Sunday, December 28, 2014

God's Family Planning

The Feast of the Holy Family has an essential lesson for the contemporary world.  In the Gospel of Luke 1: 31-35 we read that Mary conceived her child through the Holy Spirit and “the power of the Most High.”  (See also the angel’s words to Joseph in Matthew 1: 20.) Mary did not need Joseph, her espoused, to conceive Jesus.  But Jesus needed both of them—Mary and Joseph—to be the Holy Family.

On November 17, 2014, at a conference sponsored by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith on “The Complementarity Between Man and Woman,” Pope Francis said: “Children have a right to grow up in a family with a father and a mother capable of creating a suitable environment for the child’s growth and emotional development.”

Why do children have this right which is under attack today?  Because of the complementarity of the sexes.  St. John Paul II, Pope Benedict XVI, and now Pope Francis, have all spoken of the importance of recognizing and supporting the unique contribution of women—“the feminine genius.”  In “The Joy of the Gospel” #103, Pope Francis wrote of “the sensitivity, intuition and other distinctive skill sets which they, more than men, tend to possess.”  He went on to write about “the special concern which women show to others” and which can be called a mothering or nurturing instinct. 

Men, in turn, have their own “distinctive skill sets” which, if we look at Pope Francis’ Inaugural Homily, are found in St. Joseph.
 He is a guide and protector.  In the words of Pope Francis, “Joseph is a ‘protector’ because he is able to hear God’s voice and be guided by his will; and for this reason he is all the more sensitive to the persons entrusted to his safekeeping. He can look at things realistically, he is in touch with his surroundings, he can make truly wise decisions.”  Joseph reveals the fatherhood which has God as its origin.  St. Paul, as he begins a prayer for the Ephesians, writes, “I kneel before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named…” (3:15). One could say that “the masculine genius” is to reveal to children something of God’s fatherhood.

Sometimes circumstances like death, conception out of wedlock, and the break-up of a marriage lead to single-parent families.  While this does indeed happen, it is not the way God intended families to exist. 

The Second Vatican Council’s document on the Church in the Modern World, “Gaudium et Spes” #52, called the family “the school of deeper humanity.”  It is there where children best learn the lessons of life, of what it means to be human. 

In his homily for this feast last year, Pope Francis talked about the lessons that are learned in families: 

“Today our gaze on the Holy Family lets us also be drawn into the simplicity of the life they led in Nazareth.  It is an example that does our families great good, helping them increasingly to become communities of love and reconciliation, in which tenderness, mutual help, and mutual forgiveness is experienced.  Let us remember the three key words for living in peace and joy in the family: “may I”, “thank you” and “sorry”.  In our family, when we are not intrusive and ask “may I”, in our family when we are not selfish and learn to say “thank you”, and when in a family one realizes he has done something wrong and knows how to say “sorry”, in that family there is peace and joy.  Let us remember these three words.  I would also like to encourage families to become aware of the importance they have in the Church and in society.  The proclamation of the Gospel, in fact, first passes through the family to reach the various spheres of daily life. Let us fervently call upon Mary Most Holy, the Mother of Jesus and our Mother, and St Joseph her spouse.  Let us ask them to enlighten, comfort and guide every family in the world, so that they may fulfil with dignity and peace the mission which God has entrusted to them.”
As our ancestral parents were tempted in the Garden of Eden to redefine themselves as gods who could determine for themselves right and wrong, good and bad, so contemporary society is seeking a power that does not belong to it.  This same demonic temptation to change nature according to one’s own desires appears in the first temptation that Jesus faced in the desert. He was hungry and was tempted to change rocks into bread.  But it is not the nature of a rock to become grain which in turn is baked and becomes food. 

In a similar way, the world wants to change the nature of marriage and family.  According to Pope Francis, this has devastating effects. In his November 17, 2014 address he said: “Marriage and the family are in crisis today. We now live in a culture of the temporary, in which more and more people reject marriage as a public obligation. This revolution of customs and morals has often waved ‘the flag of freedom’, but it has, in reality, brought spiritual and material devastation to countless human beings, especially the poorest and most vulnerable.”

As we reflect of the importance and beauty of family life today, let us pray for families everywhere and for the Synod of Bishops that will meet in October, 2015. 

Jesus, Mary and Joseph,
in you we contemplate
the splendor of true love,
to you we turn with trust.

Holy Family of Nazareth,
grant that our families too
may be places of communion and prayer,
authentic schools of the Gospel
and small domestic Churches.

Holy Family of Nazareth,
may families never again
experience violence, rejection and division:
may all who have been hurt or scandalized
find ready comfort and healing.

Holy Family of Nazareth,
may the approaching Synod of Bishops
make us once more mindful
of the sacredness and inviolability of the family,
and its beauty in God’s plan.

Jesus, Mary and Joseph,
graciously hear our prayer.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

God in the Flesh, a Real Baby

I was going to post a picture of the newborn Jesus in the manger, but most religious art does not do justice to the reality that the Son of God became an honest-to-goodness baby.  I blogged about this in 2009.

And so, whenever I give retreats and talk about the Nativity, I quote Fr. Al Lauer, a priest of the Archdiocese of Cincinnati and founder of Presentation Ministries,  who died of cancer in 2002 at the age of 55. His description in one of his daily reflections that appeared in Presentation Ministries "One Bread, One Body," is one of the best that I've come across.  He wrote:

"He emptied Himself (Phil 2: 7) when He became a helpless Infant. The all-powerful Creator of the world could not walk, talk, or roll over. The second Person of the blessed Trinity talked baby-talk, wet His diapers, and spit out His food. Almighty God weighed just a few pounds, shivered, cried, and nursed at His mother's breast.  

"The message of Christmas and God's incarnation is shocking. He Who created the billions of galaxies with billions of stars, Who created the countless creatures on this little planet, became completely dependent on His parents, just like us. It seems almost blasphemous to suggest that God became a weak human being. Yet He did, out of love for us.... The meaning of Christmas is shocking, but ultimately, it is love."

Yesterday Karen from Nebraska called the Apostleship of Prayer office. Her favorite video among the hundreds of two minute daily reflections that we've produced over the past six years is called "A Helpless Baby."  In it I quote Fr. Lauer.

Pope Benedict said a similar thing in his Midnight Mass Homily of 2008.  He said:

"God stooped down--he himself comes down as a child to the lowly stable, the symbol of all humanity's neediness and forsakenness. God truly comes down. He becomes a child and puts himself in the state of complete dependence typical of a newborn child. The Creator who holds all things in his hands, on whom we all depend, makes himself small and in need of human love. God is in the stable."

Last year in his Midnight Mass Homily, Pope Francis echoed these thoughts:

"God has entered our history; he has shared our journey. He came to free us from darkness and to grant us light. In him was revealed the grace, the mercy, and the tender love of the Father: Jesus is Love incarnate. He is not simply a teacher of wisdom, he is not an ideal for which we strive while knowing that we are hopelessly distant from it. ... Let us pause before the Child, let us pause in silence. ... Let us thank the Lord for having given Jesus to us.  ... We bless you, Lord God most high, who lowered yourself for our sake. You are immense, and you made yourself small; you are rich and you made yourself poor; you are all-powerful and you made yourself vulnerable."

Blessed and Peaceful Christmas Eve to all!

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Marian Servants of Divine Providence

I celebrated Mass this morning with some of the Apostleship of Prayer staff and four women who are members of the Marian Servants of Divine Providence.  The Mass was part of a re-commitment ceremony in which that group made promises to continue as Servants for one year.

The Marian Servants are a Private Association of the Christian Faithful that was recognized by Bishop Robert Lynch of the Diocese of St. Petersburg in 1997.  A flyer that the Servants shared with me states:

"The mission of the Marian Servants is this: to bring Christians to a deeper understanding of their vocation and mission in Christ, in the Church and in the world. The Marian Servants realize that Spiritual Direction is a vital component in carrying out this mission. Therefore the Marian Servants minister to the Mystical Body, the People of God, through Spiritual Direction by utilizing the Ignatian form of praying Scripture and seeking the designated graces."

The main community house in Clearwater, Florida offers retreats and courses in spiritual direction designed to prepare people not only to provide spiritual direction but also to guide others in the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius.

Each local community has its own unique ministry and name. After a period of discernment, the
Milwaukee group decided to call itself "The Marian Servants of Jesus Christ Lord and King."  Providentially, the small chapel where we celebrated Mass today has a statue of Christ the King.