Sunday, December 27, 2015

The Holy Family

Boy Jesus Teaching the Elders in the Temple
Today we celebrate the feast of the Holy Family. It is always the Sunday after Christmas. On Dec 28th we have the feast of the Holy Innocents. That is when we remember the children in Bethlehem who were killed by King Herod. In recent times it has become traditional to think about abortion at that time. The modern massacre of children that continues in our society. Yet it is interesting that of the two feasts the Holy Family is considered greater. That is that focusing on how to do family right is more important than thinking about how badly society is currently doing with children. We don't ignore those dying from abortion but we want to give a Yes to how we should raise children more than we want to say No to what we are currently doing. That is true even when we are seeing the massive moral failure that abortion represents today. 

The story in the gospel is interesting. Jesus is a 12 years old. The go to Jerusalem for the Passover like they do every year. Jesus stays behind. His parents don't know. It takes them 3 days to find Him. You would think with a sinless mother and a sinless child stuff like this would not happen. Families are like that. When you think you have things figured out something happens to shock you. Kids are growing up and they are much more complex than we give them credit.

The other thing that happens is we underestimate the power of religious rituals. They went to the Passover every year. It became a little bit routine. A bit like going to church or doing family devotions can become routine for us. Yet these sort of things are quite powerful. Just because it is routine for us does not mean it is routine for our kids. When something impacts them we might not be ready for it. That is OK.

Then there is the 3 days. The span of time that is pointing forward to the 3 days that Jesus spends in the grave. The reality of the family is the reality of love. We can suffer when children make sinful choices and brings bad consequences on themselves. Yet there is the other side. They make good choices. Yet their love leads to suffering. It is still hard for the parents. 

It says they didn't understand. That Mary took these things into her heart. They talk about the difference between creating something out of knowledge or creating something out of love. If we build something with out knowledge we always understand it. Yet it is limited. It can never do more than what we know how to do. 

When we love another person there is no such limit. We often don't know what is going on because there is a relationship between God and this other person which we mostly don't see. Yet it is not limited by our knowledge either. Our children can end up being much greater than us. That is where the real joy comes. Not that we reproduced ourselves. Any ape can do that. What is great is when our children are able to love God and to bless people in ways we never could.     

Saturday, December 19, 2015

The Fruit of the Womb

Christmas has at its core the choice of Mary to say Yes to life. She chose a difficult path of motherhood in the face of ridicule so that God could do something wonderful through her. in this weeks gospel Elizabeth utters the now famous line from Luke 1:42, "Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb." Elizabeth goes on to say, "Blessed is she who believed that the Lord would fulfil His promises to her."

Yet many still don't get the connection with our own openness to life. That what Mary did is what we are all called to do. When God calls us to bring new life into the world it is a sacred thing. That love must involve saying Yes to the fruit of that love. To render love sterile is to stop loving the whole person. Really not loving the whole person is not loving at all. 

I am reminded of some conversations at my company Christmas party. One workmate of mine was expecting his second child in February. Both him and his wife repeated a few time that they were definitely done after this. It seemed like with every message of congratulation came a message of sterilization. Some even went into comparing various vasectomy doctors. This is before baby #2 is even born. 

I didn't know what to say. I didn't say anything. Still I wondered at how we can see children as a blessing and at the same time be so eager to stop them from coming. Yet it maps very well to how society sees God. We want His blessings but we don't want too much. We want to love but only to a point. We don't want to give ourselves totally to the beloved. You see this in the high numbers who self-identify as Christians yet don't go to church often and don't follow most of the more counter-cultural teachings of Christianity. 

I am reminded of a gospel from a few weeks ago from Mark 9:36,37.
He took a little child whom he placed among them. Taking the child in his arms, he said to them, “Whoever welcomes one of these little children in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me does not welcome me but the one who sent me.”
Here again Jesus connects welcoming children with welcoming God. Really there are a lot of parallels. We have an impulse to love children and an impulse to love God. We know that is right. Yet the cost is incalculable. It is like writing a blank cheque. Except what you are committing to is not limited to money. Both children and God are allowed to make very personal demands. 

We see this with refugees as well. They are not safe. Of course not. A culture that wants safe sex also wants safe refugees. Guess what? God is not about safe. He is about faith. He does not guarantee anything except Himself. Not comfort, not health, not success as you imagine it. He does say He will be with us. Is that enough? 

Sunday, December 13, 2015


Reading about Acedia. Acedia is sometimes translated as sloth. Yet that is not quite it. A lack of energy or motivation about spiritual pursuits is part of it. Yet St Thomas talks about a sadness. That is we are actually sad about the thought of becoming more holy. Then he gives an answer. He says we need the incarnation. We need to contemplate the fact that God became man so man can partake in God's nature. When we think about sharing in the divine love we can think it is impossible or we can think it would not be that much fun. The incarnation is God's answer to both those objections. It is possible because God is merciful. It is desirable because God is beautiful. Both these are communicated most powerfully through Jesus.

We need to be constantly reminded that our faith is not about a bunch of rules. It has rules but they are in the service of the greater good. Christmas is the time we think about that greater good. It is the time of Emmanuel, God is with us.

Acedia leads to us pursuing lesser goods. St Thomas talks about divine beatitudes and animal beatitudes. Animal blessings are just those that we get from being animals. We enjoy food and sex and music and athletics and walking in the sun. These are all good things we can enjoy because we are animals. Yet we are more than that. We are spiritual beings as well. We need to pursue God.

Christmas is a time where you see that very clearly. We have lots of lesser pleasures that are available. Our Catholic school has a Christmas concert. Do we sing about the incarnation or do we sing about Santa Claus? Happily this year teachers and principals had the courage to choose the former. What about our Christmas lights? Or Christmas cards? Or Christmas hampers? Are they just nice or do they call us to heaven?

Today is Gaudete Sunday. We are to rejoice. What are we to rejoice in? The fact that we are called to be holy. We are made for love and we can become united with a God who is love. There is a false humility where we tell ourselves that is not for us. That we are just plain folk and would never expect to be capable of heroic virtue. Like most false humility it is disguised pride. It rationalizes our failure to cooperate with the grace that will lead us there. So let us rejoice that God wants to take us all the way up. He wants to draw us to Himself. To experience an intimate and powerful union with our Heavenly Father. That is the dignity of our vocation. Pursuing anything less is acedia. 

Saturday, December 5, 2015


As we anticipate Christ's coming this week the church asks us to focus on peace. The peace that Jesus will bring. In the gospel John the Baptist quotes Isaiah.
A voice of one crying out in the desert:“Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths.Every valley shall be filledand every mountain and hill shall be made low.The winding roads shall be made straight,and the rough ways made smooth,and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.”
The words describe a dramatic change when God arrives. Valleys filled. Mountains made low. Not just some of them but all of them. How are we supposed to have peace when God is coming with such power and demanding such huge changes? Maybe the second reading can make things clear:
Brothers and sisters:
I pray always with joy in my every prayer for all of you,
because of your partnership for the gospel
from the first day until now.
I am confident of this,
that the one who began a good work in you
will continue to complete it
until the day of Christ Jesus.
Jesus is going to come and make much needed changes. Yet they are going to take time and they are going to take cooperation. Because of that we can have peace. Otherwise we would never be comfortable with changes to your heart. The heart refers to our most private thoughts, emotions and opinions. Letting someone in that space means risking who you are. Yet that is what Jesus came to do. To change you in the most personal way possible.

Logically God is someone we can trust to change our hearts for the better. It is not like they are pristine and wonderful. They have been darkened by sin and scarred by pain. God is our creator and God is love so we can trust him completely to change us. He will not only make us better but make us more into what He originally intended us to be. So the changes will make you more authentically you and me more authentically me but still make us better. Nobody but God is qualified to do that.

Despite the logic it is hard to call this a peaceful process. We tend to stress out over it a lot. What if something goes wrong? Think of the folks as ISIS. They allowed someone to change their hearts and the result was not good. Yet the change goes so deep they can't even see it is not good. How can we be sure that won't happen to us? How would we know if it did?

What is going to give us this peace is an intimate relationship with God. That we experience God more and more.  It reminds be of a book by Henry Blackaby. He describes a process. Humans just need this sort of process. You can argue that someone should become Christian using Pascal's wager or whatever else. Yet we can't give that much of ourselves in response to logic. We need to trust. We need God to satisfy our deepest desires. That is what Jesus does. He comes to us so we can experience God peacefully rather than violently.