Homilies for December 2018

For Dec. 2, Immaculate Conception, Dec. 9, Dec. 16, Dec. 23, Christmas, and Dec. 30.

1st Sunday of Advent – Dec. 2, 2018

   Readings: Jer 33:14–16 • Ps 25:4–5, 8–10, 14 • 1 Thes 3:12–4:2 • Lk 21:25–28, 34–36
   usccb.org/bible/readings/120218.cfm

To start Advent right, you need to answer two questions about the virtue of hope. This virtue rests at the heart of Advent because this season by its nature looks ahead to the future. The first question to ask yourself: “What is the object of your hope as a Christian?” The second: “What means can help you to strengthen your hope?”

The answer to the first question is that Jesus Christ must be your hope: the lens, if you will, through which all your other hopes in life are focused. But during Advent in particular, we focus especially upon our hope for the new life of Jesus. God wants more for you, and wants to give it to you through the gift of His newborn Son Jesus.

The second question has several answers. There are several means that Holy Mother Church gives us to focus on Jesus as our hope. The Scriptures this first Sunday of Advent point us towards penance as a means by which to focus upon Jesus, our hope.

However, to appreciate the demands that the virtue of hope makes, we have to back up. We have to gaze upon the entire panorama of the Old Testament, because it is the backdrop for the season of Advent. The entire Old Testament shows us the need for hope, how to hope rightly, and how not to hope.

In the Old Testament, the greatest enemy of ancient Israel was not the Babylonians or the Philistines or the Persians. The greatest enemy of Israel was Israel herself, split between two kingdoms, Judah and Israel. Nonetheless, these kingdoms were united in their longing for the coming of the Messiah.

We hear this longing in our first reading, where Jeremiah foresees the Lord raising up a “just shoot” who “shall do what is right and just in the land.” This “just shoot” was the Israelites’ hope. But in time, when the Messiah did come, their waiting was not fulfilled in the way that many Israelites had hoped. This is because their hopes had not been fixed on the Messiah who was to come, but on the Messiah whom they wanted to come. Here is the first lesson for our Advent, and our own hopes of God: we must accept Jesus as He comes to us, in all His poverty.

In the Gospel passage today, Jesus does not tell us to be on guard against physical disasters, since all they can destroy are material things. But what Jesus does say is: “Be on guard lest your spirits become bloated with indulgence and drunkenness and worldly cares.” God created us in His image and gave us a free will. Like Israel, we can use that free will to split ourselves in two: to give ourselves to the love of finite realities, while God calls us to love Him alone. By our freely chosen sins, this is what we do when we sin. We divide our selves in two, dividing the house where God wants to dwell by His grace.

To overcome such division, God calls us during Advent to the practice of penance. He calls us not only to the Sacrament of Penance, but also to the practice of penance, which is to say, simple acts of self-denial. Penance brings integrity back to a divided house.

We tend to associate penance only with Lent, but it’s likely that we need penance even more during Advent. After all, the constant temptation during these days before the Christmas season is to focus on material things: to believe that the material gifts we give have lasting meaning. It’s good to have some penance in mind at the very start of this season, to lead us towards the spiritual goal of Advent: waiting hopefully for Christ in the midst of darkness.

Every mother knows that there is “penance” — trials and sufferings — that are “built in” to the experience of bearing an unborn child (not to mention giving birth). For this reason among others, then, Mary is a model during Advent of what it means to hope patiently — and to bear difficulties — in order to bear Christ for others.

The four weeks of Advent represent the nine months that Jesus spent in darkness, in the womb of his mother, our Blessed Mother Mary. The season of Advent teaches us that our whole life on this earth is really just a preparation for a greater life. No matter how bright we think we are, we are in darkness. God does not always reveal His plan to us. He insists that we walk with hope every day. He insists that we turn over to Him everything in our lives.

We ask Mary for help in being like her: to be open to the will of God, and to be willing to pray in the darkness, not always understanding how God is at work around us, or ahead of us in the future. She is our best example for this season, knowing that even in darkness, God is with us.

Immaculate Conception of the
Blessed Virgin Mary – Dec. 8, 2018

   Readings: Gn 3:9–15, 20 • Ps 98:1–4 • Eph 1:3–6, 11–12 • Lk 1:26–38
   usccb.org/bible/readings/120818.cfm

Today’s first reading is very familiar to us. It tells how Adam and Eve, our first parents, committed the original sin. We can identify with this story because we, like our parents Adam and Eve, are sinners. Like them, when our sins are pointed out to us, we point to someone else and say, “he made me do it” or “she made me do it.”

In doing this, we deny one of the greatest gifts God has given us: our free will. While the third chapter of Genesis tells us of the commission of the original sin, we often forget the meaning of the two chapters that come before it. The first two chapters of Genesis tell us how good everything God created is, and how, among all his creatures, God chose man and woman in particular to live in His image: that is, to have the free will to always choose good over evil. This is the gift that Adam and Eve refuse when they shift the blame for their actions to someone else. Yet this is the gift that Mary fulfills when she accepts God’s plan as the plan for her earthly life.

However, as we consider all the gifts that God gave to Mary during the course of her earthly life, we need to recognize that there’s often confusion about the meaning of the Immaculate Conception. Many people, even many Catholics, believe that the Immaculate Conception is the belief that Mary virginally conceived Jesus. But, our Catholic belief in the Immaculate Conception is the belief that when Mary was conceived in the womb of her mother, Saint Anne, Mary was kept free from the stain of Original Sin. God gave this free gift to Mary at the moment of her conception because He wanted the mother of His Son to be the greatest woman among all women on the face of the earth.

Now, when we wonder about the confusion about the Immaculate Conception, it’s actually somewhat understandable. After all, consider the Gospel passage for today’s feast. Today’s Gospel passage relates the events of the Annunciation: when Jesus was virginally conceived in Mary’s womb through the power of the Holy Spirit. So we can see why people might confuse Mary’s virginally conceiving Jesus with Mary being immaculately conceived by St. Anne.

The reason, though, why the Church proclaims this Gospel passage on today’s feast is because here we see emphasized the reason why God was willing to bestow upon Mary the gift of being conceived without Original Sin. God from eternity knew that Mary would accept His will as her own at this key moment in salvation history.

When the archangel Gabriel greeted Mary, she was confused and wondered what the greeting meant. But still, she accepted God’s will and said, “I am the maidservant of the Lord. Let it be done unto me according to your Word.” When Gabriel announced that it was God’s plan for her to conceive a child, she did not understand how this could be, but still she accepted God’s will through the virtue of faith and said, “I am the maidservant of the Lord. Let it be done unto me according to your Word.”

God, who is eternal — for whom there is no past, present, or future — who sees everything at once, knew that Mary would completely accept His will as her own. In light of this, God preserved her from Original Sin at the moment of her conception. In Mary, we see the model for all of us who are striving to be faithful disciples of Jesus: for all of us who are striving to allow Jesus’s life to enter into our own lives.

Like every gift that God gave to Mary, our celebration of Mary’s Immaculate Conception tells us something important about humanity itself: that is, humanity as we were created to be “in the beginning”. Our belief that Mary was conceived in the womb of her mother, St. Anne, without Original Sin, tells us that Mary is exactly the human being that God meant each of us to be. In the words of St. Paul, “God chose us in him before the world began, to be holy and blameless in his sight, to be full of love.”

This is what our belief in Mary’s Immaculate Conception says about Mary: that she was full of love. We do not believe that Mary is a goddess, or even super-human. The Blessed Virgin Mary is simply human. Mary is authentically human: she is what each of us who is human is called to be: “holy and blameless in God’s sight, full of love.” That’s what St. Gabriel is driving at when he salutes Mary in the Gospel: “Hail, Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee!” St. Paul’s phrase “full of love” echoes that of St. Gabriel: “full of grace.”

God the Father wanted the best possible mother for His Son, and so He granted the grace to Mary which would let her be a mother who would give nothing to her Son but the fullness of love which God means each of us to have. Because Mary is the Mother of Jesus, she is our mother as well. For us she is the Immaculate Conception: through her Jesus entered the world, and through her each of us is healed, if we accept in faith the gift of healing God wants us to accept: the greatest gift we can possibly receive in this season of gift-giving.

2nd Sunday of Advent – Dec. 9, 2018

   Readings: Bar 5:1–9 • Ps 126:1–6 • Phil 1:4–6, 8–11 • Lk 3:1–6
   usccb.org/bible/readings/120918.cfm

As we hear St. John the Baptist preparing the way for Jesus in today’s Gospel passage, St. John’s words express a truth which is hard for many to accept. The beginning of today’s Gospel passage situates John’s ministry in a specific worldly context by spelling out what sort of men were guiding the world into which the Messiah had come. These pagan and Jewish leaders were quite corrupt: Saint Luke mentions them in order to tell us that John — and Jesus after him — had an up-hill battle before them.

St. John went about the entire region of the Jordan proclaiming a baptism of repentance which led to the forgiveness of sins. Penance, and the changing of one’s ways, are familiar to anyone who knows the prophets of the Old Testament, such as Baruch, whose words we hear in today’s First Reading.

John the Baptist himself is the hinge or pivot between the Old and New Testaments. In the texts that describe him, he is seen as one who foreshadows the coming of the Messiah. We could ask, though, why John also happens to be the cousin of Jesus. Is this familial relationship a mere historical co-incidence? Regardless, we see that for two persons who were related, John the Baptist and Jesus were very different persons, and were each criticized, but for opposite things — Jesus for being a drunkard, and John, for not drinking at all. At times it seems that the only thing these cousins have in common is that they were unjustly persecuted.

Both close intimacy and an openness to others mark the reign of the Messiah, and the lives of those invited to His Table. The rule which Jesus was born into this world to establish is not one which seeks to conquer other nations, but which rather invites children gathered from the east and west to share in God’s splendor, rejoicing that they are remembered by God.

Each of us as a member of Christ’s Body shares in the missionary command given to the Church. Each of us during Advent should consider who we should be inviting to share in the riches that we may have in our lives. It might not be who we think. If John the Baptist were to appear on our doorstep, it’s likely that we would want nothing to do with him: perhaps because of his appearance, but more likely because he tells everyone like it is. When he speaks of sinners, he points out their sins. When he speaks of Christ, he points and shouts, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.”

In preparing for the birth of the Messiah, we give thanks that Jesus was born in order to die for us. His death is what we celebrate when we come before Jesus’s altar to share in the Sacrifice of His life for us. If that life is worthily received by us in Holy Communion, we will seek out others in order to serve them, whether we believe they deserve our love and service or not.

It is not safe to think or act this way, of course. In fact, the Christian life is not only a narrow path, but a dangerous one as well. If our love is to abound more and more, as Saint Paul urges us, we must be willing to embrace those whom we do not care for, or perhaps even consider part of God’s plan. We must realize that we ourselves were once far from the Lord, and that He has done great things for us.

We must even be willing to recognize the authority of and serve those who we know are doing wrong, whether this means doing a job alongside them, or simply praying for them. There may be many persons in our lives whom we dislike, but our dislike is no reason to think that God loves them any less, or that Christ became human to save us, but not them.

God “gave His all” for each one of us in sending His Son to become human and die for us on the Cross. Choosing to respect our free will, He would not save us from evil in spite of ourselves. He allows us to bring evil into our lives if we so wish. Each one of us, like God, is called to share in His work of saving others. As with God, there is only so much we can do for others, but there certainly is something we can do.

On this Second Sunday of Advent, ask God to strengthen you always to speak the truth, whether it is convenient or inconvenient. But ask His grace also so that you might always act according to the truth: that is, always love those in your life by showing a willingness to serve them by your words and actions.

3rd Sunday of Advent – Dec. 16, 2018

   Readings: Zep 3:14–18a • Is 12:2–6 • Phil 4:4–7 • Lk 3:10–18
   usccb.org/bible/readings/121618.cfm

If there’s one word that sums up the Lord’s advent, it would likely be the word “expectation”. The word “expectation” connotes both waiting and hopefulness. We might think of children during December who write out their wish lists with the expectation of a visit from Saint Nicholas. However, in English the word “expecting” is also related to the experience of pregnancy, which in the person of Mary lies at the heart of Advent.

But in today’s Gospel passage, there’s a heightened sense of expectation. Think of children during December expecting St. Nicholas’ visit, and then think of those same children on Christmas Eve, with their expectation brimming over. That’s the sense of expectation that the evangelist puts across in today’s Gospel passage, telling us that “the people” were not just “in expectation” of “the Christ”, but in fact “were filled with expectation”.

Then, however, the other shoe drops. The evangelist explains that “the people” “were asking in their hearts whether John might be the Christ.” This is bittersweet, since we know that the expectation of the people, and the hope of their hearts, is misplaced. You and I know that John is not the Christ for whom they longed.

Here, though, is a spiritual lesson for us. The evangelist wants you and I to profit from the misstep of the people who mistook John for the Christ. Even though you and I know that John the Baptist was not the Christ whom “the people” in today’s Gospel passage were hoping for, you and I are not completely off the hook. More often than we like to admit, we act just like these people. We look for Christ in all the wrong places, and even more fundamentally, we look for happiness in all the wrong places. Since Advent is a penitential season, it’s important throughout the course of Advent to consider both of these wrong-headed searches. But today, reflect on the more fundamental one.

St. Thomas Aquinas in his masterful summary of theology explores the most common ways that man falsely seeks lasting happiness in this world. He names eight, the first four of which are specific goods: namely, wealth, honor, fame, and power.1 While each of these certainly can be good, and can be stepping stones to true happiness, it’s vain to search for lasting happiness in these things themselves.

For example, regarding wealth St. Thomas notes that there are two basic types.2 The first type is called “natural wealth”: things that are inherently valuable, because they help man to meet his basic needs. Natural wealth includes food, drink, clothing, vehicles and dwellings. It is unnatural to “look up” to these things for happiness, because these things are meant to be below man. They support him from below; they cannot inspire him from above. They are made for man; man is not made for these things. In a single word, to seek happiness in such things is base.

The other form of wealth is “artificial wealth”: its only value comes from human agreement that it has value as a medium of exchange. This comes in the forms of cash, credit, stocks, bonds, etc. Regardless of the form, money is an even lower good than the various forms of natural wealth, because the value of money derives from being able to use it to obtain things like food, clothing, and shelter. In the true order of things, money’s value is subordinate to the value of natural wealth.

So if you were to picture a ladder ranking the true values of things, man would be in the center of the ladder. Below man on the ladder would be natural wealth, and then below natural wealth would be artificial wealth. Of course, fallen man in his fallenness is perverse: which is to say, he turns everything upside down. He looks up to forms of wealth such as food, clothing and shelter, and strains his neck even higher to look upon what he deems to be the value of money.

Here’s another way to contrast the difference between natural and artificial forms of wealth. All you have to do is reflect on your pet dog Fido. Fido has some base understanding of the value of food and drink and shelter. Fido might also appreciate a vehicle: not only because it saves him from getting tired, but also because he loves to stick his head out the window into the breeze. It’s true that Fido might have a harder time understanding the value of clothing, although if you took him with you on vacation to Alaska in January, he probably would appreciate that doggie sweater that you got him for Christmas. But Fido cannot understand coins or bills or stock certificates having any value. He would only understand that the food, etc. that you purchase with that money has value. Fido is more sane than fallen man. Maybe that’s why the dog is man’s best friend: because he keeps us grounded in what is real.

Fido can keep us from looking up at what we should look down upon. Unfortunately, Fido cannot help us look up to what we ought to look up at: or rather, look up to whom we ought to look. Fido can help us from having false gods, but he cannot help us find the true God. This simple reflection on how wealth is perverted by man into a false source of happiness can also help us to reason why honor, fame and power also cannot bring man lasting happiness. They’re all meant to be subservient goods.

Anyhow, like Johnny Lee’s old song, fallen man spends a lot of time looking for love in all the wrong places, and in too many faces. There’s only one Face in which fallen man can find abiding happiness, and that’s in the Divine Face of Jesus, resting in the lap of Mary at Bethlehem.

4th Sunday of Advent – Dec. 23, 2018

   Readings: Mi 5:1–4a • Ps 80:2–3, 15–16, 18–19 • Heb 10:5–10 • Lk 1:39–45
   usccb.org/bible/readings/122318.cfm

In the year of Our Lord 1531, Saint Juan Diego proclaimed to the peoples of the New World a mother’s love. On a hill called Tepeyac, to the north of what we today call Mexico City, the Blessed Virgin Mary appeared to Juan Diego, an Indian peasant. When Mary appeared to him, she took the form of a young Indian maiden. She was dressed as an Aztec princess. She spoke to Juan in his native tongue. Juan Diego called her Our Lady of Guadalupe.

But the most significant thing about Our Lady of Guadalupe is that she was pregnant, just as Mary is in today’s Gospel. Never — before this appearance in Mexico almost 500 years ago — had Mary ever appeared to anyone as being with child. This is why we celebrate the feasts of Juan Diego and Our Lady of Guadalupe during Advent, this season of waiting for the birth of our Lord.

Perhaps when Mary appeared, Juan Diego asked the same question as Elizabeth in today’s Gospel: “How is it that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” Now, whether or not Juan Diego ever asked her this, we do know that Mary, appearing as a native American, told Juan Diego, “I am one of you, and I am your mother.” This woman chose to be with the poor and the weak, with those who sacrifice of themselves.

But this power was not of her own doing. Her power comes from the Child whom she bore. Our Lady of Guadalupe appeared in humility: her hands are folded, and her head is bent. This woman chose to be with the meek and the humble, with those who sacrifice of themselves.

In today’s Gospel passage we hear about the second Joyful Mystery of the Rosary: the Visitation. In the person of Mary we see someone bearing her Lord and God within her. We also see Mary as someone who brings that Lord and God into the lives of others.

This scene, as simple and joyous as it is, preaches two powerful messages for those who want to be faithful disciples of Jesus. The first message is to recognize the role that our Blessed Mother played from the very beginning of Christ’s life. If she was Christ’s protector, she is ours, also.

If the Holy Spirit moved her to bring Jesus to Elizabeth and John, why should she not continue to bring her Son to others in our own day throughout the world? Her role did not diminish as Jesus grew older. Neither can we ever “outgrow” our devotion to our Blessed Mother. We honor Mary not because of her own power, but because she bears Christ within her. What was physically true for nine months is spiritually true forever: “all generations will call me blessed”. This is true because, as Elizabeth says, Mary “trusted that the Lord’s words to her would be fulfilled.”

The second message Mary bears is that Christ must be received in the flesh. Today’s Second Reading reveals what this means. God took no delight in the sacrifices of the Old Testament. The sacrifices of the Old Testament had no more power to save a person’s soul than the human sacrifices of the Aztecs of Central America. Even if the Jewish priests of the Old Testament were sacrificing to the right God, they were still offering the wrong sacrifice.

The Jewish priests of the Old Testament offered bulls and rams. They offered things other than themselves: things that God has no interest in. God only takes interest in what is inside a person, in what is part of a person: indeed, in what is a person. Even when we make sacrifices and do penance during Lent, we don’t give up these things because God somehow wants the things we’re sacrificing. God doesn’t need meat, or candy, or coffee or tobacco. The only way penance is pleasing to God is when we sacrifice a desire, a desire that’s deeply rooted within us: so deep, that it’s part of us. God doesn’t want the thing that you sacrifice. He wants the desire that you sacrifice, so that you might desire Him alone.

This is what Christ proclaims to God the Father in the second reading: “Behold, I have come to do your will.” If we were to use our imagination, we could hear God the Son saying this at the “moment” before the Annunciation. Imagine: God the Son had lived with the Father and the Holy Spirit in Heaven from before time began, but when the Father was ready to send His Son to earth, to enter Mary’s womb in the flesh and start the life that would end some thirty years later on Calvary, God the Son, knowing everything that was to come, said “Father, I have come to do your will.” Then he descended from Heaven, to be conceived and born as one of us.

These words just as surely echoed in Jesus’s mind as He was stretched out upon the Cross. Even then He could say, “Father, I have come to do your will.” The Father’s will was that you and I could have life. God the Father’s will was that your sins could be forgiven, and you could become part of Christ’s Body. This is why Jesus gave His Body and Blood on the Cross, and offers that same Body and Blood to us through the Eucharist.

Nativity of the Lord – Christmas – Dec. 25, 2018

  Readings:
  Vigil: Is 62:1–5 • Ps 89:4–5, 16–17, 27, 29 • Acts 13:16–17, 22–25 • Mt 1:1–25 or 18–25
  Night: Is 9:1–6 • Ps 96: 1–3, 11–13 • Ti 2:11–14 • Lk 2:1–14
  Dawn: Is 62:11–12 • Ps 97:1, 6, 11–12 • Ti 3:4–7 • Lk 2:15–20
  Day: Is 52:7–10 • Ps 98:1–6 • Heb 1:1–6 • Jn 1:1–18 or 1:1–5, 9–14
  usccb.org/bible/readings/122518.cfm

When someone gives a gift, if it’s a good gift, it reveals something about the person to whom it’s given. The gift may say something about that person’s talents, or it may say something about where the person is not, so to speak, living up to their “potential”.

For example: a wife may give to her husband — or possibly vice versa — the gift of a set of tools. By giving this gift, the wife may be saying how much she appreciates her husband’s handiness around the house. Or the wife may be subtly suggesting that there are a few honey-do’s around the home that need doing.

Consider a different example: a husband may give to his wife — or possibly vice versa — the gift of a cookbook. Now, in giving this gift, the husband may be saying how much he appreciates his wife’s cooking. Or he may be subtly suggesting that a little variety could be introduced into the family meals.

Now consider a third example from real life; in fact, my life. In my first assignment as a priest, two of us served the parish as parochial vicars. One of our duties was the 6:15 a.m. weekday Mass for the teaching Sisters at the nearby convent. One year, I received a Christmas gift from the good Sisters. The gift they gave me was a book of homilies.

Finally, consider a fourth example. This one is also from real life, but it’s from the life of each and every one of us here today. The gift is given to each of us. The gift is given by God the Father. The gift is seen in the Nativity scene. The gift that the Father gives to us is laid in the manger.

So what exactly is this gift? One of the most beloved songs of this season asks just that question. “What child is this, who laid to rest, on Mary’s lap is sleeping?” In the next verse we sing: “Why lies he in such mean estate, where ox and ass are feeding?” What does this gift of the Christ Child say about us, who are on the receiving end of this gift? What does this gift of the Christ Child say about what God the Father wants from us?

 

What child is this? We ourselves profess the answer at every Sunday Mass when we stand and proclaim the Creed. About our “Lord Jesus Christ” we profess that He is “God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God… consubstantial with the Father”. This tiny infant is God, and the fact that this tiny gift is God tells us something important about why the Father gave this gift to us.

On the other hand, just a few lines later in the Creed, we also say that Jesus “by the Holy Spirit was incarnate of the Virgin Mary, and became man.” These words describe what today’s feast is all about. That’s why every year, on this feast of Jesus’s birth, when we profess those words of the Creed, we don’t just bow as we do on Sundays: we genuflect today as we say these words. But we also need to keep in mind that these lines of the Creed also tell us something important about why the Father gave this gift to us.

Jesus Christ is true God and true man. From the first moment of His conception, Jesus was fully divine and fully human. Still today as He sits in Heaven at the Father’s Right Hand, Jesus possesses a divine nature and a human nature. These two truths together tell us what we need to know about the first and greatest Christmas gift: that is, the person of Jesus Christ.

These two natures which Jesus bears within Himself are the means and the end of what God the Father wants for us who are His adopted children. In a manner of speaking, it’s like that book of homilies that the nuns gave me. They gave me the book of homilies as a means, because they hoped that by reading the book, I might grow to be a better preacher. Then, on the other hand, the book of homilies also represented the end — which is to say, the goal — that they were hoping I would reach: they hoped that someday I might preach like the saints whose homilies were recorded in that book.

So also, the gift of Jesus is the means and the end of our life. Jesus became human because we are sinners, and because Jesus is God we can become sharers in His divinity. Jesus became tiny at Bethlehem so that we could become great in Heaven.


The Holy Family of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph –
Dec. 30, 2018

   Readings: Sir 3:2–6, 12–14 (or 1 Sm 1:20–22, 24–28) • Ps 128:1–5 (or Ps 84:2–3, 5–6, 9–10) • Col 3:12–21 or 12–17 (or 1 Jn 3:1–2, 21–24) • Lk 2:41-52
   usccb.org/bible/readings/123018.cfm

As the Church celebrates today the second of the five feasts of the Christmas Season — the feast of the Holy Family — we reflect on the great role that the human family has within God’s plan for us. We realize that as celebrating God the Son’s birth helps us reverence human life as a gift from God, our celebration of the Holy Family helps us reverence the human family as what is called the “domestic church”.

For many of us, the past week has presented opportunities to be with members of our families. No matter what difficulties might exist in our families, this time spent together helps us realize one of the facts that is rejected by the world, but nonetheless preached as truth by the Church: the fact that the family is the basic unit, or building block, of society.

Very often adults caught up in the middle part of their lives on earth fall prey to the habit of thinking that what they do for others or give to others is what matters most. But those who have many years of life under their belts are like those who are very young. The elderly and children more easily recognize that time spent with others is of much greater value than things given to others.

Spending time together — an hour here or there, an evening or afternoon actively spent together (as opposed to passively watching television) — may not seem to amount to much. But when that foundation is there, the love and care which grows out of time actively spent together supports the family when they end up in a crisis, as all families occasionally do over the decades.

The Holy Family, still weary from their journey to Bethlehem, and weary from their search through Bethlehem for suitable lodging, were forced after Christ’s birth to flee their own country for the foreign land of Egypt, out of fear for Jesus’s life. But this was only the first of many sorrows for the Holy Family.

Many years later, as we hear in today’s Gospel passage, Joseph and Mary were bewildered when they could not find their child amongst all the family and friends who had journeyed with them to Jerusalem. When they found Jesus, his words surprised them: “Did you not know that I had to be in my Father’s house?” Jesus was pointing out to Joseph and Mary that it was from His divine Father that He had come to earth, and it was His Father who was His goal in life. Just as Joseph and Mary recognized Jesus’s divine wisdom, so all parents and children should recognize this same truth: Jesus was born and died in order to lead us to our Heavenly Father.

By and large, the first thirty years of Jesus’s life were simple ones in which His mother and foster-father made ordinary sacrifices for Jesus’s well-being, day after day. The Holy Family prayed together to the Lord as a devout Jewish family, and took the steps necessary to care for one another. When Saint Joseph died, Mary and her Son carried on alone. Yet no matter what God the Father asked of them, they prayed and acted together according to God the Father’s Will, not their own.

We all know that our world is troubled, and that our country is troubled. We don’t have to dwell on that. The solution begins with strengthening the treasure of the family, which builds up in turn our community, country, and world.

The family is a treasure when it’s based upon our heavenly Father’s home: when God is at its center. The home is holy when the life of the family is rooted in Sunday Mass. We could even say that these two — family life, and the Sacrifice of the Mass — mirror each other.

Dr. Michael Foley, who is not only a patristics professor but also a husband and father of six, points out that the four principal ends of the Mass are also the four most important things to teach our children, and for everyone in the family to carry out. Holy Mass is offered for the ends of adoration, thanksgiving, petition, and satisfaction. Within the domestic Church, these four are reflected in the most important words we speak: “I love you”, “Thank you”, “Please” and “I’m sorry.” The Eucharist strengthens us to speak these words in our homes.

The home is “the domestic church,” the school of discipleship where to live in peace, a person has to learn how to be humble and serve the needs of others. These are the same virtues which make a person a good citizen, and a good follower of Jesus. As we share in Jesus’s offering of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, pray that His grace will strengthen you to know the needs of others with the Wisdom of God, and to serve the needs of others with the Love of God.

  1. St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae, I-II, 2, intro. The latter four goods that St. Thomas explores are more general: “any good of the body,” “pleasure,” “any good of the soul,” and “any created good.”
  2. Ibid., I-II, 2, 1.
Fr. Thomas Hoisington About Fr. Thomas Hoisington

Fr. Thomas Hoisington, STL, was ordained a priest of the Diocese of Wichita in 1995. He serves the parishes of St. Mary’s and St. Anthony’s in Garden Plain, Kansas, lectures at the diocesan Spiritual Life Center, and serves as Censor Librorum for the Diocese. In November 2018 he published Reflections on the Sacred Liturgy — Vol. I: Lent and Holy Week, available at Amazon.com. His daily reflections can be read at reflectionsonthesacredliturgy.com.

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  1. […] On this Second Sunday of Advent, ask God to strengthen you always to speak the truth, whether it is convenient or inconvenient. But ask His grace also so that you might always act according to the truth: that is, always love those in your life by showing a willingness to serve them by your words and actions. – Read the source: https://www.hprweb.com/2018/12/homilies-for-december-2018/ […]

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