On evil spirits and the grace of baptism. Homily for 4th Sunday in OT. 1/28/2018

Deut 18:15-20;  Ps 95;  1 Cor 7:32-35;  Mk 1:21-28

So many books and movies today highlight the presence of evil in the world. Cheap horror films are everywhere, and people have become strangely fascinated with demons. And this fascination isn’t only dangerous and sometimes harmful; it’s also misleading. We should be filling our minds with virtuous thoughts instead. And we know that if it happens in a movie, then it’s not real. It may be based on a true story, but the camera and special effects change the reality of the story. So we shouldn’t let the movies dictate our understanding of spiritual things.

On the other hand, Jesus had a real encounter with an evil spirit in today’s gospel. Jesus came to destroy the works of Satan, and so casting out demons—and undoing their effects—was a central aspect of his public ministry. Jesus’ miracles signify the coming of God’s kingdom, which includes casting out the devil from every corner of that kingdom. For this reason, Jesus’ first miracle in Mark’s gospel is the casting out of a demon.

But where do demons come from, and how did they become our deadly enemies? Well, in the beginning, God created a number of rational beings called “angels,” the Greek word for “messenger.” Angels are pure spirits—so they have no bodies—and they’re endowed with intellect and free will. After being created, they were given the choice to serve God. Many of the angels did choose this option, most notably among them, St. Michael, whose prayer is very powerful against evil. However, certain angels became evil by their own free choice; they radically rejected God and His kingdom. While it’s not certain on what particular point the fallen angels rebelled, we know that their choice was irreversible, because they don’t think, and weigh their options, and reconsider, like we do. Because of the great power of the angelic mind, it’s impossible for them to “change their mind.” “They were in full possession of the facts of the case, completely undisturbed in their judgment, and they clearly saw their obligations to God and the gravity of their crime.” (Boylan, This Tremendous Lover). Their attitude is best summed up in the classic phrase: “Non serviam—I will not serve.” And so they became enemies of God. But they’re powerless against God; after all, they’re finite, created beings, while God is infinite. So, since they can’t do anything against God Himself, they seek to destroy the image of God—human beings—created in God’s image and likeness. Fortunately, by God’s plan, the grace of our baptism protects us from demons, and gives us the strength to resist their influence. At baptism, we became adopted children of God, heirs to the victory of Christ, which He won through his cross and resurrection. But a spiritual battle will continue until the end of time, and we’re caught in the middle. So we need to cultivate a healthy balance: we don’t dismiss the presence of demons—they’re very active in the world today. But as frightening and real as they are, we don’t fear them, because the authority of Christ (in us) is infinitely superior.

The demons are powerless against Christ, and they’re threatened by His presence. And so the demon in the gospel shrieks, “Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, the Holy One of God.” The demon recognizes the presence of God in his midst, and he senses the approaching battle. Christ is going to challenge the free rein that evil has had over people’s lives. Jesus sternly rebukes the demon: “Quiet! Come out of him!” In one final, weak act of defiance, the unclean spirit convulses the man as it departs, helpless before the command of Christ. The demon’s tyranny over this man is ended, and the man is now set free to live for God.

Following the example of Jesus, Catholic tradition has always recognized the need for “exorcisms”. Jesus cast out demons, and from Him, the Church has received the power and office of exorcizing (that is, casting out evil spirits). But because exorcism has been sensationalized by the movies, we need to make several distinctions. First, we distinguish between minor and major exorcisms. Minor exorcisms are more common; an example of one takes place in the baptismal liturgy. We renounce Satan, and all his empty works and promises, and the priest or deacon leads a prayer to cast out the devil’s presence from the person about to be baptized. Conversely, the solemn rite—called a “major exorcism,”—is what most people think about. True demonic possession is a rare, but real consequence of the activity of evil spirits. However, this type can be performed only in strictly-defined cases, according to rigorous guidelines, and over much time. For example, they’re done only “by a priest and with the expressed permission of the bishop. The priest must proceed with prudence, strictly observing the rules established by the Church, because exorcism can only happen through the spiritual authority which Jesus entrusted to his Church” (CCC, 1673). So while it’s not a light matter, it’s not an ordinary occurrence either. And one basic rule of thumb: if you think you’re possessed by a demon, then you’re probably not.

But what confuses people is the other forms of evil which may seem like possession, for example, illness, temptation, and addiction. “Illness, especially psychological illness, is very different from possession; treating this is the concern of medical science, and should be dealt with accordingly. Therefore, before an exorcism is performed, it’s important to determine that we’re dealing with the presence of the Evil One, and not an illness” (CCC, 1673). Temptations come in all shapes and sizes. We’re tempted to trust more in material things than in God’s love for us. We experience thoughts of jealousy, anger, and frustration. For some, there’s even a temptation towards superstition or involvement in the occult, in which a person seeks power by allowing demonic entry. It begins as a curiosity with temptation—a playing with fire. So we avoid things like fortune tellers, Ouija boards and the like, which are dangerous to our spiritual well-being. Rather, we should rely on the grace God gives us, avoid the near occasion of sin, and strive for holiness each day. Then there’s also addiction. Obsessions like gambling, pornography, and substance abuse are destructive of human character, but they have a spiritual dimension, as well as a physical and psychological dimension” (Porteous, Manual of Minor Exorcisms, 14). Often stemming from trauma or habitual sin of a serious kind, these addictions eventually gain mastery over our lives. Sin is merely an invitation for the devil to take control of our lives. And the presence of the devil becomes stronger when human beings increasingly separate themselves from God. Through mortal sin, one freely subjects himself to the slavery of the devil. And mortal sin is the greatest possible misfortune that we can experience, because it means turning our back entirely on God. Mortal sin is death—it’s a spiritual death which cuts off our friendship with God.

But we have great hope in Jesus because God has given us all the tools we need to defeat the devil! God gave us grace at baptism, and He continues to fill us with Himself in the Eucharist. The devil fears a person in the state of grace, because grace is a participation in God’s life. So as God’s grace in us deepens, the more the devil flees—it’s that simple. So we must stay close to the sacrament of confession. Then, when we feel the presence of evil or a temptation to sin, we can say the names of Jesus and Mary repeatedly, in a loving, devoted way. “Jesus, Mary…” We can also take charge and renounce the evil spirits around us: “In the name of Jesus Christ, I renounce the spirit of anger/impatience/pride, etc.  We can keep and use holy water in our homes—I always make the sign of the cross with holy water before going to bed each night. Holy water reminds us of our baptism, which is our primary spiritual weapon. Put a crucifix in each room in your home or a picture of Jesus or Mary. These are simple ways that we can fill our minds with holy thoughts. And finally, pray. The more time we spend with God, the better we can withstand the devil’s advances.

The ultimate victory over the devil has already been won! Christ defeated the powers of evil through his cross and resurrection. We just have a few more skirmishes to finish here on earth. But through the grace we received at baptism, we’ve been enabled to fight with the authority of Christ. And yes, to conquer overwhelmingly, because of Christ, who loves us with an eternal and infinite love.

“Repent and believe in the gospel.” Homily for 3rd Sunday in OT. 1/21/2018

Jonah 3:1-5;  Ps 25;  1 Cor 7:29-31;  Mk 1:14-20

When I was growing up, I quickly learned to listen for the dinner bell. Yes, for a while we did have a real bell, but more often, it was the voice of my parents or one of my seven siblings. None of us wanted to be late for dinner: first, for fear of a reprimand, and secondly (and perhaps more importantly) all the food might be gone! So we learned to respond to the call with urgency.

In today’s readings, God calls us to respond with similar urgency to His call—the call to follow Jesus, who said, “This is the time of fulfillment. The kingdom of God is at hand.” The entire Christian life is a response to what God is doing in our lives. And we begin to respond through the process known as “conversion.” Conversion (which means “to turn”) is twofold, based on the two aspects of Christ’s command: repent and believe in the gospel. Repentance is the theme of our first reading. Nineveh was a sinful city, and Jonah warned them of the impending doom. Jonah’s message, while appearing to be harsh, was actually a great mercy, because the Ninevites acted quickly and God saved the city from destruction. But imagine if they’d delayed, saying, “We’ve still got time to change our sinful ways.” Things may have turned out differently. St. Paul said in our second reading: “I tell you, brothers and sisters, the time is running out.” We don’t know how much time God has given us, and so we need to make the most of it, by turning to God with all our hearts.

As human beings, we’re bound by divine law to do penance. And Lent (which begins in less than a month) is the primary penitential season of the year. We’re called to pray, fast, and give alms with greater intensity during this season. A well-known sacrifice is that we abstain from eating meat on Fridays in Lent. But what many people don’t know is that every Friday of the year is a penitential day, which means that we’re supposed to make some sacrifice on every Friday that’s not a solemnity. Some people prefer to abstain from eating meat on all Fridays of the year. No, it’s no longer sinful to eat meat on Fridays outside Lent, but the U.S. bishops still give pride of place to this particular weekly sacrifice. Their hope is that all Catholics “abstain from meat by free choice as formerly we did in obedience to Church law” (Pastoral Statement on Penance and Abstinence, 24). But even if we eat meat on non-Lenten Fridays, then some other sacrifice, prayer, or work of charity must be substituted. This isn’t done to satisfy a “random Catholic rule”, but it’s meant to be an outward sign of our interior conversion.

Why Friday? Because Christ died for our salvation on Friday, and so on that day we’re especially mindful of our “personal sins and the sins of mankind which we try to help expiate in union with Christ Crucified” (PSPA, 22). We can feast on Sundays, only if we’ve sacrificed on Fridays. Let’s begin there. One saint said, “The day you leave the table without having done some small mortification you’ve eaten like a pagan” (The Way, 681). In other words, make some sacrifice at every meal. And believe me: this is hard! I’m still struggling with it. But it can be as simple as no salt and pepper on your food, or no ice in your drink; something small that no one else would notice. But you’ll notice. And God will notice too. Maybe we could fast from technology, again, a little bit at a time. Or fast from complaining. Every athlete has to give up certain pleasures to achieve the desired goal. And this is very true in the spiritual life. Of course, it’s useless to fast from food or technology, if we don’t turn away from sin also. But if we can say ‘no’ to some tangible pleasure on a temporary basis, then we’re training our wills to say ‘no’ to sin, which is far more important.

Having heard Jesus’ urgent call to repentance, we have an immediate opportunity to put it into practice. Each year, on January 22 (that’s tomorrow), our bishops ask us to pray “for the full restoration of the right to life and to do penance for violations to the dignity of the human person committed through acts of abortion” (USCCB). As we pray and sacrifice for the legal protection of unborn children, we also give thanks to God for the gift of human life. But how do our sacrifices and prayers assist the unborn and other people, whether it be tomorrow or any day of the year? Well, God saw the Ninevites’ penance and conversion, and He spared the entire city. Maybe our works of penance will spare our country. I’m always edified when I attend the annual March for Life in Washington, which took place last Friday, to see so many—we’re talking hundreds of thousands of people—peacefully and joyfully witnessing to the goodness of all human life. And that witness is changing hearts, even if the mainstream media gives it little attention.

Our sacrifices don’t change God’s mind. Rather, we unite our sacrifices with the one, perfect sacrifice of Jesus, who saved the world through the cross. And we, too, are sanctified by the cross, because our crosses put us in direct contact with Christ. Most crosses we don’t choose: illness, financial difficulty, the death of a loved one; Jesus alone helps us to carry these difficult burdens. But remember how Jesus willingly took up His cross. So if we willingly take on some sacrifice—maybe giving up meat, or technology, or something else—and we unite it to the sacrifice of Jesus, then it becomes a help to our salvation through the grace and power of Christ. And yes, that’s how our prayers and sacrifices are effective in the lives of others also.

But the call to repentance isn’t just outward works or sacrifices; it should aim at the conversion of the heart—interior conversion. “Interior repentance is the radical reorientation of our whole life to God, which begins with a turning away from sin, with repugnance toward the evil actions we have committed” (CCC1431). We’re so blessed as Catholics to have the sacrament of penance, the sacrament of God’s healing and mercy. We never have to fear taking our sins to God in confession because, as St. JPII said, “Mercy is God’s greatest attribute.” It’s not just that God does merciful things—He is mercy itself. And he’s always waiting, hoping, pleading for us to return to Him through this great sacrament.

The practice of frequent confession is essential to conversion and growth in the spiritual life. But it’s good to examine our conscience beforehand. We can examine our actions from the standpoint of the Commandments, or even the virtues. For example: have I honored my parents in accord with God’s command? Have I kept holy the Lord’s Day by worshipping at Mass each Sunday? How have I lived the virtues of patience, of chastity, of temperance? A daily three-minute examination will help us to identify and admit our sins, so that we can receive mercy. And we shouldn’t worry if we’re struggling with the same sins right now; it’s often difficult to form a good habit or achieve a certain skill. It takes time and patience. The important thing is, when we fall through sin, we get back up and continue our journey to God.

By “repenting,” both outwardly and inwardly, we start a new life, like the disciples did. They left their old ways. Peter and Andrew left their nets, which were their livelihood. James and John left their family ties. While we’re not being asked to take up a new occupation or leave our families, there are many other ways by which we direct our hearts to God. Along with the traditional practices of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving, how about suffering patiently when we face a challenge or setback? Struggling bravely against a bad habit, rather than giving in quickly? Taking up our cross each day and following Jesus is the surest way of penance.

But remember, Jesus didn’t just say, “Repent.” He said, “Repent and believe in the gospel.” The gospel hinges on the two great commandments to love God above all else, and to love our neighbor as ourselves. So Friday, especially, should be a day of great charity—good works freely done out of love for God and others. Our faith is based on a Person, Jesus Christ, who still says to us today, “Come, follow me!” Peter and Andrew, James and John repented and believed, but it took many years of prayer and sacrifice before they were completely given over to God. May we, too, have the grace to respond immediately when called, not to the dinner table, but to a lifelong relationship as faithful followers of our Savior, Jesus Christ.

The faith and gifts of the Magi. Homily for Epiphany. 1/7/2018

Is 60:1-6;  Eph 3:2-6;  Mt 2:1-12

The word “Epiphany” means “revelation” or “manifestation”, and this feast celebrates the first appearance of Jesus to the Gentiles. Perhaps over the last couple days, the Magi have been traveling around your living room, working their way to the nativity scene in your home. (That’s how we used to do it at my house.)  A brief word about the mysterious Magi. We usually refer to them as “three” “kings,” as in: “We three kings of orient are…”   But Scripture reveals neither their number nor their office. The Magi were likely from Persia, and they weren’t “kings” in the normal sense of the word, but we’d likely call them astronomers, astrologers, mathematicians, or maybe all of the above. Today we refer to them as “kings,” because the psalm foretold that kings would come from the east bearing gifts. And because three gifts are brought, people figure that there were three bringers. Tradition has given them the names Caspar, Melchior, and Balthazar, and they’re buried in the cathedral in Köln, Germany.

But amid all these uncertainties, we know that that the Magi are Gentiles. As we heard in the gospel, “Magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem.” Up until now, the only witnesses to the birth of Jesus have been from Israel. But now the Gentiles are invited to share in Christ’s saving mission. And this gives us hope, because we’ve been grafted into the Chosen People, and have become heirs to the promises of God. As St. Paul said in our second reading, “The Gentiles are coheirs, copartners in the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.” God’s message of salvation is now open to all nations, so it’s available to all of us! In our first reading, the prophet Isaiah sees a divine light, (whom we know to be Christ, the Light of the world), emanating from Jerusalem and Isaiah foretells all the nations walking by that Light. And then the nations would bring wealth by land and sea, especially gold for the Temple and frankincense for the sacrifice. This prophecy is fulfilled by the Magi in the feast of the Epiphany, and as we’ll see, it can be fulfilled in each one of us today.

So having seen who the Magi were, let’s focus on two things that we can learn from them and imitate: their faith and their gifts. First, their faith. The star was a symbol of their faith. They didn’t know exactly where it came from or where it led, but it was calling out to them to follow it. Look at the simple faith of the Magi, as they sought the newborn king of the Jews: “We saw his star at its rising and have come to do him homage.” We, too, need to persevere in seeking God, even if He seems far away. God is calling us into a personal and intimate friendship with Him. Yes, the Christian ideal is difficult. It’s hard to live our faith in today’s culture: to attend Mass every Sunday, to pray without ceasing, to speak in defense of unborn human life, to be faithful to our marriage vows. But imagine if the Magi had considered their 700-mile journey too difficult. Or if they’d been discouraged by Herod’s sarcasm about their quest. They could’ve abandoned their journey, but they never would’ve fulfilled their deepest longing. And it’s the same with us: we won’t be truly happy unless we seek God every day of our lives. St. Augustine once said, “O God, you have made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.”

Contrast the Magi with the figure of Herod, who couldn’t see the star, or if he could, it didn’t seem to affect him. He doesn’t know about the prophecy, and he doesn’t seem to believe it. Otherwise, he would’ve sent his officials to Bethlehem along with the Magi. It’s sad that he, a leader in Jerusalem, is completely ignorant about the Scriptures. The prophecy inspires fear in Herod and in all Jerusalem, while it brings joy for the Magi. As the gospel said, “They were overjoyed at seeing the star.” But the original translation is much better: “They rejoiced with exceedingly great joy.” Joy is a fruit of the Holy Spirit, so where we find a joyful person, we find someone imbued with the spirit and presence of God. That’s why God calls us to be joyful followers of His Son, even in our own day.

When the Magi arrived, “They prostrated themselves and did him homage.” Now, it might have difficult for men of such learning to bow before this humble child. In fact, we could say that in this event, science is bowing to religion. But in reality, science and religion aren’t opposed to each other. Both lead us to God, because both come from the same source, God Himself. JPII said that “faith and reason are like two wings on which the human spirit rises to the contemplation of truth” (Fides et Ratio intro), the truth that comes from God alone. So we can’t ever detach science from faith or say that they somehow contradict one other.

Secondly, we can learn from their gifts, which show their generosity to God. What could a child possibly do with gold, frankincense, and myrrh? The Magi offer symbolic gifts, which show the world what He is: gold for a king, incense for God, and myrrh (embalming fluid) because He would die. In other words, the Magi gave the best they had. In our lives, does God get our best effort? For example, the best part of our day in prayer, or does he get only the last sleepy moments of the night? Do we dress accordingly to come to God’s house, or would someone think we’re taking a trip to the beach or the game? Are we generous with God when it comes to our money and time, or do we give him only begrudgingly? How many people say, “I don’t get anything out of Mass”, but might arrive late and leave early? Perhaps it’s because we’re not bringing our best offering to the king of kings.

The last line of the gospel is important, but is sometimes overlooked: “They departed for their country by another way.” Sure, that’s true geographically. But spiritually, they left as changed individuals, because they’d experienced a tremendous conversion after their encounter with Jesus. And now that Jesus has revealed himself to us (at Christmas, in the Eucharist), we have to change our ways. One good way to give God our best is by preparing for Sunday Mass by reading the Scriptures in advance, so that we’ll already be pondering the Word of God when we arrive here on Sunday. (The USCCB website has all the weekday and Sunday readings.) St. Jerome said, “Ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ” (St. Jerome), and we don’t want to be ignorant of the Scriptures, like Herod was. During the week, we can ask the Lord in prayer to increase our faith in his real presence. Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is truly present, Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity in the Eucharist!

The Magi showed their faith concretely by adoration, which is a type of prayer that the Church highly recommends. We adore our God in the Eucharist, not because of any good feeling it brings or anything we might “get out of it”. No, we adore God because we recognize that He’s infinitely worthy of praise. St. Augustine also said, “We commit a sin by not adoring the Eucharist.” Here at All Saints, we have adoration in the chapel four nights a week, and the church is open all day for prayer. One of the greatest gifts we can give God is the gift of our time, to be with the Lord, who is truly present in the Eucharist. As we’re making New Year’s resolution, why not make a resolution to sign up for a weekly hour in adoration? If you can’t give a full hour, then give at least 15 minutes each week, perhaps on your way to or from work. Time spent with God is never wasted, and Eucharistic adoration is a gift that we give God on account of our faith, thus uniting these two lessons from the Magi. In doing so, we bring much joy and consolation to Jesus, who wants to receive our acts of love today, just as he received the meaningful offerings of the Magi. And may we, like the Magi, see the star, and follow it all the way to the crib.

Mary, the Mother of God and our Mother. Homily for the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God. 1/1/2018

Num 6:22-27;  Gal 4:4-7;  Lk 2:16-21

How fitting that we begin the new calendar year in the context of the most important prayer that we have, the holy sacrifice of the Mass. But in counting the years, we also recall that we’re tallying the years back to the birth of Christ. So anytime we mention 2018—or any year, for that matter—we’re referring back to Christ, who is the Lord of history. And as every new life begins with a mother, so our new year begins with a mother: Mary, the mother of God.

January 1 falls on the eighth day of Christmas, the last day of the Christmas octave. And this day was formerly known as the feast of the circumcision. Now, why would the church celebrate the circumcision of Jesus? Well, Jewish boys were circumcised on the eighth day, and it shows us that Jesus respected and obeyed the law of God. But more significantly, the circumcision was the first time that Jesus shed his blood, which foreshadowed the shedding of all his blood at the crucifixion, which is re-presented at every Mass: “The blood of the new and eternal covenant, which will be poured out for you and for many, for the forgiveness of sins.” So the shedding of blood is linked with the forgiveness of sins, the main reason Jesus came to earth. And as we heard in the gospel today, our Lord was given the name “Jesus” on the eighth day. And his name signifies his mission: Jesus = Savior. “For he will save his people from their sins.”

But in 1970, upon the revision of the liturgical calendar, the celebration of Mary, the Mother of God, was restored to January 1, following the ancient liturgy of the city of Rome. Today, we use this solemn day to commemorate the part Mary played in this mystery of salvation. The most important Marian doctrine is the divine motherhood, because this is the central mystery of her life, and serves as the basis for all the other mysteries connected with her. So the best title for her is “Mother of God.” In Greek, that’s Theotokos (God-bearer). But how can a woman be the mother of God? Well, a simpler question to ask is: Is Mary’s son God? Yes! Therefore, Mary is the mother of God. A mother gives birth to a person, and Jesus is one divine person, with two natures (human and divine). So Mary’s motherhood highlights both the humanity and divinity of her Son: His humanity, because she was truly human. And his divinity because she’s a virgin, and therefore, Jesus had no human father.

But as all mothers can attest, motherhood isn’t just a biological dimension—you’re intrinsically concerned about your child for your entire life. And it’s the same with Mary, who cooperates in the entire life and work of her son. Just as Eve fully cooperated in the downfall of the human race, so Mary fully cooperated in the redemption of the human race. In fact, we could even say that she’s a necessary part of the divine plan; God couldn’t have saved the world without Mary, because Jesus wouldn’t have become man without a human mother. So it follows that we can’t have God as Father if you don’t have Mary as mother. We’re supposed to imitate Jesus in everything—and that includes honor and respect for his mother.

Therefore, Mary’s role in the life of the Church—and in the life of every Christian—is essential. Why? Because she always leads us to Jesus. Everything about Mary hinges on the Person and mission of her son. Thus, even in today’s gospel, the emphasis is specifically on Jesus, not Mary. And the Church has always professed the subordinate role of Mary: there’s only one mediator between God and man: the man, Jesus Christ. So we don’t worship Mary. But she is the closest person to Jesus, and her role as mother continues on our behalf. Think of it this way: in the Old Testament, a king often had many wives. So the queen wasn’t the wife of the king. Rather, the mother of the king was the queen, and sat on a throne next to him. The queen mother brought the needs of the people to the king; she acted as an intercessor on behalf of the poor. It’s no coincidence, then, that Jesus’ first miracle—of changing water into wine—came at the request of Mary. Mary is on a special level of holiness, because of her unique connection with the Son of God. And today, she’s perfectly united with her Son in heaven. Even today, she still brings our needs to her Son, and intercedes on our behalf.

JPII: “In a very particular way Mary cooperated by her obedience, faith, hope and burning charity in the work of the Savior in restoring supernatural life to souls. For this reason she is a mother to us in the order of grace.” As I already said, mothers give birth to persons. So the mother of the head is the mother of the body also. And as we know from St. Paul, together we make up the body of Christ. Jesus continues to live and work in the world through the members of his body. And since Mary is the Mother of Jesus, then she’s our mother also. After her Son’s departure, her motherhood remains in the Church as she intercedes for all her children—for all of us. All generations will call Mary “blessed” because her motherhood will last without interruption until the end of time. With the redeeming death of her Son, her motherhood took on a universal dimension; the work of redemption embraces the whole of humanity.

Today is also the annual World Day of Peace. So it’s a perfect occasion for us to renew our adoration of the newborn Prince of Peace, and to implore from God—through the Queen of Peace—the supreme gift of peace. Mary teaches us today to ponder the mysteries of God’s saving work, which He accomplished in Jesus Christ. As we heard in the gospel, “Mary kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart.” Mary is a model of contemplation and prayer. And at every Marian apparition, Mary’s message/solution is prayer. To pray for peace, peace throughout the world. The Church highly recommends praying the rosary daily. For when we pray the rosary, we ponder the mysteries of Jesus and Mary. And the rosary is a beautiful way to gather the family in daily prayer. Another good prayer is the Angelus, which is prayed at three times throughout the day, in the morning, at noon, and in the evening. The angelus is a perfect way to focus our attention on the fact that God became flesh through Mary.

Today is certainly not just a secular celebration of a new calendar year. It’s an opportunity to honor Mary, the Mother of God, who said “yes” in the name of all of us. Her “yes” enabled God to take flesh in the Person of Jesus, who came as a humble baby to shed his blood for our sins. At today’s Mass, we also give thanks to God for the blessings of the year just ended, and we pray that in the year ahead we, like Mary, will cooperate with God in the ongoing mission of Christ, the Prince of Peace.

Becoming holy through family life. Homily for Feast of the Holy Family. 12/31/2017

Gen 15:1-6;  Ps 105;  Heb 11;  Lk 2:22-40

Each year, on the Sunday after Christmas, we celebrate the feast of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph. This feast day enables us to reflect on the importance of the family, and helps us, as we prayed in our opening prayer, to “imitate them in practicing the virtues of family life and in the bonds of charity.” Consider: Jesus lived for 30 years in the context of a family. Now, I’m not saying that children should live with their parents until age 30! But while the gospels are almost entirely silent about these years, the silence speaks volumes. Jesus, Mary, and Joseph were faithful to the ordinary, and they were faithful to the law of God, as seen in today’s gospel.

With the Scriptures as a guide, let’s consider the role of each family member. First, to husbands and fathers, St. Paul says, “Husbands, love your wives as Christ loved the Church, and gave Himself up for her to sanctify her” (Eph 5:25). Amazing: a husband’s sacrificial love is meant to sanctify his wife! And this means all the way to death. This is why we never objectify women, but always love and serve them as Christ loves the Church.  How? Well, a husband is called to exercise headship over his family. Abraham gives a good example of spiritual headship; he was a man of faith. And God did great things through Abraham’s family precisely because of his faith. Statistics show that a father’s faith (or lack of faith) has a tremendous impact on his children: if it’s important to the father, then the children are more likely to take it seriously. But a father’s authority is always directed toward service, not domination. A husband can lead with the authority of God, only if he’s first submitted to God’s authority. And since a father’s authority over his family comes from God, then he must imitate the love that Christ has for his Church—again, sacrificial and all the way to death. A husband who truly loves his wife is willing to sacrifice for her and the children, whatever the cost. Jesus didn’t come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life for others. And every man is called to that same heroic type of love.

Next comes the all-important difference between “vocation” and “career.” A vocation is a calling from God, for example, to be a husband and father. And a vocation is also a path to holiness. A career, on the other hand, is something that helps you to fulfill your vocation. But it can’t—I repeat, can’t—replace your vocation. Your wife and your children need a provider, yes. But even more, they need a protector. And a protector is present, both physically and emotionally, to those under him. Although many here work long hours, we can’t use that as an excuse to avoid the duties of home and family life. Work can make us holy, as long as Jesus is present to us amid our labors. But our work shouldn’t detract from focusing on the overall well-being of the family, which involves so much more than just bringing home a paycheck.

To wives, St. Paul tells them to be “subordinate” to their husbands. But he’s not just accounting for the social position of women at the time; rather, he’s saying that the Christian wife should reflect the Church itself, in its obedience to Christ. A wife should always love and honor her husband, and pray for him daily. And if the husband is living that ideal of service, then being “subordinate” has nothing to do with “submission” in the negative sense. If the husband is called to be the head of the family, then the wife is the heart. “And as the first holds primacy of authority, so the second can and should claim the primacy of love” (Pius XI, Casti Connubii, 27). We can’t say that one is more important than the other, because head and heart are both necessary to the proper functioning of the body. And head and heart must be in frequent communication for the body to flourish. Therefore, husband and wife are equal, but not the same! And they’re complementary, meaning they complete one another.

Women have the perfect role model in Mary, who “kept all these things in her heart.” Our Blessed Mother is a model of contemplation, because she was always pondering the life of Jesus as she went about her daily duties. You who are wives and mothers can keep this same outlook, even in the midst of the very ordinary details of daily life. The Holy Family, too, seemed to be ordinary, but they lived extraordinarily holy lives. So your vocation within your family is a path to holiness—a path to sainthood—as long as Jesus is present to you each day.

The family is rightly called the “domestic Church,” and the parents are the primary educators of their children, not only in the ways of knowledge and virtue, but especially in the ways of faith. So pray with your children every day! Lead by example in bringing them to church. I’m truly edified when I see families worshipping here together. So thank you for bringing your children to church. The Christian family is a school of discipleship, where sacrificial love and virtue abound. A father, mother, and children learn to be reverential and supportive of one another, despite their different roles and duties. And the Holy Family can be the standard for our families, because they live out holiness within the context of a family.

A word to the children and young people here: remember that your parents have given you several gifts that you can never repay: the gift of life, the gift of faith, and the gift of a family. No, it’s not a perfect situation—there’s no such thing—but as St. Paul said, “Children, obey your parents in everything, for this is pleasing to the Lord” (Col 3:20). Jesus perfectly fulfilled the 4th commandment, not only towards God, but also His earthly parents. So pray for your parents every day, love and care for them no matter what their age, and always show them gratitude for giving these gifts that can never be repaid.

Sr. Lucia, one of the visionaries at Fatima, said, “The decisive battle between the Lord and the kingdom of Satan will be over marriage and the family” (Sr. Lucia dos Santos). And isn’t that true today? We look out at our world and see the many grave challenges facing the family today: sex outside of marriage, which is common among people of all ages; rebellious children who want to live apart from their parents’ authority; artificial contraception, which undermines the true love of a man and a woman. In reality, contraception is telling a lie, because it says to the other person, “I love you, and I give myself entirely to you…except my fertility. No, that I’m going to keep for myself.” And so pregnancy becomes something to be shunned and feared, rather than being what it truly is: a gift from God. And in the end, contraception enables people to fuel their lust and sometimes promiscuous lifestyle, rather than teaching couples to sacrifice for the good of the other. Next July, we mark the 50th anniversary of Pope Paul VI’s short, but very powerful encyclical, Humanae Vitae, in which he warned the modern world of the dangers of separating the unitive and procreative aspects of marriage and sexuality. It’s a major reason for the human trafficking and harassment we see around us, and for the breakdown of marriage and the family. And it’s cheapened the dignity of both men and women. So I encourage you to read Humanae Vitae sometime before next July (just type in “Paul VI encyclical,” and it’ll come right up), and to prayerfully consider the Pope’s words, not only about the goodness of human life, but also his warnings to the modern world. And finally, we know the effects of divorce, which has also become common in our culture. Though some factors aren’t our fault, and we may be facing an uphill climb, we have to return to the mercy of God continually, and work to build a culture of life and love as best we can. Will we solve all these problems alone? No. But we can begin with our own families, by ensuring that our home is a place where God is loved and obeyed, first of all by us. Because I can guarantee that obedience to God’s commands will foster harmony within the family. God’s plan for the family is: one man and one woman, in a permanent and faithful relationship that’s open to children. Will this involve sacrifice? Yes. But the sacrificial love of each family member isn’t just for the harmony of the family or the good of society, as important as these are. It’s done out of reverence for Jesus Christ! And our Savior entered our messy world within a family in order to transform it, and to show that the family is worth fighting and sacrificing for. So may all of our families become holy families, so that through our love for one another, we might mirror the love of the Trinity (CCC2205), and the sacrificial love of Christ, for His bride, the Church.