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Monthly Archives: December 2017

The Holy Family of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph

December 31, 2017

Fr. Joseph A. Jacobi


Do not be misled by the words: “Holy Family.” For we are too often misled by those words into thinking that the family of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph was a “perfect family” who were given a free pass from the harsh realities of life. Nothing could be further from the truth. Joseph and Mary and Jesus definitely did not live a sheltered and trouble-free life.

Joseph and Mary’s firstborn child was born almost 100 miles away from the comfort of their home in rough conditions. When he was still an infant they had to flee their home country for a foreign land, Egypt, forced to run for their life by King Herod, who was determined to murder the child Jesus. When Jesus was 12 years old, Mary and Joseph lost him in Jerusalem, and it took them 3 days to find him.

These two parents surely stumbled around and made mistakes just like every parent does with their first born child. Surely there were arguments at times between Mary and Joseph. That’s part of family life, too.

They were a holy family because they were a real family. For today we celebrate how the wonder of holiness is found in the midst of humanness, and what can be more human and real than family life, where in the rubbing of lives against other lives the miracle of love can be born. This feast of the Holy Family is about how God can and has chosen to be revealed and found in the very ordinary ups and downs of family life.

What made this family “holy” is the fact that their home was open toward heaven. Their most important relationship, which enabled them to move forward through the difficulties of life with grace, was with God.

It still surprises me when I hear some people refer to Jesus as a “Christian,” for Jesus was a Jew through and through. He was born into a Jewish family who followed the 1000-year-old law of Moses, which is why 40 days after his birth they are in the temple offering sacrifice. Mary and Joseph took Jesus with them every year to Jerusalem to celebrate the most important feast of the people of Israel—Passover. Jesus grew up with a Jewish mother and father who taught him how to pray. He grew in wisdom and grace, like all children are meant to grow, subject to his father and mother’s guidance.

Jesus grew in holiness not only as part of the nuclear family of Joseph and Mary, & not only because of his interactions with cousins, aunts and uncles who lived nearby, but he also grew in holiness as he discovered his identity as a member of a faith-filled people. The “father in faith” of this faith-filled people—Abraham. Jesus & his parents found strength and encouragement from Abraham’s example of faith and followed in Abraham’s footsteps as members of the chosen family of Israel.

The most important relationship in Abraham’s life was with God, the God who had sought Abraham out and called him. Abraham left his home at the call of God, not knowing where he was to go, trusting God would be faithful to God’s promise to bless Abraham with land. Abraham reveals what faith looks like—it is a relationship with God built on trust, knowing that the God who has been faithful to his promises in the past will also be faithful in the future. This witness of Abraham gave Joseph the courage to step forward into the unknown by taking Mary as his wife, though she was pregnant and the child was not his own.

Abraham teaches that God can do the impossible— God can bring life where there was no life before. Even though Abraham was so old he was as good as dead, and Sarah was sterile, Abraham trusted that with God nothing would be impossible. Isaac was born of this trust. God can do what seems impossible. Mary knows this to be true because her cousin Elizabeth, though sterile, becomes full of new life, as well as from her own experience of becoming pregnant by the Holy Spirit and giving birth to Jesus.

Then there is the act of complete surrender given by Abe to God, as he prepares to give back to God his only son on the altar of sacrifice. Such a sacrifice flows from Abraham’s relationship with God, which has grown and deepened over the years. He has found God is faithful to his promises. He has discovered that God can do what is impossible for humans to do. So, Abraham reasons that if God can bring life where there was no possibility of life, then surely God can raise the dead and bring back his son, Isaac. From a young age, because of his parents’ faith, Jesus became immersed into a larger family of faith to which he belonged, a “holy family.” Jesus would learn the stories of his ancestors in the faith from his parents. So that like Abraham, he could trust that God his Father could bring life even out of death when he surrendered his life on the altar of the cross to His Father.

Family, in the end, is about relationships, not only about the roles of parenting, providing, or home-making. So, this feast does not leave out those whose experience of family is somehow unique or different from what some would insist is the perfect and only way to be family. In the end, family is about relationships, and when those relationships point beyond themselves to God, holiness becomes possible.

What all of us have in common, I hope, is a home, and that is where this feast leads us. It leads us to look at and reflect upon our homes as places where we find God and are sanctified by what happens there. Homes are meant to be places where we are made aware of our eternal home. A home where a “holy family” lives is one that is open toward heaven, A “holy family” lives in a home which is not closed in upon itself, but is open to God by the loving service given by its members to one another and to others outside the home, by the prayers offered in the home, and by the sacrifices made in love. The forgiveness shared in home makes it a temple where God’s forgiveness is found.

Our Catholic Church has always believed that the home is the first and fundamental church, the first community of love, of which holiness is born.

4th Sunday of Advent – Cycle B

December 24, 2017

Deacon Paul Lewis

Recently I came across a quote from Philaret of Moscow, who was a Russian Orthodox Metropolitan, equivalent to a bishop in the Catholic Church, during the nineteenth century.

“In the days of creation of the world, when God was uttering his living and mighty “Let there be,” the word of the Creator brought creatures into the world. But on that day, unprecedented in the history of the world, when Mary uttered her brief and obedient, “So be it,” I hardly dare say what happened then… the word of the creature brought the Creator into the world.”

The salvation of the world, the bridge to connect a fallen world to heaven, separated by the sin of our first parents, lies in the response of a fourteen year old girl.

And the world holds its breath. The “yes”, the “so be it,” the response of this lowly handmaid of the Lord, gives God permission, if you will, to come into the world.

The creature’s word echoes the Creator’s word. The created gives birth to the Creator. It is a testimony about what God thinks of humanity.

Yes, God prepared Mary for this moment. She was immaculately conceived in order to be the perfect vessel to carry the one who is the source of all life.

But, as is always the case with God, he does not force anything on anyone. In God’s great love for us, we are granted freedom… the freedom to respond, just as Mary had the freedom to respond. We’ve heard many times, and maybe even have said it ourselves, “I’m only human! What do you expect?”

Our humanity becomes an excuse. But God looks at our humanity as an opportunity.

As St. Gregory of Nyssa suggested… Humanity is the opportunity for the Invisible to be seen, the Intangible to be touched, and the Son of God to be become the Son of Man.

That opportunity was fulfilled in Mary’s “Let it be.”

However, the story does not end with this encounter between an angel and this lowly handmaid from Nazareth. It would be easy to sit back and look with mere admiration at this young girl and her response to the angel.

If we merely observe what happens in this gospel then there is is no point other than entertainment and pious admiration in standing in awe before the details of this story.

At some point, at some time, every one of us must ask the question, “What does this mean?” “How am I different because of it?”

Each one of us is a new opportunity for God. Today’s Gospel reminds us that this encounter between the angel and Mary leads us to our own encounter.

As we prepare to celebrate the Nativity of the Lord it would do us well to look beyond a child born in a stable. The coming of the Lord,
the expression of unimaginable love, is just as present now as it was on that dark night some two thousand years ago.

Today we are reminded that not only should we look for the coming of the Lord in our own lives, but also to bring Christ into our world. In a sense, we are called to be bearers of God.

This angel’s message is for all of us who may think we have been left behind,
too young,
too old,
too poor,
too dumb,
too late in life,
or too sinful.

It is not so, proclaims today’s Gospel. With God who can accomplish all things, there will be no excuse for anything short of greatness, holiness, or goodness.

The only thing that fouls up the plan of God is fear, and the first words out of the mouth of the messenger are: Fear Not.

Courage, that great virtue of a disciple is found not in the absence of fear, but in what we do in spite of it.

The glory of Christmas came about by the willingness of an ordinary person to obey God’s claim on her life.

God does not favor people because of any quality within them. It is God’s nature to bestow God’s favor on the sinful, the weak, and undeserving. God grants favor to all who let the Gospel conceive new life in their hearts.

The scene from today’s Gospel reading reminds us that God is always announcing and entrusting God’s self to each one of us, to you and to me…

and the world holds its breath for our response.

3rd Sunday of Advent – Cycle B

December 17, 2017

Fr. Joseph A. Jacobi


St. Paul encourages us to “rejoice always”. He even says this is the will of God—to rejoice always. But how can we do this in a world where there is so much suffering, so much sadness?

By calling us to rejoice always, Paul is not saying that we will not be sad. What he is encouraging us to do is to go deeper, to go much deeper than a shallow happiness in the passing things of this world.

Paul, whether he was in prison or free, whether hungry or full, whether persecuted or praised, could rejoice always because he discovered true joy is happiness in God. That’s right—joy is rooted in happiness in God.

The prophet Isaiah, proclaiming the word of the Lord during a time when the people of Israel were returning from their exile to their homeland, which had been destroyed, their life was in ruins, says it this way: “I rejoice heartily in the Lord, in my God is the joy of my soul.”

Joy comes from knowing we are loved by God. Our lives are rooted in joy because God has become one of us, & one with us in Jesus. God is not distant from our lives, but with us in Jesus, in all things human. Because of Jesus’ resurrection, we can even rejoice in the face of death, knowing that death does not have the last word, but that everlasting life in Christ Jesus is our destiny.

Joy in the Lord is connected to two other realities: prayer and gratitude. According to St. Paul, rejoicing always only happens when we pray without ceasing and give thanks in all circumstances. These three—joy, prayer, and gratitude—are so intertwined that where one is the other two naturally follow.

Prayer opens our eyes to see the gifts of God in our life, which leads to giving thanks, and joy naturally follows. In fact, the word “Eucharist” comes from a Greek word meaning “the proper response to receiving a gift,” which is thanksgiving. As we pray here together, our eyes are opened to see not only the many gifts in our life, but also the gift of Jesus Christ, whose love has saved us and made us whole. The proper response to such a gift is to give thanks, which leads naturally to rejoicing.

As we notice the gifts God pours into our life each day, we give thanks to God in prayer, which naturally leads to joy.

Or when we find ourselves rejoicing, we want to talk to God in prayer about the reasons for our joy. We may even join the Blessed Virgin Mary by expressing our joy in a very joy-filled way—by singing. We sing with Mary her canticle of Joy, the Magnificat, as we give thanks to God who has done great things for us.

Joy, prayer, and gratitude cannot be separated—they go together. If at times you find yourself “joy-less,” strengthen your prayer life and develop a daily attitude of gratitude, and then joy will follow.

Joy in the Lord is also rooted in the virtue of humility. Knowing who we are, and even more so, who we are not, leads to joy.

John the Baptist teaches us to know who we are by knowing who we are not. Many of the people who came to hear John preach and to be baptized by him thought he might be the long awaited Messiah, or the most powerful prophet of all, Elijah raised from the dead, or at the very least a prophet. But to each of these questions about his identity, John would reply—that’s not who I am.

He realized his role was simply to be a voice preparing people to receive the Eternal Word of God’s love, the promised Messiah. He knew he was not the bridegroom for whom they longed, only the bridegroom’s friend. John knew he was not worthy to even perform the task of a slave for the One to Come, that he was not even worthy to stoop down and untie Jesus’ sandals. John knew who he was and who he was not.

He realized he was not the Savior, that he was not going to be able to save anybody. But there was one coming who could save him, One coming who would baptize not just with water, but with water and the Holy Spirit.

John the Baptist teaches us that long-lasting joy, that rejoicing always, means being rooted in the earth, in the soil of humility. He understood that he could not change people, but could only invite them to change. He knew that doing the small things with love paved the way for the Source of All Love to come into people’s lives.

One reason so many people in today’s world are joy-less is because they act like they are God, thinking the world revolves around them. Another reason so many people in today’s world are without joy is because they think they are in control, or should be in control. So when things go spinning out of control, anger and despair and resentment rise up and kill any joy they might have had.

Faith sees clearly what God has done in the past, how God has been faithful to God’s promises.

Hope trusts that the God who has been faith-full to His people will persist in that faithfulness in the future. In other words, hope believes that the God who has walked with us in the past, who has accompanied us through good times and bad times, will not abandon us in the days ahead, but lead us forward.

The bridge between the past and the future, between faith and hope, is love. Realizing that God rejoices in us, we can make the sacrifices which love demands, and as we do, go out of ourselves toward others and experience real joy.

Living lives full of faith, hope, and love lead to rejoicing always as we become instruments of joy to the world. God makes His presence known through us to a world which believes God is absent.

For joy is the surest sign of the presence of God!