francois Boucher, ca. 1761-62.

Second Sunday of Advent—December 6, 2015
Readings: http://usccb.org/bible/readings/120615.cfm 

Experiencing New Life through Christ’s Coming this Christmas
This coming week, Pope Francis will open the holy door at St. Peter’s basilica and start the Extra-ordinary Jubilee of Mercy.  And thus in this extra opened door of the church will be symbolized the hope of the Church.  The hope that more people will be able to enter and receive the mercy of God. The hope that more people will be able to come and behold the face of God.

As the Pope states:  “Jesus Christ is the face of the Father’s mercy.” (Misericordiae Vultus, 1)  But this season of Advent recalls the events leading up to the birth of Christ, to Christmas. They recall the events before the face of Christ was revealed, and to help us understand the meaning of these events, let us start by recalling the meaning of being born.

Many years ago, before the advent of ultrasound, I had a conversation with a friend who was in her eighth month of pregnancy. As we met, I asked her how she was doing.

She began to talk about how wonderful she felt. This was her second child and she never felt better—there was no morning sickness or drowsiness, indeed her faced radiated. She said that she loved being pregnant, she loved how she felt physically, and she loved the mystery and wonder of it. And here the conversation began to shift.

She then started to talk about the child and related how she and her husband, would marvel about this new life about to come into their lives. Here was a new life, a new member of their family, already so much a part of their lives, already greatly loved, yet they knew so little about this person. They did not know whose eyes the child would have, they didn’t know the color of its hair, or the shape of its nose, they didn’t even know what sex the child would be.

As she spoke about this, tears filled her eyes—the tears of joy and wonder.  All she knew about this child at that point was that she loved this child.

And the conversation shifted again, this time from what this unseen child now is, to what this child would be. The mother began to ponder the unknowable. How will the child grow up, what kind of personality will he have? What will he do with his life? All these questions only increased the mother’s sense of wonder and joy.

For she realized that she was standing on the threshold of a great event. Something new was going to happen to the world shortly. Someone new was coming.  Someone unique. Someone who had never been before, and never would be again. This expectant mother understood the meaning of being born. For each birth and every birth is marked by possibility and newness. A new life, a new hope, and a new dream, is coming into the world.

The newness that comes with each birth is exemplified by Christmas. New was a child being born to a virgin mother. New was a child who was both human and divine. New was The Word of God becoming an infant, unable to utter a word. And new was the King of heaven and earth being born in poverty.

But also new were the possibilities: By God becoming a man, we are able to become like God. By God uniting himself with us, we are able to be united with God. By God being born in time, we have the chance to be reborn. We are now able to gaze upon the face of God and receive his mercy and his love.

Yet, rather than maintaining the newness of life, we grow old. Dreams are forgotten. Zeal of striving for holiness, for greatness in the eyes of God, is replaced by an attitude of being “good enough.”  Rather than achieve all the possibilities God has offered, we cling to the staleness of what we know. We hold tight to our humanity, rather than seek the divine which we are being given.

Now is the time for us to delight in something new, the new life God has offered us. Now is the time for us to hold tight to Christ, the one who is “ever ancient, ever new.” The one who can take us beyond our humanity and give us a share in the divine.

Let us use these three weeks that are left to us before Christmas, to once again make ourselves new, and leave the past behind us. Let us seek reconciliation first with our God, and make a good confession, so that we are among the holy innocents who welcome him at Christmas.

But let us also go a step further, and forgive those who have hurt us in the past. So as our past mistakes our left in the past by God, and we are made new, let us also leave our own hurt and anger in the past, and give others a chance to become new with us once again.

So that all of us may enjoy the wonder and the hope of having another so close to us, so much a part of our lives, and so that we may all give thanks for the newness of each of us, and the possibilities that God has offered us.


Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary— December 8, 2015
Readings: http://usccb.org/bible/readings/120815.cfm

Mary Chosen to Help Bring Us Back to God
Today, we begin Extra-ordinary Jubilee of Mercy.  In announcing this year, Pope Francis speaks about the face of Christ as the face of mercy.  In choosing this feast as the starting date, the Pope states that God turned his gaze to Mary. “When faced with the gravity of sin, God responds with the fullness of mercy.” (Misericordiae Vultus, 3)  Today, the Pope opens the holy door to allow us to receive mercy, much as Mary was the door through which Mercy himself entered the world.

Throughout his letter, the Pope constantly uses words like “face” and “gaze” and “visible.”  All of these words resonate with today’s feast.  As we hear in the first reading, after the original sin, Adam and Eve hid from God.  They did not want God to see them, and of course, this means also that they did not want to see God.  Guilt and shame make us want to hide our faces.  We do not want to be seen, we do not want to be recognized as the one who sinned.

But this is not what God wants.  He wants to see us so that he can know us.  Throughout history, God is always looking for us, as he looked for Adam and Eve. Then, he found Abraham, and called him out of his own country to make of him a new nation.  Then, he found the people of Israel in Egypt, who he called out to fulfill his promise to Abraham.  Indeed, the whole Old Testament is about how God looks for his people, a people who often hid themselves from him.

The fulfillment of God’s quest to find us is Jesus Christ—the Son of God who comes among us to show us the way to God the Father.  In Christ, we can see the face of God the Father.  In Christ, we see the face of Mercy.  At Christmas, we can gaze upon his face in the manger—the silent Word, the helpless mighty King, reaching out to us.  Throughout the year, we gaze upon his face, so moved with pity for the crowd that he teaches and feeds us.  We can gaze upon the face of Christ, as he gazes upon us with the look of love that he had for the rich young man. On Good Friday, we gaze upon his face, bearing the weight of our sin, as he suffers on the cross.  And at Easter, we look once more at the risen face, coming to us through locked doors, so that we can have peace.  The peace that only Christ can give, for his peace is mercy.  It is the forgiveness of our sins.

And this is why today’s feast is so important.  For today we celebrate the Immaculate Conception of Mary.  From the first moment of her existence within the womb of her mother, St. Anne, Mary was preserved from original sin.  God gave her this singular grace, so that when the fullness of time came—the time for the Son of God to become a man – there might be one person who was not hiding from God.  So that there might be one person ready to welcome him.

Mary was chosen so that God’s plan for our salvation might be accomplished. For through Mary, God’s quest to find us is being fulfilled. We can now see God the Father through seeing God the Son. The separation caused by original sin is overcome as we are united with our God through the sacraments, and hopefully in eternal life.

Mary plays a unique role in history. She, besides her Son, is the only human person without sin, so that from her, Christ could take flesh and live among us. And it is Christ’s desire that he continue to live among us, but he needs spotless vessels to make his holiness visible and clear to all.  Yet, he comes looking for us, even when we are not these spotless vessels.  Like Adam and Eve, we still want to hide from God.

Let us stop running, and turn back to him.  He already knows us as we are, yet still he looks upon us with his gaze full of mercy and love.  Let us look to him and behold his face.  We may be ashamed.  We may feel guilt.  But these only mean that God’s look of mercy shows us the greatness of his love.

Mary was immaculately conceived so that she could conceive the Word of God, and we could behold his face, the face of mercy. Let us not turn away again, but may we receive his mercy, so that we can enjoy his peace.


Third Sunday of Advent—December 13, 2015
Readings:  http://usccb.org/bible/readings/121315.cfm

We Await the Gift of Joy Itself
Today, we celebrate Gaudete Sunday, meaning it is a day to rejoice. Christmas is close, the waiting is almost over. Yet, there are times we don’t feel like rejoicing.  There are families who will go through this Christmas without a loved one present, or without a job, or with all sorts of worries about health and life.

Yet, we are told to rejoice. So often, this command rings hollow. As all attempts to bring cheer into moments of grief and loss must.

But today, we have two such readings from the scriptures. We are told to rejoice—to rejoice in something we do not yet possess.

The prophet Zephaniah is writing to people who are survivors. They had survived an invasion of their country and an exile. They had returned to their homes as a remnant, a few remaining survivors out of a nation that once was many. Zephaniah tells them to shout for joy, be glad and exult. Your country is devastated, but don’t worry, be happy.

And in the second reading, St. Paul tells the Philippians to “Rejoice.” From prison, he writes that we are to dismiss all anxiety from our hearts. In both these readings, people are being told to rejoice—even though they may not feel like rejoicing.  They are told to be glad and exult, even though they may feel down in the dumps, frustrated, or despairing.

We are being told to change our emotions. But emotions are not chosen. They are endured.  They just happen. Certainly, we would all prefer joy to grief, and happiness to sorrow, but how can we possibly change the way we feel?

The answer is actually simple. If we are going to change our emotions, then we must start by changing our attitudes and values.

John the Baptist gives us practical things to do to help change our attitudes and values. Rather than being greedy, we are to give food to the hungry, and clothe the naked. If a tax collector, don’t take more than the prescribed amount. If a soldier, don’t bully others, or falsely accuse them. John doesn’t tell them to change jobs, but to be just and fair in all they do. And to be charitable to all those in need.

Changing our values starts by changing our actions. Our hearts will follow our hands and feet.  Charity is the remedy for greed. Justice is the recourse for envy.

Witness the satisfaction of so many during this season as we drop money in the Salvation Army kettle, or buy “toys for tots” or  “coats for kids.” We experience joy when we bring joy to others.

Of course, as John the Baptist reminds us, at the root of all our actions is a choice. God will gather the wheat into his barn, but the chaff he will gather and throw into the fire. This is a choice between life and death, between joy and sorrow.

And if we examine our own lives, I think that what we will find is that like begets like. A choice for greed begets only the desire for more. But a choice to share begets both the desire to give, and the gratefulness to receive. A choice to worry begets only more worries, but a choice to celebrate begets joy and goodwill.

And this bringing joy to others is what Christmas is all about. For what we await, is the choice of God. Rather than choose to punish, he chose to forgive. Rather than choose to banish, he chose to adopt. Rather than choose to shun us, he chose to become one of us. And rather than give us more cause to worry, to worry about the wrath of God, he chose to give us a cause for joy.

For what we await with Christmas is the fulfillment of all our hopes and dreams. What we await is the gift of joy itself. For it is Christ who gives us joy by giving us himself. It is Christ who is our joy, by being the truth we seek, by being the way to God the Father.  And by being our very life.

God has chosen us, so let us make the choice for him. Let us change our values, and prize nothing more than Christ. May we join with St. Paul in counting all else as loss, so that the joy, the joy of attaining what we do not yet have, but what, or rather whom, God has promised to us may be ours—as we welcome Christ into our lives once again.


Fourth Sunday of Advent— December 20, 2015
Readings:  http://usccb.org/bible/readings/122015.cfm 

Preparing Our Bodies and Ourselves for the Gift of Jesus Christ
One aspect that often strikes non-Catholics, indeed, maybe even annoys them, is how often we are moving around in the liturgy. We stand, then we sit, then stand, and sit again. Then we stand, and then kneel, stand, kneel again, process, kneel, sit, and finally stand. All this moving around is just too much for some people. One visitor to Mass spoke about getting her morning calisthenics. And, of course, they ask why we do it.

The answer lies at the beginning of time. God created us with a body, a body which is essential to being human, and like all of creation, God pronounces it good. Therefore, when we worship God, we put our whole body into our worship.

Indeed, Catholic worship appeals to all the five senses. We see paintings, statues, stain glass windows.  We see decorations and colors appropriate to the seasons. We hear the Word of God, the prayers, and the singing. We smell the incense and the flowers. We taste the Body and Blood of Christ. And for the sense of touch, we assume different postures, and make the sign of the cross with our hands. Since God gave us these bodies of ours, we give them back to him completely, by the way we worship.

But besides the fact that our bodies were created as something good, the fact that the Son of God became human, that he took on a human nature with a human body, is also part of the reason that we give our bodies back to God in worship. As the letter to the Hebrews states: “On coming into the world, Jesus said: Sacrifice and offering you did not desire, but a body you have prepared for me.”

Christ did not come to offer animal sacrifices, but rather he offered to God that which God had given him—his body. This sacrifice happened once, and for all, on the cross of Calvary. And we have access to this sacrifice through the Mass, by which Christ is still offering his body to the Father, and to us, so that our bodies may be nourished.

The human body plays an important role in our faith, for we believe that one day our bodies will be raised from the dead. Though the soul never dies, after death, it will not be complete, until it is reunited with the body. Our bodies are not only something that is good, but they have been redeemed. And thus, our bodies are something holy, for in Christ, they have become temples of the Holy Spirit. They have become tabernacles of the Body of Christ.

The Gospel account of the Visitation brings this out also. For as Mary greets Elizabeth, the unborn John the Baptist, responds to the unborn presence of Christ. The presence of Christ dwelling within the Virgin Mary, causes John to stir in Elizabeth’s womb, filling her with the Holy Spirit, so that she is able to recognize Mary as the “mother of my Lord.”

The Virgin Mary, by saying “Yes” to the angel, had given herself completely over to God—both her body and soul. And now, her body was nourishing and protecting the God, whom heaven and earth could not contain. Thus, the Virgin Mary imitates Christ, in that the body God had prepared for her, she gives completely back to God in her worship.

So for us, worship of God is more than just coming to Church once a week. True worship of God is how we live our lives, always seeking to do God’s will. Not just with our hearts, nor only in our minds, but with the bodies God has given us. The corporal works of mercy are called “corporal” because they care for the body: feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, caring for the sick.

Advent is a time of preparation for the coming of the Lord. And this preparation is not merely spiritual, but also physical.  We prepare both our bodies and our souls, so that like Mary, we may become tabernacles of the body of Christ. But let us also be like Elizabeth, and gladly welcome all those who may come to us—for they may be bearing Christ. And let us be like Mary who assisted Elizabeth in her pregnancy, and assist others in their bodily needs, for they, too, are temples of the Lord.


Christmas Vigil Mass— December 24, 2015
Readings: http://usccb.org/bible/readings/122415.cfm

God Is Still Accomplishing His Plan for Us
Congratulations.  We have all survived the asteroid strike that was to happen in September. Just as we all survived the end of the Mayan calendar three years ago.  It is amazing to me how many times we have survived the end of the world. A few more years back, when the rapture occurred, we found that we were all “left behind.” And then, in 2000, the Y2K bug proved to have no bite. We are survivors—many times over—from calamities that never happened. We are survivors of the many “what ifs” of time.

And in today’s Gospel, the family tree of Christ, reminds us of this. For like the Christ child, among us are people who have left their homelands to seek safety. Like the ancestors of Christ, among us are people who survived various wars and battles. And even if we are not numbered among these, we are still survivors. For certainly, we had ancestors who survived plagues and famines. We are descended from those who escaped persecutions and conflicts.

Many of us probably cannot trace our family tree back so many generations. But, no doubt, if we did, we would find famous people like David and Solomon. And it is also  no doubt that we would find many names about which all we know is the name. And that it may even be hard to pronounce, like Shealtiel and Zerubbabel.

Yet, what if?  Note in the family tree, the five women who are mentioned. Each one points to something unusual, and raises the question of what if? What if David never sinned with the wife of Uriah? What if Boaz never married the foreigner named Ruth? And we can keep doing this.  What if Ruth never was widowed?  Or what if she heeded Naomi’s words to go back home?

And of course, we can do this to ourselves.  What if our parents never met? What if our ancestors never emigrated?  What if … ?

Indeed, of the many generations that have preceded us, it is staggering to the mind to think that if any one of our ancestors were not there, we would not be here. All the events of the past, the events that influenced our families, if anything was different, we would not exist.

Indeed, when we look at our family tree from the perspective of all mankind, when we consider the many choices and chances that led to our births, we are left to wonder that we exist at all. We may even wonder if we are but an accident of time.

But not so, all of us are part of God’s plan. We are part of his plan just as it was God’s plan to bring about the birth of his Son.

There may be times when we certainly doubt God’s plan—times when we experience evil and illness and hardships. There may be times when we question God’s plans.  Times when we cannot see how any good can come from this. And there are times when we wonder about his plans.

But God does have a plan.  It was part of God’s plan that his Son be born of woman. And God was able to bring this about, even through all the “what if’s” of time. Even through the bad luck chances and the foolish choices of the ancestors. No evil, no misfortune, was able to thwart God’s plan.

And with the birth of this child, the fulfillment of God’s plan is stated clearly. God is with us. God’s plan is to be with us, and that, of course, means for us to be with him.

God remains with us, here in the Church. For here in the Scriptures, we hear his word, and have his plan laid bare. And here in the Sacraments, we have his efforts to help us fulfill his plan, for here in the Eucharist, the body of Christ—borne of a Virgin—remains with us. Uniting us to God, and strengthening us for the journey of life.

God is still accomplishing his plan for us, and through us. We need nothing more than the courage of Joseph to heed God’s command. We need nothing more than the words of Mary:  “Be it done unto me according to your Word.” God’s plan is accomplished through cooperation.

Let us cooperate with God and seek first to be with him. So that we may know the fulfillment of God’s plan in our lives—God with us. And that through all the “what if’s,”  through all the misfortunes and trials, God is still achieving his purpose, he is still fulfilling his plan, he is still with us so that we may always be with him.


Christmas Midnight Mass— December 25, 2015
Readings: http://usccb.org/bible/readings/122515.cfm

God’s Son Is the Gift that Continues to Give
Tonight is the longest night of the year. Longest, not because it contains the most minutes of darkness. It is the longest, because of the wait till the morning. The wait to open the gifts, and see what Santa has left. At least, that was how this night seemed to me as a child.

Christmas is a time for the giving of gifts. Yet, it is this giving of gifts which so often presents us with problems. Large families, like my own, have strict rules about for whom to buy, and how much to be spent. This is so that no one gets left out, no one gets more than another, and so that no one goes broke trying to please everyone.

Then, there is always the sense that gifts are to be exchanged, that we should buy for those who are buying for us. But sometimes people are hurt because they didn’t get what they wanted, or they don’t feel enough money was spent on them, or they compare their gifts to what others receive. Or maybe they give gifts only with the thought of getting something in return, following the old adage: “You only get what you give.”

And sometimes we lose the spirit of Christmas with such attitudes. We forget the Christian attitude about giving.  Jesus tells us that if we throw a party, we are to invite the poor, otherwise people might invite us to their parties and, thus, repay us. And it is better to give than receive, or as St. Francis says: “…for it is in giving that we receive.” When we give to others, we receive much more back—things which cannot be priced, things such as love and gratitude.

But then of course, it is only natural that those to whom we show love, would also want to express their love by giving gifts to us. We can see how gift-giving is truly Christian, if we consider from where all this originated.

And here we come to the Gospel, for all of our giving of gifts, mirrors the gift given to us tonight. The gift of the infant child Jesus, wrapped in the womb of the Virgin Mother. This is the gift that God gives to us, “A child is born for us, a son is given to us.” God, in his love for us, wishes to give us the greatest gift of all—the gift of himself, the gift of his only Son.

And this is the gift which continues to give. For this child is Immanuel, “God with us.” It is through this child that we have the forgiveness of sins. Through this child, we have the healing of the sick. Through this child, we have the resurrection from the dead. It is through this child given to us, that we have eternal life with God our Father, and that the Holy Spirit is also given to each one of us. This child was not given to us only once in time, 2000 years ago. But being “God with us,” this child is given to each one of us, and remains with us.

He is given in a similar manner as his birth. For as a newborn, the Christ child was laid in a manger. The Good Shepherd is set to rest in the hay bin from which the sheep could eat. And now the Good Shepherd still feeds his sheep, feeds each of us with the gift of his own body and blood.

As the Word of God became an infant, one who could not speak, he still remains silent in the Eucharist, speaking not with his own mouth, but speaking only by his presence. The child whose birth we celebrate tonight remains “God with us.” His body is still in our midst, as something that we can see and touch and taste.

The giving of Christmas gifts comes from this gift that God gives to us. The gift of God with us, the gift of his abiding presence in the Eucharist—God gives this gift of his Son freely to us, and he does not expect anything from us in return. For how can we make a return for such a great gift?

But what he does expect from us is that we receive this gift; that we accept this gift. We do not leave this gift of himself all wrapped up, within the womb of Mother Church, but we open this gift, and express our gratitude for it.

Like with any gift received at Christmas, it is natural for us to desire to give a gift back to the giver. But for such a great gift, we cannot make an adequate return. So God has provided us with a way of giving back to him. We who receive this gift of the Body and Blood of Christ, become more fully members of his Body. That is, we become the very gift that we receive. We are then the gift that we give back to God.

Now that Christmas has come, let us focus on the gifts and the givers; let us be thankful for the love out of which these gifts are given. Let us be especially thankful for that first Christmas gift, the gift given to us, not only at Christmas, but at every Mass—the gift of the only Son of God, Jesus Christ.

Let us receive this gift frequently, so that we ourselves may become a gift to God. For this is the one gift from which all others flow, because this gift of “God with us” is the gift of Love himself.



Christmas Day— December 25, 2015
Readings: http://usccb.org/bible/readings/122515-day.cfm

Our Goal: Striving to Become More Like God
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God.” So begins the Gospel of St. John. And this one sentence with its eight different words, is loaded with meaning. To be sure, all words have meaning, but John is talking about only one Word. The Word of God, who is also the Son of God.

Since it is Christmas, the day on which this Word became man, I will have to talk about this Word, but before I do, I want to talk about another word John uses.  The word “was.”

John uses this imperfect tense of the verb “to be” to emphasize who the Word is. The Word always was with God, always was God. He always was, is now, and will be forever the same. God does not change. For God is perfect. And for someone who is perfect to change is to become other than perfect. And reason suggests that to be other than perfect is to be imperfect. In light of this, we can see the significance of the revelation God gives to Moses, when he reveals his name as “I am who am.”

But now we come to the crux of the matter. After repeatedly using the verb “to be,” St. John then states: “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” The Word of God, who is God, becomes. He becomes something other than God. He becomes a man.

What I do want to talk about is what Christmas, God becoming man, means for us.

It is the nature of God to be. He does not change. Yet, when he became man, he reveals the truth about are humanity. It is our nature to become. We are always changing. We came into this world as small infants, most weighing around seven or eight pounds. We could not walk, we could not talk. But over the years, we grew in size. We learned to speak and to walk. We learned many other things. And we are still continuing to change. We grow old, parts don’t work like they use. Some may still be learning, others are forgetting what they learned. Change is a constant for us. Even biologist will tell us that most of us do not possess a single cell, not even a single molecule, that we possessed at our birth. We have changed so much.

The miracle of human life is not our becoming, but rather the fact that we still can speak of our being. It was I who was once a little infant, unable to walk or talk. It was I who was once a naive and innocent little boy who loved to laugh. It was I who grew and learned, and became a priest. All still I who am changing.

And now, today is Christmas. And we celebrate our God who has also done all these things. The one who is the Word, yet became an infant who could not speak. The one who created all things, yet became helpless, even unable to walk. The one who is, yet became a man who would suffer and die. The one who created us who became one of us to save us.

And in his becoming, he does indeed save us. He saves us by giving us the chance to pass from becoming to being. He became man so that we might become God. Let me repeat this: God became man so that we might become God. He becomes like us in all things so that we might be like him in all things.

While we still live on this earth, the question of Hamlet, “to be or not to be” does not apply. For us, the question is to become, or not to become. To become God, or not to become God.  This is why Christ became man. We can now either choose to become God, or choose not to. The choice remains ours, to become “to be” or to become “not to be.”

Through the Son of God becoming man, we can become God. Yes, this is our choice. The choice before us ever day. But even if we choose “yes” to become God, this remains beyond our ability. So God not only became man, but he also becomes our food.

The Christmas story is loaded with allusions to this becoming of God. He was born in “Bethlehem,” which means “house of bread.” He was laid in a manger, the feeding bin of animals. He was silent and helpless, completely in the hands of others, just as the Bread of Life is silent and completely entrusted to our hands.

God became man so that we might become God. And now he becomes our food, so that we might be one with him, and so that we might be members of the Body of Christ and, thus, become God by becoming the Body of Christ.

As we celebrate this Christmas, let us continue on our journey of becoming, for there is no one here who can yet say what God says about himself. No one who can yet say “I am.” For we will not be able “to be” until our becoming is complete—until we are that perfect man, Jesus Christ.

Let us strive to become more like him in everything we do and are. Let us always be ready to change into that which we are not, into that which God is. Let us turn away from sin, live according to his Gospel, and be united with him through these Sacraments, so that as God became man, we, too, may become God.

To become God, or not to become God, that is the question. And God became man so that we could.



Feast of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph— December 27, 2015
Readings: http://usccb.org/bible/readings/122715.cfm  

Family Life: A Life of Love
In today’s Gospel, we have the only story from the childhood of Jesus. From his birth until his public ministry, for a total of about 30 years, the Gospels only record this one story. We do know that most of these years, Jesus spent in Nazareth with Mary and Joseph. But because we know so little about this time, these years are called the “hidden years” at Nazareth. As Pope Paul VI wrote, there is much that we can learn about family life from this silence.

First of all, we learn from the silence itself. The home life is a private life. It is a place to protect and nourish the children as they grow.

As a child in school and at church, many people would often make comments to my parents about how well behaved I was. So much so, that my parents wondered if these adults were really talking about me. For like most kids, I could be polite and kind in public, but at home, I often would be demanding and selfish.

The privacy of the home protected me from my own reputation. And the keeping of this privacy taught me that such unruly behavior was shameful, it was not something to be seen in public. Yet, it also teaches the willingness to forgive. The love within the family looks beyond these faults, it is always ready to forgive. Thus, the privacy of the home then combined with discipline, taught me how to behave both in public and at home.

Secondly, Nazareth teaches us about the dignity of work. We know that Joseph was a carpenter. And by his work, he supported the family. The dignity of work comes from the fact that it supports the family life. By working, the parents are able to feed, clothe, and shelter the children. Although it is nice to have jobs we like, and which pay well, these are secondary concerns.  The first concern is providing for the family.

One autobiography entitled, The Cliff Walk, talks about this. The author is a college professor who is laid off work. He takes up painting to support himself and his family. And here, he discovers the joy of family life, for now, his job is not his primary concern, but the family is. The experience of losing his job helps him find his life—a life centered around the people he loves, his family.

These two things which we learn from Nazareth about the silence and privacy of home life, and about the dignity of work, help teach us our third lesson from Nazareth. And this is the love within the family, a love which is marked by the Cross of Christ. For the love within the family is a sacrificial love. It is the epitome of love, for it is the giving of oneself to another.

Family love begins its imitation of the Cross of Christ with the pangs of labor. The mother endures the pains of labor so that her child might have life. It continues with the hard work with which father and mother, continue to support and raise the child. The many little sacrifices, such as getting up in the middle of the night in order to change a diaper or feed a hungry baby, or to be with a sick child. Then, the sacrifices continue as the parents forego their own activities, so that their children can participate in sports, or scouts, or school plays.

And thus, we see that in the course of time, the sacrifices get turned around, as the parents age, it becomes the children’s turn to sacrifice. As they run errands for parents who can no longer drive or walk. And as they take in parents, who can no longer live by themselves.

Family life is to be a life of love—a love which is ready to forgive, a love which is always willing to sacrifice for another. And thus, family life is an imitation of the Cross of Christ.

But for family life to have its fullest meaning, the presence of Christ in the family should be made explicit. The family itself is a kind of church, it is a community of believers. As a community of believers, they should gather together in prayer. Not just in church, but also by praying in the home.

C.S. Lewis wrote a book about a bus ride from hell to heaven. For some of the passengers, it was a one-way ride. Their time in hell was their purgatory, but some of the passengers would choose to stay on the bus. They were not willing to forgive others who had made it to heaven, nor did they see any need to be forgiven, since they could not see any wrong they had done.

It is no coincidence that Lewis entitled his book “The Great Divorce.”  The things we need for a good family life, are the same things we need for eternal life.  They are silence marked by prayer and forgiveness. They are work and sacrifice on behalf of the ones we love.

All of us desire eternal life, and we all desire a happy family life, so realizing that Christ is the way, let us do these simple things, to save us from the great divorce.

Fr. Thomas McQuillen About Fr. Thomas McQuillen

Fr. Tom McQuillen is a priest of the Diocese of Toledo, Ohio. He was ordained in 1996, served as associate pastor at St. Paul's Norwalk, Ohio from 1996-2000. He then served as a Fidei Donum priest in All Souls Mission, Binga, Zimbabwe from 2000-2006; he was also a Lecturer and Dean at St. Augustine's Regional Seminary, Bulawayo, Zimbabwe from 2006-2010. When he returned to the States, he serves as an associate pastor at St. Peter's in Mansfield, OH from 2010-2013, and is now Dean of Men and Professor at St. Mary's Seminary, the Athenaeum, in Cincinnati.


  1. Avatar Deacon Jim Reichert says:

    It was a blessing to read the homilies by Fr. Tom McQuillen. I read HPR every month and often get great ideas for my homilies, and as I read these ones by Fr. Tom I immediately recognized a gifted homilist. Our Church is blessed by many gifted teachers in the Faith and reading Fr. Tom’s inciteful reflections gives me continued hope for the spiritual renewal that we all need.
    God Bless HPR, and
    God Bless you Father Tom


    Wonderful to read these homilies, very helpful, even for a priest in my position awaiting for ordination into the ORDINARIATE Priesthood. Blessings, Fr. Bill H.