Homily for Sunday, December 28, 2014

Readings for Today

The recent Synod on the Family gathered a lot of attention for only a couple of issues, that of the reception of communion for those who are divorced and remarried, and the question about ministry to gays. But in many ways, the challenges facing the family all over the world are much more numerous than these two significant issues.

When we consider the family not only in the United States but around the world, these are challenging days. In the 2013 US Census, we learned that more adults were not married than were married. More than a third of children in the United States are being raised in single parent households. When we consider particular circumstances, two thirds of all African American children are in single parent households, more than half of Native American children are in single parent households, and almost half of Hispanic households are single parent households.

Consider this quote from the Population Research Bureau. “Researchers have identified the rise in single-parent families (especially mother-child families) as a major factor driving the long-term increase in child poverty in the United States. The effects of growing up in single-parent households have been shown to go beyond economics, increasing the risk of children dropping out of school, disconnecting from the labor force, and becoming teen parents.”

When we then think about the results of the breakdown of the family, and the documented effect of the increase of poverty, the concerns are tremendous. The United States bishops working through Catholic Charities USA, write the following. “Poverty does not strike all demographics equally. For example, in 2012, 13.6% of men lived in Poverty USA, but 16.3% of women. Along the same lines, the poverty rate for married couples in 2012 was only 6.3%–but the poverty rate for single-parent families with no wife present was up to 16.4%, and for single-parent families with no husband present over 30%.” When we consider the effect of poverty around the world, the disparity in income levels is even greater.

How did this happen? To be sure, we have always had the effects of sin in our world. We have been selfish, we have been greedy, we have been evil. And while not all structures are healthy, it seems as it has become fashionable to attack some of the structures that provided greater stability. Not only that, it is fashionable to repeat narratives that suggest these structures in fact never provided anything good.

But  holiness provides something wonderful and good, because true holiness means we reflect the love and power of God. It seems to me that we need to renew our energies to families that reflect this holiness. Holy families share. Holy families promote commitment. Holy families support the quest for the truth. Holy families promote more than anything the quest for love, the quest for the profound relationship that God calls us to live forever.

It is important to say that the invitation to holiness is available to all families. We never say that single parent families, and other non-traditional families cannot be holy. Quite the contrary. But when we consider the example of the Holy Family, it is a story that reminds us that even in the most difficult circumstances can lead to a loving, eternal relationship with God. This relentless attention to God made the family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph, even with difficulties, holy. As we consider the events of Christmas, we know that much of the journey of the family was a struggle. There was the journey to Bethlehem for the census. There was the lack of suitable housing. There was the exile into Egypt due to the threat on the life of Jesus. But there was never a lack of attention to their relationship with God.

What does a family need to do to be holy? First and foremost, the holy family of today is focused on the call of God. Family life is a vocation. This means that family life is first and foremost a response to the initiative of God. When families remember this, the foundation of family life is solid. When families imitate the life of the Church, being the home of love, sacraments, forgiveness and grace, they fulfill the vision of the Second Vatican Council which referred to the holy family of today a “domestic Church.”

This means that families today are called to witness to the Church at its best. And it means that each of us, since we all have the personal call to holiness, must witness to this love both in our families and outside our families. The world today is in desperate need to the witness of family love that allows all humans to thrive. Too many witness violence, lack of opportunity, addiction, greed and selfishness. Since these get a disproportionate coverage in the media, it can be easy to forget that peace, opportunity, tolerance, generosity and living for others is in fact prevalent in many families.

Are you centered on the quest for holiness? Do you see being part of a family as a vocation that leads to holiness? Do you make time in the life of your family to foster prayer, learning about God, serving others, helping reduce poverty and working for structural change that leads others to God?

All of this has as its core the Incarnation of Jesus who by coming into our world modeled the quest and life of holiness for us. Once humanity and divinity was joined, it became even more clear to humanity that a life of grace could foster an eternal relationship of love. When we do so, holiness becomes as visible as clothing, since Saint Paul calls us to wear holiness.

So this Christmas season is an invitation to incarnate holiness in our own lives and that of our family. You and your family can by holy. And that is something to celebrate.


Homily for Saturday, November 1, 2014

Readings for Today

Sometimes there are homilies that stay with you. (Hopefully people say this about the homilies I give.) Once such homily for me was about the notion of the saints. The bishop who gave the homily was making the point that sometimes we see holiness as something that will only happen sometime way off into the future. But, he cautioned, if we always see holiness as something way off in the future, then we miss the point. Saints become saints be responding to God in their own lives while they are still alive on earth. It could be too late if we wait too long to answer the personal call to holiness that God gives to us.

Today we celebrate those saints who did not wait. They are those saints who answered the call to God’s holiness. They did not wait, but during their lifetimes responded to God’s grace in a way that led them to embrace the inviation to holiness that God gave them in creating them.

While we clearly celebrate saints that have been recognized as saints, we know there are others, many others, who are also saints but have not been officially recognized as such. Why have such a day as the one we celebrate today? Why does it matter that we celebrate these unknown saints?

The most important reason is that these unknown saints helped those people, in the time they lived, to recognize God more clearly because of their example of a holy life. Their holiness became a witness to call others to holiness. I know in my life I have experienced many examples of faith by watching the witness of others.

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Homily for Friday, August 15, 2014

Readings for Today

When it comes to vocations, there is a tendency in the Church to use this word only in terms of priesthood and religious life.  And while these types of vocations are important to the life of the Church, the majority of people are going to be married, and as a result, it is important for us to focus upon the importance of the universal call to holiness.  We all have a vocation, and we are all called to live this vocation fully.  Every person who responds wholeheartedly to God does something that is beyond measure in the eyes of God.

And so, given that we are celebrating today the Feast of the Assumption, I thought it appropriate to reflect a little upon the powerful vocation of motherhood.  The readings last night at the Vigil served to remind us that motherhood is more than the physical reality of giving birth to a child.  What is that greater reality?

At the core of any vocation is the will of God.  When we seek to find and discern God’s will in our lives, we learn the beauty of God’s will.  While God may lead us where we do not want to go, God always does those things which will ultimately lead us to our greatest fulfillment.  In the person of Mary, we learn that when someone finds this holiness of God’s will, they become radiant.  It is not simply a task that can be checked off a list, but rather it is a becoming where we learn who we are most completely.

We learn this because of the words of Mary, “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord.” From the deepest recesses of Mary, in her very soul, her openness to God cannot help but shout out just how good God is.  This is not small thing.  “My spirit rejoices in God my Savior.”  Not only is there radiance, there is joy, as Mary cannot help but rejoice in God.  This is all because of God’s favor, God’s grace, which God has poured out not only on Mary, but indeed upon each one of us.

From the example of Mary, then, we learn that motherhood bears fruit when it is grounded in a deep and personal relationship with the Lord.  This relationship is not only a personal one, however, as the community of faith, and indeed the Church universal has a significant and necessary role in faith.

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Homily for Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Readings for Today

Yesterday we identified the problem. We saw the program. And today we witness the solution. The problem of course, if you remember was the observation by Jesus that the people were like sheep without a shepherd. They were directionless, and leaderless. At the end of yesterday’s gospel Jesus notes the need for spiritual leaders.

And what is it that he does? Prays. his program does not involve the creation of slick posters or clever marketing campaign, it does not involve strategic plan for deep thought, it involves simply asking “the master of the harvest
to send out laborers for his harvest.” It is simple.  We need to make sure that we ask.

In today’s gospel, Jesus identifies those individuals that will go forth to proclaim the kingdom. We will come to know that Jesus is not chosen perfect individuals. Some are impulsive, some have designs for power, and many will take some time to understand the purpose and mission of Jesus. But because Jesus suggests asking the Master of the harvest to send those harvesters necessary to reap the fruit of the kingdom of God, we can presume that what Jesus almost in each of these individuals was faith.

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Homily for Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Readings for Today

I have been fortunate in my life to witness true married love. While married love is beautiful in all its stages, there is something especially beautiful in witnessing a couple who is been married for a very long time. It becomes a concrete way to experience how two people can become one.

They do so many things where it appears they are one. They anticipate the needs of each other. They often finish the thoughts of each other. They remind me of watching my parents polka when I was a little kid. Knowing nothing about how to polka, I noted the complexity of the dance steps. Even though I was a little boy, I appreciated the difficulty in watching my mother perform all of the steps while moving backwards. But what I noticed more than anything, is how my mother and father were one on the dance floor.

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