Sunday, December 27, 2009
The Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph
What does it mean to be a son or a daughter? On this first Sunday of the Christmas Season, the Church reflects on a question which most avoid and which begins with the command Thou shalt honor they father and they mother.
Why does God expect us to honor our parents? Out of gratitude for the “gift of life, their love, and their work.”1 The author of the Book of Sirach tells us as much: "With all your heart honor your father, and do not forget the birth pangs of your mother. Remember that through your parents you were born; what can you give back to them that equals their gift to you?"2
This love and respect takes on different forms at different times in our lives. As a child, we owe our parents not only respect, but obedience, for they are our first teachers of all the mysteries of life and living. As Proverbs reminds us: “keep your father's commandment, and forsake not your mother's teaching. . . . When you walk, they will lead you; when you lie down, they will watch over you; and when you awake, they will talk with you."3
This is why Saint Paul reminds children of their obligation to "obey your parents in everything, for this pleases the Lord."4 Day to day, in everything from waking up to going to school, children should obey their parents: it is what God wants them to do. It’s their job!
As children grow up and move away and get a job or go to college, they still owe a debt of love and respect to their parents, although this takes on new and unique dimensions. For no son has ever grown up to be exactly like his father, and no daughter will be exactly like her mother. Which is why adolescence, the end of childhood and the beginning of being an adult, is such an exciting time! Easy for a celibate to say!
Saint Luke tells us the story today of Jesus on the cusp of bring a teenager deciding to remain behind in the Temple without his parents’ knowledge. In fact they find out he is missing 24 hours later, and find him in the Temple only after frantically looking for him for three more days!
You can imagine their state of mind! It’s clear from their first words to him: “Son, why have you done this to us? Your father and I have been looking for you with great anxiety.” “Why have you done this to us?” is a kind of responsorial refrain for parents of adolescents.
But when Jesus responds, we are told that his parents “did not understand what he said to them.” Jesus, a man like us in all things but sin, knew the pain of adolescence. Adolescents wants to be adults, but they’re not yet ready. And parents still see them as children, but they’re not that anymore either. It’s a perfect storm of misunderstanding, where they don’t understandable me and he doesn’t understand us.
Respect for parents is one of the biggest struggles for an adolescent, for at the same time I defining myself over and against my father and mother, I am called to respect them! But despite the tensions, we are told, Jesus returned with them to Nazareth where be obeyed and respected them. For it is the will of God that parents at all stages of life be honored and respected.
As years pass into early adulthood, the obligation of obedience grows into an obligation of respect, as new challenges to emerge. For the first time, sons and daughters begin to see their parents for who they really are: as human beings with strengths and weaknesses, hopes and fears. There is a wonderful opportunity at this stage of life to make friends of your parents and to learn from the couple of decades of experience they have under their belts.
There are temptations at this stage as well. Such as the temptation of allowing unresolved adolescent tensions to become petrified states of alienation between child and parent. The only cure for such temptations, of course, is the forgiveness and love which can lead to respect of another adult, who, with their gifts and faults, first helped you (literally) to stand on your own two feet.
It’s like the great story of Naomi and Ruth. Naomi’s son, Mahlon, fell in love with and married Ruth. Then Mahlon died. So the widow Naomi, sobbing and all alone in the world, tells the still young Ruth that while she will miss her and bless her for all she had done for her now dead son, she must now go back to her own mother, for Naomi has nothing more she can give her.
But Ruth protests to her mother-in-law: "Do not ask me to abandon or forsake you! For wherever you go I will go, wherever you lodge I will lodge, your people shall be my people, and your God my God. Wherever you die I will die, and there be buried.”5
Ruth provides an example for every child of the debt they owe to their parents, to ever be their child and to love and respect them until the day they die. So Ruth returns to Bethlehem with Naomi and, with the help of God, provides for “the comfort and support of her old age.”6
So it is with us. We all grow old, parents and children alike (although parents have a bit of a head start on their children). But when we are old, the obligation of respect and love perdures. “As much as they can,” the Catechism of the Catholic Church reminds us, children must give their parents “material and moral support in old age and in times of illness, loneliness, or distress.”7
Which is where I, in my advancing years, find myself today. Like so many of you, aging ourselves, we find ourselves caring for those who first cared for us. For, as Sirach reminds us, “whoever honors his father atones for sins...when he is old...be considerate of him...for kindness to a father will not be forgotten...”
And even once our parents have returned to God, our obligation to them continues., as we owe them a debt of prayer, that God might look upon them with mercy and show them perfect peace. Our love for them, like theirs for us, cannot be stilled, even by the separation of death.
For what makes the Holy Family holy is the honor and respect which Jesus, Mary, and Joseph held for each other. May we follow their example, showing to those who brought us into this world that “heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience” which the Lord had shown to us.”8
Monsignor James P. Moroney
1 CCC, no. 2215.
2 Sirach 7:27-28.
3 Proverbs 6:20-22.
4 Collosians 3:20; Cf. Ephesians 6:1.
5 Ruth 1:16-17.
6 Cf. Ruth 4:15.
7 CCC, no. 2218.
8 Collosians 3:13.
For a video of the Mass in which this homily was preached, go to http://www.worcestercatholictv.com/Site/Sunday_Mass.html.
Thursday, December 24, 2009
On this Holy Night the Church begins her Sacred Liturgy with a description of a rather pathetic figure. We never know her name, although she is clearly a foil for the nation of Israel, but we hear that those around her call her forsaken and desolate. She is like the old childless Sarah, abandoned by God and lifeless...just sitting around and waiting to die.
Sometimes we feel like God has forsaken us and that we dwell in a fruitless desolation with nothing to look forward to.
Some of you have been touched by death since last Christmas, and the one whom you loved has been taken away from you. And tonight, the first Christmas without them, your heart aches and its hard to fight the tears back. You feel forsaken, like God doesn’t care.
Some of you have lost your job and maybe the house this last year. Some cant pay for the kids to go to school and some had a hard time getting the money together for even a few Christmas gifts. You feel forsaken, like God’s gone away.
And some of you have lost your faith. Its only because they insisted that you went to Church tonight. The old flame of faith has grown cold, the sense that someone listens to you prayer has faded away, and there’s a big empty space where once a smiling Christ embraced you, consoled you, and nourished you with his Sacraments. You feel forsaken, like the Church has left you alone .
Each of us comes here with parts of our hearts and our lives which have grown cold and dark as a dark winter’s night. We’re like children, alone and defenseless against the cold cruel night of our desolation, just sitting there and waiting to die.
But then it happens, just as it happened for Isaiah’s desolate: a star rises, a light shines forth from heaven and with the giggle of a newborn child the world is made new. For the only-begotten Son of God has come down from heaven for us and for our salvation. He has taken on our miseries and become a man like us in all things but sin. He’s chosen to know what it feels like to be alone...he’s chosen to struggle against temptation...he’s taken evil and and suffering and even cruel death upon himself.
And with this birth we will never be alone again. For the death of the one you loved is destroyed by his death...and some day soon they will run out to meet you thanks to his coming this night!
And the disappointments and failings of this life are obliterated in the light of what he had prepared for us, and even our sufferings takes on meaning and goodness when joined to his sufferings for us.
And in this place, in this Church, amidst this family of believers, he feeds us with himself and nourishes us with his word, and makes us one with him so that no tear will not be dried, no fear will not be quenched and no darkness will prevail in the face of his invincible light.
And so we will sing forever of the goodness of the Lord.
The Lord who has known us from our mothers’ wombs. The Lord through whom we were made, who cares for us, and who longs for our return.
Surrender your heart to this mystery this night and you will know peace. Welcome this child into your heart and you will know perfect joy.
For unto us a child is born. Unto us a Son is given. And his name shall be called wonderful. Counselor. The mighty God. The everlasting Father. The Prince of Peace.
How blessed are we to be called to this supper!
Monsignor James P. Moroney
Saturday, December 19, 2009
For a larger view and complete details of Christmas at the Cathedral, click on the image and it will open in a new window or use the reader below. The poster contains the complete listing of Masses for Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and the Feast of the Holy Family at the Cathedral Church of St. Paul in downtown Worcester. We also invite you to a concert of Lessons and Carols on Dec. 27.
CHRISTMAS AT THE CATHEDRAL OF ST PAUL